How Wall Street Keeps Outrageous Gender Bias Quiet 20 Years After the Boom-Boom Room

Everybody loves a half-price sale, and if you’re a recruiter on Wall Street, there’s always a markdown on female employees.

Women in finance last year earned 52 cents for every dollar that men made in a job category the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “securities, commodities and financial services sales agents.” That’s about as bad as it gets for women workers. It was the biggest pay gap among 119 occupations evaluated in a recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

But the revealing lawsuits that used to challenge this outrageous pay gap and economically hostile work environment to women are few and far between today – and that’s how Wall Street wants it. The country’s biggest banks have made it harder than ever for women with complaints of unequal pay or treatment to make their cases in a public forum.

 It was 20 years ago last month when three women in the Garden City, New York branch of Smith Barney triggered an industry-wide migraine, filing a class-action lawsuit that exposed egregious sexual harassment and unequal pay. It was dubbed the “boom-boom room” suit, the namesake of a party room in the branch’s basement. Click here for the rest of the story.

Retirement Fallout From a Penny-Stock Scam: “We Don’t Do Hardly Anything”

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.

Vanguard Says Sending 71 Account E-Mails to Wrong Investor Was ‘Isolated Matter’

On Feb. 11, a puzzled customer of The Vanguard Group noticed that the firm had sent him 72 emails. But only one of them was meant for him.

Vanguard has a history of problems with online security and security of customer information, which I’ve written about here and here.

For its latest glitch, you can read my column today.

Penny-Stock Broker Gets Indicted, But What Took So Long?

On Jan. 6, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York charged stockbroker Larry S. Werbel with conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, investment adviser fraud and making false statements. But regulators had been aware of Werbel’s dicey recommendations of penny stocks to clueless customers five years before that.The sordid tale is but the latest example of authorities doing too little, too late.

You can read my column for TheStreet here.

Chamber of Commerce Gives Wall Street, Polluters, What They Ask For

When it comes to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, you know the drill. Regulation is bad. Dirty energy is good.

And why shouldn’t it be? We are talking, of course, about Corporate America’s biggest booster.

In advance of the annual “State of American Business” speech by Thomas J. Donohue, the Godfather of corporate lobbying, I made some predictions about what the speech would include.  I concede it was not exactly a challenging task. But I did have a little fun with the Chamber’s always-predictable hypocrisies. You can read my column for TheStreet.com here.

Wall Street’s unique way of “protecting” small investors

Is the person who handles your money a stock broker or an investment adviser?

It makes a difference. Investment advisers, who are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, are held to a fiduciary standard, which means they have to put your interest ahead of theirs. If an adviser is choosing from a list of 5 similar mutual funds that might be suitable for you, he or she can’t pick the one with the biggest fees.

Brokers, who are registered with the self-regulatory organization Finra,  can look at that same list of 5 suitable funds and pick the one that puts the most money in their pockets. Regulators who watch over retirement funds at the Department of Labor don’t like that brokers can get away with that, and have proposed a rule that would force them to put your interests first just like advisers do.

Wall Street has been having an institutional temper tantrum over the idea that its brokers might have to put customers’ interests first. And the industry has actually concocted an argument that putting customers’ interests first would not be in customers’ best interest. I’m serious.

You can read about it here in my latest column for TheStreet.

Never buy a financial product that’s 13 words long, and other lessons from the SEC’s case against UBS

Last week’s $19.5 million settlement between investment bank UBS and securities regulators is just the latest example of why Mom and Pop have no business getting involved with Wall Street’s most convoluted creations.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said on Oct. 13 that UBS had given investors false or misleading information about the structured debt securities known as “Medium Term Securities Linked to the UBS V10 Currency Index with Volatility Cap.”

Products with interminable names often wind up being products that are too complicated for a math Ph.D. to understand, never mind the average investor. (Or their sometimes hapless brokers, who sometimes whine like babies that they’ve been duped by their firms when products blow up.) You can learn a lot of lessons by examining the flaws in the UBS V10. I talk about those lessons in my latest column for TheStreet, which you can read here.

 

Wall Street Will Only Go So Far to Help Older Investors

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.

S.E.C. and First Eagle Investment Reach $40 Million Settlement

The Securities and Exchange Commission said on Monday that it had reached a $40 million settlement with a New York-based investment adviser over charges that it had improperly used mutual fund assets to pay brokerage firms for the marketing and distribution of its funds.

The case against the investment adviser, First Eagle Investment Management, is the first brought against an asset manager under an SEC initiative that aims to protect fund shareholders from paying for marketing expenses that should come out of the firm’s own assets.

I wrote about the settlement for The New York Times DealBook. You can read the story here.

Vanguard Group Fires Whistleblower Who Told TheStreet About Flaws in Customer Security

The Vanguard Group, the world’s largest mutual fund company, has fired a whistleblower who shared information with TheStreet about deficiencies in the company’s customer account security.

Karen Brock, a client relationship administrator in Vanguard’s Scottsdale, Ariz., office, had told me that customers could access their Vanguard accounts even after entering typographical errors in their personal security answers. In my own account at Vanguard, I have repeatedly tested her assertions and found them to be true.

Brock also had detailed the complaints of a customer who said that he had asked his son to mimic his voice to test Vanguard’s “Voice Verification System.” Vanguard’s system allowed the son to gain access to the father’s account, Brock said. She also shared an internal training document where the names, email addresses, phone numbers and account numbers of several current or prospective clients had evaded the redaction process.

You can read my article about Brock’s firing here. You can see the original article that led to the firing here.

Antilla discusses Vanguard Group security problems with Fox 5 New York

I spoke with Alison Morris of Fox 5 News in New York about my story on security lapses at the mutual fund giant The Vanguard Group. You can watch the video here.

Antilla Talks to CNBC Squawk Box
About Security at Vanguard Group

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:

Is Vanguard Making It Too Easy for Cybercriminals to Access Your Account?

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.

Investor Warning: Keep an Eye on J.P. Turner Brokers After Shutdown

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.

Wall Street Makes It Hard to Dig Up Dirt on Your Broker or Brokerage Firm

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.

Wall Street Waging War Against Making Brokers Accountable to Investors

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White told members of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday that there would be “many challenges” in changing the rules so that stock brokers and investment advisers are similarly regulated.

That’s an understatement. Wall Street has been on a tear for years fighting efforts to demand more of stock brokers. From my column yesterday for TheStreet:

As things stand today, brokers need only sell “suitable” investments that match a client’s investment profile. But they needn’t act as fiduciaries who are duty-bound to put clients’ interests ahead of their own, as investment advisers are expected to do.

You might think it’s a no-brainer that people doing essentially the same job in the financial industry should be subject to the same rules, but you’d be thinking wrong.

There are two fights going on related to the duties of investment advisers and brokers. There’s the one Ms. White has a say in: Changing the rules so that brokers and advisers both are expected to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own — a so-called “fiduciary duty.” And there’s another related to retirement money. The Department of Labor would like to raise the standards for people giving advice in that arena, too. President Barack Obama publicly supported the idea on Feb. 23.

The unsightly battle that has Wall Street fighting to avoid a more ethical approach to its customers is the latest reminder of the gap between the way the industry portrays itself in its marketing, and the way it actually treats its customers. From my column:

“These guys advertise like doctors and lawyers and litigate like used car salesman,” said Joseph C. Peiffer, president of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, or Piaba, a group of lawyers who represent investors in securities arbitration.

You can read the story here.

Why Only Big Bankers Can Flout the Rules and Get Away With It

Did you hear the one about the stock promoter, the lawyer, three figurehead CEOs and seven auditing firm partners?

No, it isn’t a “walks into a bar” joke. It’s a case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission last month against the players in a sham stock offering. The agency went after all the people involved in what it called ”a massive scheme to create public shell companies through false registration statements.”

No big deal, right? The SEC is supposed to be going after bad guys, making them pay fines and lose privileges. But it tends to do a lot better in cases against no-name boiler room types like the ones in the January case than it does with players at powerful banks.

In my column for TheStreet this week, I discussed the contrast in enforcement results between cases against small players and cases against Wall Street’s elite.

In December, for example, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, brought cases against ten household name firms for flouting the rules that govern research analysts when their firms are pitching for initial public offering business. In its complaints against the firms, Finra described the actions of specific people who broke specific rules. But we never learned their names. Indeed they weren’t charged at all.  You can read my column here.