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Complex Investment Products in Hot Water With FINRA

Brokerage firms and registered reps selling private placements, inverse and leveraged exchange traded funds (ETFs), structured notes and other complex investment products have been put on notice by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In a newly issued regulatory notice, FINRA outlined certain due-diligence and supervisory policies and procedures that firms must have in place when selling such products and that the investments themselves can be expected to face greater regulatory scrutiny in the future.

“Registered representatives should compare a structured product with embedded options to the same strategy through multiple financial instruments on the open market, even with any possible advantages of purchasing a single product,” Regulatory Notice 12-03 said in part.

As in previous notices issued by FINRA, Notice 12-03 reiterated the fact that firms should consider whether less complex products can achieve the same objectives for investors. The notice further stated that post-approval follow-up and review are particularly important for any complex investment product.

In recent years, regulators have issued a number of enforcement and disciplinary actions in cases involving complex investments. Two high-profile cases occurred in 2009, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against Medical Capital Holdings and Provident Royalties LLC over the private placements issued by both entities.

Several state regulators, including Massachusetts, also have filed regulatory actions against various broker/dealers that sold Medical Capital and Provident private placements to investors.

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