I was honored to hear today that The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, known as Sabew, awarded me an honorable mention in its “Best in Business” competition in the investigative reporting category. My story, “Finra’s Black Hole,” looked at 30 years of brokerage industry arbitration records to see how women fared when they filed complaints about sexual harassment and gender discrimination. (Answer: Not very well). You can read my story here.
I was on Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan today, talking about my investigation of 30 years of of sexual harassment complaints by women on Wall Street. You can listen to the interview here.
For victims of sexual harassment on Wall Street, the case of Kathleen Mary O’Brien was a bad omen.
In 1988, O’Brien, then a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds, filed the earliest sexual harassment case we could find in a public database maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-governing organization, which is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The year before, O’Brien had sued Dean Witter in Los Angeles Superior Court, but the brokerage firm successfully argued that she was legally bound to use Wall Street’s closed-door arbitration forum, then run by a FINRA predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers. The arbitrators’ decision in her case would turn out to be a common one in harassment cases over the following years: The claim was dismissed. The panel, offering no explanation as to how it came to the decision, charged her $3,000 in arbitration fees.
O’Brien’s case is one of 98 sexual harassment or hostile work environment claims and counterclaims made by women that The Intercept and the Investigative Fund found in the FINRA database over the past 30 years. You can read the full story here.
Do you keep an eye on activity in your brokerage account? Well, you should. Criminals are figuring out clever ways to dupe your stockbroker into wiring money out of your account. It usually happens after someone has hacked your email account, so it’s not a bad idea to consider using two-factor authorization on your email. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, you might consider reading the story I wrote today for CNBC.com. You can read it here.
The brokerage industry works hard to keep customer complaints out of public view, with aggressive firms fighting to remove grievances that sully their brokers’ records. The interminable campaign to sanitize the dossier of former Royal Alliance Associates broker Kathleen J. Tarr is a disheartening case in point. You can read the story here.
Holly Marchak and her husband lost $2.3 million when they were defrauded in the Ponzi scheme of the so-called “Brooklyn Madoff.” Nine years later, she’s still paying for it.
Marchak, 62, says she takes medication for anxiety, high blood pressure, asthma and heart problems. “There are times we don’t want to wake up in the morning,” she said. “My doctor has a mile-long, thick file on me and says it’s all stress-related.”
Twenty investors await a Finra arbitration hearing in September against two clearing firms that handled their trades in a penny-stock fraud. Did COR Clearing and Wilson-Davis ignore obvious red flags? You can read about it in my column today for TheStreet.com.
When you consider that 73 percent of financial advisers who get caught engaging in misconduct are still doing business with investors a year later, you could just cross your fingers and hope your broker is one of the good ones.
Better yet, you could leaf through the grim results of a study by three finance professors released earlier this month. They looked at records of 1.2 million people registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, to do business with the public. I wrote about the study in my latest column for TheStreet. You can read it here.
As you’re curled up on the couch watching ABC’s Bernie Madoff series, it’s understandable if you start getting a little edgy. What about the guy or gal running your money?
I took the occasion of ABC’s widely watched series to remind investors that there actually are things they can do to check a broker’s record. You can read my column for TheStreet here.
Check out your securities firm’s pitch in TV and print ads or on its web site. Chance are your broker has painted a picture of a paternalistic organization that’s devoted to doing the best thing for you and your portfolio over a period of many years.
But don’t count on that if you wind up facing them across the table at securities arbitration — your only choice in an industry that won’t open an account unless you agree to give up your right to sue in court. Lose money after broken promises that a product is safe or that a broker will be watching over your account, and you may quickly learn that all those assurances were nothing but fluff.
In my column today for TheStreet, I talk about the ways in which Wall Street tries to wiggle out of its responsibilities to its customers, arguing among other things that customers are the ones obliged to monitor their accounts. You can read it here.
State securities regulators unveiled a plan at their annual meeting last week that zeroed in on the role stockbrokers can play in sounding the alarm that a senior is at risk of being ripped off.
The securities industry and its regulators have been tripping over themselves trying to make things safer for elderly investors. But the new proposal by The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) may have gone too far for Wall Street’s liking.
Stockbrokers say they would like to be able to tell authorities when they suspect that an elderly client is at risk of financial exploitation. So NASAA and others have been working on laws and regulations that would allow brokers to report their suspicions without violating privacy laws. Various proposals also have allowed brokers to decline to execute a transaction for 10 days if they suspect something fishy is going on.
The NASAA proposal would make it mandatory for brokers to report their suspicions. But it’s likely that the industry won’t go for that idea, preferring instead to have the option of looking the other way when they suspect financial abuse.
You can read my story for TheStreet here.
CNBC’s SquawkBox invited me in yesterday to discuss my story about The Vanguard Group’s online security. A whistleblower has been speaking with me on the record about a complaint she filed against Vanguard with the Securities and Exchange Commission. You can read the article here.
And here’s the CNBC video:
A whistleblower has gone to the Securities and Exchange Commission with complaints about the security of customer accounts and information at The Vanguard Group.
The world’s largest mutual fund company told me that its security is strong. But the whistleblower, who spoke to me on the record about her complaints, disagrees. You can read my latest column for TheStreet here.
The good news: A problem brokerage firm is shutting its doors.
The bad news: A lot of its bad brokers will be finding work elsewhere.
I wrote about the shutdown of Atlanta-based J.P. Turner Associates in my latest column for TheStreet. You can read it here.
The securities industry doesn’t like the idea of reminding investors to check the records of their stock brokers. So when Finra suggested that there be a hyperlink on brokerage firms’ home pages to take customers to its BrokerCheck tool, the industry went on a letter-writing campaign to oppose it.
My personal favorite: The brokerage firm chief compliance officer who told Finra he was worried about “unscrupulous investors.” Yep, you read that right. Here’s my column for TheStreet on Wall Street’s latest anti-investor campaign.
Finra arbitration is often a surprise to investors — not least of all because so many Wall Street customers have no idea that they sign away their right to court when they open an account.
But how about the surprise of learning that one of your arbitrators had been indicted? Or that he had said he was a lawyer, but wasn’t?
My June 24 column for TheStreet tells about Finra’s latest surprise arbitrator — the guy who was arrested for being a Peeping Tom. Really. You can read it here.
Finra, the securities regulator that’s funded by Wall Street, got some attention last week when it said it was getting tougher on bad stockbrokers. The regulator said fines were going up and sanctions for fraud and the sale of unsuitable products were getting more onerous.
But Finra already had sanction guidelines that might have come to play in the case of Jerry A. Cicolani, Jr., a former broker who worked at Merrill Lynch and at Cleveland’s PrimeSolutions Securities Inc. Somehow, though, despite having been target of 69 customer complaints over the past 13 years, Cicolani wasn’t barred from the business until last September.
By that time, criminal authorities already were moving in with an investigation into his role in a Ponzi scheme. On May 1, he pleaded guilty to two criminal counts, including the sale of unregistered securities. He persuaded many of his former clients from Merrill and PrimeSolutions to invest in that scheme. I wrote about Cicolani in my story yesterday for The New York Times. You can read it here.