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AIG units fined by SEC for steering clients to high-fee products

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(Bloomberg) – American International Group Inc. affiliates were fined by a U.S. regulator for charging customers higher fees in mutual fund sales, two months after AIG Chief Executive Officer Peter Hancock said he would divest the insurance company’s brokerage amid stricter rules.

Royal Alliance Associates, SagePoint Financial and FSC Securities steered clients into more expensive classes of mutual funds, earning an extra $2 million in fees, according to a statement Monday from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. AIG agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle the regulator’s claims and didn’t admit or deny the regulator’s findings.

Hancock said in January he’s exiting broker-dealer operations amid Department of Labor scrutiny on how advisers pitch retirement products, and the unit would be better owned independently. The company owns a large retirement operation, which contributed $2.84 billion to pretax operating income last year, the bulk of the profit from the consumer segment.

“Investment advisers must be vigilant about conflicts of interest when selecting mutual fund share classes because the choice may improperly benefit them at the expense of their clients,” Marshall S. Sprung, co-head of the SEC enforcement division’s asset management unit, said in the statement.

Pleased to resolve

The three units also failed to monitor for so-called reverse churning, or charging certain customers a flat fee even when they rarely made trades, according to the statement. Such clients may be better suited for commission-based accounts. The firms agreed to disgorge $2 million in improper fees and to pay a $7.5 million penalty.

“Advisor Group is pleased to have reached a settlement with the SEC over two issues it raised that occurred between 2012 and 2014,” Jon Diat, an AIG spokesman said in an e-mailed statement. “Advisor Group takes compliance with securities regulations seriously and remains focused on serving the best interests of our clients.”