Stock brokers and brokerage firms are being warned by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to rethink their selling strategies of 529 college savings plans. At a recent compliance meeting in Florida, FINRA reportedly urged the brokerage community to step up its due diligence of 529 plans, as well as assume responsibility to watch over money managers associated with the plans.
In recent months, 529 plans across the country have faced increased scrutiny from state and federal regulators. In April, Oregon sued OppenheimerFunds, charging the money manager of understating the risks it took with a fund in Oregon’s college-savings plan. The fund was the Oppenheimer Core Bond Fund, and Oregon is suing OppenheimerFunds for losses totaling $36 million.
The Oppenheimer Core Bond fund lost 36% in 2008, compared with the benchmark index, the Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond index, which rose 5.3%.
Five other states – Illinois, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas – currently are investigating whether OppenheimerFunds breached its fiduciary duty to investors in state-sponsored 529 plans when it failed to disclose the fund’s exposure to risky mortgage-backed securities and derivatives. In June, the Illinois treasurer’s office announced a tentative agreement to recoup $77 million from OppenheimerFunds. All five states are in talks with the company, according to a July 9 story in Pensions & Investments