Will Shareholders Lose the Right to Sue Over Corporate Fraud?

Earlier this month, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Hester Peirce told Politico that she “absolutely” thinks that public companies should have the option to require arbitration, which would strip shareholders of their right to bring lawsuits like the one Kacouris filed. The comments by Peirce, a Donald Trump nominee who took office in January, amplified previous remarks by other SEC officials. Commissioner Michael Piwowar, for example, who departed his post in July, told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation last year that he would “encourage” companies to come talk to the SEC about putting mandatory arbitration clauses in their charters.

Read more about this in my story today in The Intercept.

In 30 Years, Only 17 Women Won Sexual Harassment Claims Before Wall Street’s Oversight Boday

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.

Under Trump’s SEC, Wall Street Secrecy Expands as Enforcement Shrinks

Jay Clayton, Donald Trump’s choice to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a man Wall Street itself might have picked to run its most important federal regulator. Except for two years clerking for a federal judge after graduating law school, he has worked his entire adult life at Sullivan & Cromwell, an elite law firm based in downtown Manhattan that includes many of the country’s largest publicly traded companies as clients.

Enforcement cases and fines have gone down since Clayton was sworn in last May, and the SEC has given Wall Street and corporate America any number of gifts, including the easing of public company disclosure requirements that some experts consider key for investors looking to understand a company. My colleague Gary Rivlin and I wrote about Clayton’s SEC for The Intercept. You can read our story here.

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.