Massachusetts regulators are charging a broker-dealer in Texas with sales of unsuitable investments to seniors and running “high-pressure” sales contests. In addition, they seek restitution for some clients, the return of related fees and commissions and a review of the policies concerning senior clients and sales contests.
In one case, for instance, a senior client in the final stage of terminal cancer had almost all of her assets put in a variable annuity, “leaving her without access to liquid funds,” the regulators say.
The actions, announced by Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin on Tuesday, focus on Investment Professionals Inc. (IPI) of San Antonio, which partners with community banks and credit unions – and also shares revenue related to bank clients with the financial institutions.
“Aggressive sales contests run contrary to investor protection,” Galvin said in a statement. “And contests impacting senior investors on bank premises magnify the problems and concerns … These sales gimmicks – especially as they relate to seniors — are an unacceptable practice which my office will not tolerate.”
In Massachusetts, the broker-dealer is working with Eastern Bank of Boston, Mutual Bank of Brockton, East Boston Savings Bank, Edgartown National Bank, The Cooperative Bank of Roslindale, and Homefield Credit Union of North Grafton.
From early-2014 to mid-2016, the top 10 IPI representatives in these banks received over 2,200 referrals, about 45% of which involved clients 65 and up. Eight of the 10 are employees of Eastern Bank.
Over the past three years or so, IPI organized “at least five aggressive sales contest all of which ran counter to the firm’s own policies and procedures,” the regulators say. Plus, they found that the broker-dealer “failed to supervise its representatives by promoting prohibited sales contests,” which resulted in sales of “unsuitable products” – such as market-linked CDs and annuities – by “at least two IPI agents working out of Eastern Bank.”
Massachusetts regulators say their investigation of the two agents’ sales practices is ongoing.
“While IPI and their bank partners profit from their networking arrangements,” the complaint says, “the pervasive sales culture emphasizing and rewarding the volume of production at the expense of compliance with policies and procedures, suitability, and oversight means that certain senior citizen bank customers have been harmed.”