The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday charged investment advisory firm Betterment with material misstatements and omissions related to its automated tax loss harvesting service, failing to provide clients with notice of changes to contracts, and failing to maintain certain required books and records.
To settle the charges, Betterment agreed to pay a $9 million penalty and distribute funds to affected clients, the SEC said.
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Betterment also agreed to a cease-and-desist order and a censure.
Betterment consented to the entry of the SEC’s order finding that it violated Sections 204, 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and related rules.
“The TLH-related issues involved less than a percent of the total losses harvested by Betterment since TLH was introduced,” Betterment said in a statement on Tuesday. “For the segment of customers who potentially incurred financial impact by missing possible tax loss harvests, the median payout is expected to be less than $100 per customer.”
The SEC’s order found that, from 2016 to 2019, Betterment, in communicating with clients, misstated or omitted several material facts concerning TLH, a service that scans clients’ accounts for opportunities to reduce their tax burden.
According to the order, filed by the SEC on Tuesday, at different times, Betterment failed to disclose a change in the software related to its scanning frequency, failed to disclose a programming constraint affecting certain clients, and had two computer coding errors that prevented TLH from harvesting losses for some clients.
Combined, those issues hurt over 25,000 client accounts, resulting in their losing about $4 million in potential tax benefits, the SEC alleged.