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Massachusetts Targets BDs With ‘Bad Brokers’ Selling Private Placements

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Massachusetts securities regulators said Monday that they are investing sales practices tied to private placements. The sweep targets LPL Financial and nine other broker-dealers that sell these investments. At least 15% of the brokers at each of the firms have current disciplinary incidents — “bad brokers” in the regulators’ parlance.

The move follows a recent story in The Wall Street Journal highlighting firms who employ agents with disciplinary history and are selling billions of dollars per year in private company stakes — often targeting seniors; some $710 billion of private placements were sold in 2017, according to the report.

The state’s sweep also comes about three weeks after Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told attendees at a town hall discussion in Atlanta that the agency is “looking at our private placement rules; they can use a sprucing up.”

“While my office is actively policing agent misconduct and diligently working to keep bad actors out of the commonwealth [of Massachusetts], it is necessary for the firms which employ agents with disciplinary history to closely supervise their sales activities,” William Galvin, head of the securities unit in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

“Private placements are risky investments that reward the salesperson handsomely with high commissions. Firms offering these to the public, especially seniors, have an obligation to see that they are sold to benefit the investor, not the broker. Individuals with a history of disciplinary actions magnify the risk of unsuitable sales in connection with private placements,” Galvin explained.

The state’s securities regulatory began looking into firms and advisors with disciplinary reports on file two years ago, when it surveyed over 200 firms regarding their hiring and disciplinary practices. It then reported that more than 18% of those hired by these firms over a 2.5 year period had current disclosure incidents and that more than 90% of broker-dealer agents with disclosed disciplinary incidents were not subject to enhanced supervision.

In addition to LPL Financial, inquiry letters have been sent to Arthur W. Wood Company, Santander Securities, U.S. Boston Capital, Bolton Global Capital, Advisory Group Equity Services, Moors & Cabot, Inc., Detwiler Fenton & Co., BTS Securities and Winslow, Evans & Crocker.