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A More Investor-Friendly FINRA Arbitration Process

Tumultuous upheaval in the financial markets has led to a rash of arbitration claims from retail and institutional investors on charges their financial advisors and brokerages misrepresented the risk levels of certain investment products. Some of the central players in these claims: Morgan Keegan & Company and Charles Schwab.

In the case of Memphis-based brokerage Morgan Keegan, investor complaints involve a group high-yield bond funds that the company allegedly marketed and sold as conservative investment options – products designed to provide high yields without excessive credit risks. Instead, the RMK funds made large investments in illiquid and toxic securities, including asset- and mortgage-backed securities and collateral debt obligations (CDOs).

Other funds responsible for the influx of arbitration claims include Charles Schwab & Co.’s YieldPlus funds. 

For more than a year now, investors nationwide have complained to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that Charles Schwab represented the YieldPlus funds as investments similar to money-market funds, while failing to disclose the fact they held large concentrations of toxic products like mortgage-backed securities. Ultimately, these holdings caused the YieldPlus funds to lose up to 80% of their value.

As reported July 6 by the Wall Street Journal, aggrieved individuals who do file claims with FINRA for their investment losses are likely to experience a more “investor-friendly” process than in the past because of recent changes to how an arbitration hearing is conducted and the composition of the arbitration panel.

Specifically, FINRA launched a pilot program in October 2008 that allows 276 cases against 11 participating brokerage firms to be heard annually by an all-public, three-person panel versus having one of the panel members associated with the securities industry. The program is a win for investor advocates, who contend having an industry-affiliated arbitrator reside on an arbitration panel not only can create bias but also sway other panel members against the investor.

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