VSR Financial Fined $550,000 for Overconcentration Alternative Investments

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA’s chief role is to protect investors by maintaining the fairness of the U.S. capital markets.

All stockbrokers and broker dealers (brokerage firms) are required to be licensed by and subject to the rules and regulations of FINRA. Each month FINRA publishes disciplinary actions against brokers and broker dealers. Discipline can range from monetary fines and suspensions, or in extreme cases, revocation of licensing and a bar from the securities industry.

See the FINRA website for current and historical disciplinary actions.

July 2013

Note: Alternative investments include non publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITS) , hedge funds, real estate, commodities and derivatives contracts and, managed futures. It may also include art, wine, antiques, coins or stamps. These investments tend to be complex, illiquid, nontransparent, hard to value and expensive.

VSR Financial Services, Inc.  Overland Park, Kansas and Donald Joseph Beary, Registered Principal, Lenexa, Kansas) submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent in which the firm was censured and fined $550,000. Beary was fined $10,000 and suspended from association with any FINRA member in any principal capacity for 45 days. Without admitting or denying the findings, the firm and Beary consented to the described sanctions and to the entry of findings that the firm failed to establish, maintain and enforce a reasonable supervisory system regarding the sale of non-conventional investments. The findings stated that the firm’s WSPs provided that no more than 40 percent to 50 percent of a client’s exclusive net worth could be invested cumulatively in alternative investments unless there was a substantial reason to exceed the guidelines and that justification was well documented. Supplemental to these
procedures, the firm, through Beary, created additional procedures that applied a discount to certain non-conventional instruments, reducing the percentage of a customer’s liquid net worth invested. The findings also stated that as the direct participation principal, Beary had responsibility for the implementation and supervision of the discount program. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identified as a deficiency, in a letter to the firm, that it did not have adequate written procedures relating to the discount program. The SEC made the same finding two years later regarding the lack of WSPs relating to the discount program. Despite these warnings from the SEC, Beary did not take reasonable steps to implement WSPs or to otherwise discontinue the use of the discount program. The findings also included that in addition to the 40 percent to 50 percent concentration limit stated in the firm’s WSPs, the firm’s new account form asked each client to specify the percentage of liquid net worth that the client would be comfortable investing in various risk categories. Most alternative investment program sponsors identified their products involving, at a minimum, a high degree of risk. The firm also assigned a risk category to each alternative investment it sold. Rather than assign a risk category based upon the risk level identified by the sponsor in the alternative investment offering documents, the firm routinely assigned lower risk categories. In several instances, the firm lowered its internal risk rating subsequent to the firm’s acceptance of the product. In spite of the firm’s efforts to increase sales of alternative investments through the use of discounts and risk rating reductions, customer investments still exceeded the 40 percent concentration guideline, but the firm did not document the existence of a substantial reason to exceed the concentration guidelines as required by its WSPs.
FINRA found that the firm failed to establish, maintain and enforce a reasonable supervisory system regarding the use of consolidated reports. The firm’s WSPs regarding consolidated statements were limited to a few memoranda issued to registered representatives prior to the issuance of FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-19. In practice, for six years, the firm’s registered representatives used a number of consolidated reporting systems. The firm did not require pre-approval of the consolidated reports to determine whether accurate pricing and disclosures were being used. The firm did not have a
system for prompt review of the consolidated reports after the reports were sent to customers. Given the fact that the firm allowed its registered representatives to enter valuations manually, the firm’s lack of supervision of the consolidated reports was unreasonable. FINRA also found that the firm, acting through a registered representative, recommended and effected the sale of high-risk private placements to customers. While these products may have been suitable for certain customers, they were not suitable for these customers given their financial circumstances and condition. The firm earned approximately $35,950 in commissions on the transactions. The firm, through another registered representative, made recommendations to customers that were not suitable given their moderate risk tolerance and specifications, and the firm earned commissions on the transactions of approximately $483,077.38. In addition, FINRA determined that the firm failed to reasonably supervise its representatives with respect to the unsuitable transactions. One of several firm principals reviewed and approved the transactions of one of these representatives, and each of the principals failed to detect or investigate “red flags” regarding the transactions. This representative falsified the account documentation for customers, but the firm did not detect or investigate any of the representatives’ falsification of documents or other red flags. Detection and investigation of any of these red flags might have prevented the representative’s unsuitable recommendations and the resulting loss of the customers’ funds. Moreover, FINRA found that the firm allowed its registered representatives to send consolidated statements to their customers but never reviewed the consolidated statements a representative sent to some customers to determine whether he was following the firm’s procedures regarding pricing. Because of the inaccurate pricing the representative used, and the firm’s lack of supervision, these customers received statements with erroneous pricing information.

The suspension is in effect from June 3, 2013, through July 17, 2013. (FINRA Case #2010022963602)

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