On November 8, 2021, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) and Aegis Capital Corp. (“Aegis Capital”) entered into Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent No. 2016051704305 (the “AWC”). After conducting an investigation, FINRA alleged in the AWC that from July 2014 through December 2018, Aegis Capital failed to establish, maintain, and enforce a supervisory system, including written supervisory procedures (WSPs), reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the suitability requirements of FINRA Rule 2111 as it pertains to excessive trading. As a result, Aegis Capital failed to identify trading in hundreds of customer accounts that were potentially excessive and unsuitable, including trading conducted by eight Aegis Capital registered representatives in the firm’s Melville and Wall Street branches whose trading in the accounts of 31 firm customers resulted in an average annualized cost-to-equity ratio (or break-even point) of 71.6%, an average annualized turnover rate of 34.9, combined customer costs (including commissions, markups or markdowns, margin interest, and fees) of more than $2.9 million, and cumulative losses of $4.6 million.
Additionally, the FINRA AWC alleged from July 2014 to June 2019, Aegis Capital failed to establish, maintain, and enforce a supervisory system, including WSPs, reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the suitability requirements of FINRA Rule 2111 when selling leveraged, inverse, and inverse-leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds (Non-Traditional ETFs) to retail customers. As a result, Aegis Capital failed to identify customers who purchased and held Non-Traditional ETFs for extended periods of time or whose purchase was inconsistent with their recorded investment objective, risk tolerance, or finances.
Customers of Aegis Capital, including customers that have been notified that they may be receiving restitution, should consult with a securities arbitration law firm. If you or a loved one were a customer of Aegis Capital, contact New York securities arbitration law firm Iorio Altamirano LLP for a free and confidential consultation and review of your legal rights.
Iorio Altamirano LLP represents investors that have disputes with their financial advisors or brokerage firms, such as Aegis Capital Corp.
FINRA Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent No. 201605174305
FINRA and Aegis Capital entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent No. 201605174305on November 8, 2021, after FINRA alleged that between July 2014 through December 2018, Aegis Capital failed to establish, maintain, and enforce a supervisory system, including written supervisory procedures (WSPs), reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the suitability requirements of FINRA Rule 2111 as it pertains to excessive trading.
Specifically, with regard to excessive trading, FINRA alleged the following:
- Between 2014 and 2018, Aegis Capital employed on average more than 350 registered representatives across more than 20 branch offices, with the majority working in the firm’s Melville, 40 Wall Street, and Seventh Avenue branches.
- More than 10% of the firm’s registered representatives disclosed personal financial issues, such as outstanding liens, judgments, or bankruptcies on FINRA’s Central Registration Depository.
- During the relevant period, Aegis Capital used boilerplate WSPs prepared by an outside vendor for supervision of registered representatives’ trading in customer accounts.
- Aegis Capital’s WSPs instructed its branch managers to monitor trading for suitability issues during their daily review of Aegis Capital’s trade blotters but did not explain how the firm’s supervisors should conduct the daily trade review or use the trade blotters and other available customer information to identify potentially unsuitable or excessive trading in Aegis Capital’s customers’ accounts.
- The WSPs also did not define or require supervisors to calculate or consider, turnover rate, or cost-to-equity ratio.
- Additionally, Aegis Capital did not provide its branch and assistant branch managers training to compensate for the lack of guidance in the WSPs.
- Aegis Capital’s trade blotters were not designed to flag excessive trading activity, as they did not show the trading history in an account or the holding period between buys and sells in the same security. The blotters also did not include cost-to-equity or turnover, or information regarding the use of margin, even though many of the firm’s registered representatives recommended the use of margin to their customers.
- Aegis Capital’s WSPs also required branch managers to conduct monthly and semi-annual reviews of customer account activity to monitor for suitability and churning, and the firm’s chief compliance officer or their designee to review “active accounts” (defined as accounts with more than 20 transactions per month and $5,000 in commissions), to determine if the type, size, and frequency of trades were consistent with the customer’s investment objectives. However, these reviews were not performed for most of the relevant period.
- Aegis Capital had access to additional supervisory tools to monitor and identify excessive trading. Aegis Capital received exception reports from its clearing firm specifically designed to identify accounts with turnover rates and commission-to-equity ratios indicative of excessive and unsuitable trading. The exception reports were triggered when the annualized cost-to-equity ratio in accounts with an aggressive or speculative investment objective exceeded 5% or 6%, respectively, for three or more consecutive days, or the turnover exceeded 500% for five or more consecutive days.
- From July 2014 to December 2018, the active, in-and-out trading conducted by Aegis Capital’s registered representatives generated thousands of exception reports identifying customer accounts with potentially unsuitable turnover rates and commission-to-equity ratios. Approximately one-third of the exception reports related to trading in accounts held by senior investors, and more than 900 identified potentially unsuitable trading by eight registered representatives who worked in Aegis Capital’s Melville and Wall Street branches (the Representatives).
- These exception reports were active and viewable in the trade review system that Aegis Capital’s supervisors used to conduct their daily trade reviews. However, for most of the relevant period, Aegis Capital’s WSPs did not reference the exception reports or require its supervisors to review and address them.
- Aegis Capital also received more than 50 complaints from customers alleging excessive, unsuitable, or unauthorized trading in their firm accounts, including at least 13 complaints from customers whose accounts were managed by the Representatives.
- Aegis Capital failed to take reasonable steps to investigate these numerous red flags of potentially excessive and unsuitable trading by its registered representatives. Instead, Aegis Capital and its supervisors sent disclosure letters designed to document a customer’s general acknowledgement of the trading in their accounts and the trading costs they incurred. However, the letters did not include the actual costs of the trading, the costs incurred due to the use of margin, or explain what trades (or series of trades) prompted Aegis to issue the letter.
- During the relevant period, Aegis Capital’s compliance department prepared reports documenting the “key compliance issues” identified during its review and testing of Aegis Capital’s supervisory systems, procedures, and controls. Aegis Capital’s annual testing reported that:
- Aegis Capital lacked specific procedures to monitor turnover and commission-to-equity ratios in customers’ accounts.
- Aegis Capital should use exception reports that monitor commission activity and trading velocity (or turnover) to ensure “adequate” commission-to-equity ratios in its customers’ accounts.
- Aegis Capital was not utilizing specific alerts provided by its clearing firm that would ensure adequate commission-to-equity ratios.
- Aegis Capital’s WSPs did not identify which clearing firm exception reports that it would use to conduct supervisory trading reviews or the principals responsible for reviewing them.
- Aegis Capital needed additional compliance personnel to keep pace with Aegis Capital’s rapid hiring and growth.
- Although many of these findings carried over from year-to-year, Aegis Capital did not immediately address the deficiencies identified by its annual testing. Aegis Capital did not supplement its daily trade reviews with systems, surveillance, or reviews specifically designed to monitor or calculate commission-to-equity ratios or turnover rates in customer accounts or require its supervisors to review the exception reports provided by its clearing firm. Aegis Capital also did not update the daily trade blotters to include information that would enable its supervisors to identify patterns of trading, commissions, or accumulated losses in customer accounts.
- In 2018, Aegis Capital retained a third-party vendor to provide new automated trade surveillance and alerts. In 2019 and again in 2020, Aegis Capital also retained independent consultants to conduct comprehensive reviews of its WSPs and supervisory controls, and its remediation is ongoing.
- Even so, during the Relevant Period, Aegis Capital failed to identify potentially excessive and unsuitable trading in hundreds of customer accounts. Aegis Capital’s unreasonable supervisory system, combined with the failure to respond to the red flags discussed above, also allowed the Representatives to make unsuitable recommendations and excessively trade the accounts of 31 customers. The trading by the Representatives in the accounts of those 31 customers resulted in annualized turnover rates ranging from 4.2 to 199.8 and cost-to-equity ratios ranging from 21.2% to 164.6%, and more than $2.9 million in costs and $4.6 million in losses.
- Accordingly, Aegis Capital violated NASD Rule 3010 and FINRA Rules 3110 and 2010.
Excessive trading occurs when a financial advisor makes many trades in a customer’s account, not to benefit the customer but to generate commissions for the broker.
There are two primary indicators used to evaluate whether a financial advisor excessively traded an account. The first is turnover rate, which represents the number of times a portfolio of investments is replaced for another portfolio of investments. Generally, a turnover rate of six suggests excessive trading, but a turnover rate below four can be excessive in some cases. According to FINRA, the accounts at issue had a turnover rate between 4.2 and 199.8.
The second indicator used to assess whether trading is excessive in an investment account is its cost-to-equity ratio. The cost-to-equity ratio measures the amount an account must appreciate to cover commissions and other expenses. That is, how much the account needs to grow just to break even. A cost-to-equity ratio of 20% generally indicates excessive trading has occurred. According to FINRA, the accounts at issue had cost-to-equity ratios between 21.2% and 164.6%.
The practice of excessively trading customers’ accounts is unethical and illegal. Such conduct is also a violation of securities rules and regulations and can cause enormous harm to customers.
The FINRA AWC also alleged from July 2014 to June 2019, Aegis Capital failed to establish, maintain, and enforce a supervisory system, including WSPs, reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the suitability requirements of FINRA Rule 2111 when selling leveraged, inverse, and inverse-leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds (Non-Traditional ETFs) to retail customers.
Specifically, with regard to Non-Traditional ETFs, FINRA alleged the following:
- Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) are typically registered unit investment trusts or open-end investment companies whose shares represent an interest in a portfolio of securities that track an underlying benchmark or index. Shares of ETFs often are listed on national securities exchanges and traded throughout the day at prices established by the market.
- Leveraged ETFs seek to return a multiple of the performance of the index or benchmark they track. Some Non-Traditional ETFs are “inverse” or “short” funds, meaning they seek to deliver the opposite of the performance of the index or benchmark they track. Some funds are both inverse and leveraged, meaning that they seek to achieve a return that is a multiple of the inverse performance of the underlying index or benchmark. Most Non-Traditional ETFs reset daily, meaning they are designed to achieve their stated objectives only over the course of one trading session – usually a single day.
- In June 2009, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 09-31. Regulatory Notice 09-31 reminded member firms that the performance of Non-Traditional ETFs over periods of time longer than a single trading session “can differ significantly from the performance … of their underlying index or benchmark during the same period of time.” Because of these risks and the complexity of these products, the notice further advised that “[w]hile the customer-specific suitability analysis depends on the investor’s particular circumstances, inverse and leveraged ETFs are not suitable for retail investors who plan to hold them for more than one trading session, particularly in volatile markets.”
- In January 2012, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 12-03. Regulatory Notice 12-03 reminded member firms that Non-Traditional ETFs that reset daily are complex products that require heightened supervision. The notice explained that member firms should have: (i) a well-designed system of internal controls; (ii) adequate training, so its registered representatives understand how Non-Traditional ETFs are expected to perform in normal market conditions and the risks associated with them; and (iii) monitoring systems or procedures reasonably designed to determine that Non-Traditional ETFs are recommended and sold only to customers who understand their essential features and for whom the product is suitable.
- From July 1, 2014, to June 1, 2019, Aegis Capital’s registered representatives executed more than 3,000 transactions, with a total principal value of more than $400 million, in Non-Traditional ETFs that reset daily. The transactions were executed in 524 retail customer accounts and generated approximately $422,000 in sales compensation for Aegis Capital and its registered representatives.
- Consistent with Regulatory Notice 12-03, Aegis Capital’s WSPs designated Non-Traditional ETFs as a complex product requiring heightened supervision. For example, Aegis Capital’s WSPs required the firm to provide its registered representatives with mandatory training on the features and risks of Non-Traditional ETFs and clear instructions regarding the types of customers for whom Non-Traditional ETFs were suitable. Aegis Capital’s WSPs also required the firm to appoint a product manager responsible for determining the type of investor for whom the purchase or sale of Non-Traditional ETFs was suitable and tasked the firm’s branch managers with reviewing each Non-Traditional ETF transaction for customer-specific suitability.
- Aegis Capital failed to conduct the heightened supervision its WSPs required. Aegis Capital did not designate an individual to act as the product manager or require its branch managers to perform the heightened suitability review its WSPs mandated for sales of Non-Traditional ETFs. Aegis Capital did not provide its registered representatives with any training on Non-Traditional ETFs until November 2018 or establish guidance regarding the types of customers for whom the purchase of Non-Traditional ETFs was suitable until June 2019.
- Aegis Capital’s supervisory systems were also not reasonably designed to detect potentially unsuitable transactions involving Non-Traditional ETFs. As discussed in Regulatory Notice 09-31, a primary risk associated with Non-Traditional ETFs is that their performance over longer periods of time can differ significantly from the performance of their underlying index or benchmark, particularly in volatile markets. Aegis Capital relied on its daily trade review to monitor how long customers who purchased Non-Traditional ETFs held the security before selling it. However, the trade blotter did not include information that allowed the branch managers to identify whether a customer held a Non-Traditional ETF for more than one day, and Aegis Capital did not track the holding periods of Non-Traditional ETF positions.
- As a result, Aegis Capital failed to identify customers who purchased and held Non-Traditional ETFs for extended periods of time up to and including a year or longer and customers whose purchase was inconsistent with their recorded investment objective, risk tolerance, or finances. Fifteen of those customers – including seniors and individuals with conservative or moderate risk tolerances – incurred total realized losses of $132,463.
- Accordingly, Aegis Capital violated NASD Rule 3010 and FINRA Rules 3110 and 2010.
Aegis Capital consented to the imposition of the following sanctions: a censure, a fine of $1,050,000, and restitution of $1,692,256.44.
Aegis Capital Corp: 2021 Disciplinary Actions
This blog has repeatedly written about Aegis Capital and its brokers’ propensity to engage in excessive and unsuitable trading in customers’ accounts.
The following chart summaries disciplinary actions that have been taken against Aegis Capital and its brokers in 2021 and also includes links to previous blog posts:
|January 13, 2021||Steven Luftschein||Churning and Excessive Trading||Barred|
|January 22, 2021||Anthony (Tony) Tricarico||Excessive Trading||Suspended for 6 months|
|March 10, 2021||Aegis Capital Corp.||Best Execution Violations||Censured, Fined, Restitution|
|March 19, 2021||Edmund Zack||Excessive Trading and Exercising Discretion Without Authorization (Unauthorized Trading)||Suspended for 8 months|
|March 23, 2021||Corey Johnson||Exercising Discretion Without Authorization (Unauthorized Trading)||Suspended for 30 days|
|July 7, 2021||Kishan (Sean) Parikh||Excessive Trading and Unauthorized Trading||Suspended for 18 months|
|July 9, 2021||Douglas Szempruch||Excessive Trading and Exercising Discretion Without Authorization (Unauthorized Trading)||Suspended for 12 months|
|July 29, 2021||Gilbert Kuta||Exercising Discretion Without Authorization (Unauthorized Trading)||Suspended for 10 days|
|July 29, 2021||Daniel O’Neill||Excessive Trading and Unauthorized Trading||Complaint Filed|
|November 8, 2021||Joseph Michael Giordano||Failed to Supervise Registered Representatives (Excessive and Unsuitable Trading)||Suspended for 6 months, Fined|
|November 8, 2021||Roberto Birardi||Failed to Supervise Registered Representatives (Excessive and Unsuitable Trading)||Suspended for 3 months, Fined|
|November 8, 2021||Aegis Capital Corp||Failed to Supervise Registered Representatives (Excessive and Unsuitable Trading)||Censured, Fined, Restitution|
Unfortunately, Aegis Capital’s misconduct is not new. Aegis Capital Corp has a long history of allegations of wrongdoing.
In 2017, Aegis was included in a Reuters study that analyzed FINRA data and identified 48 firms whose brokers have been flagged for serious incidents. The Reuters’ analysis showed that Aegis Capital had 39% of its brokers with at least one of the most serious red flags, per the study, on their public disclosure reports.
The alleged conduct by the brokers that have been sanctioned this year, such as excessive trading, churning, and unauthorized trading, are common practices for “boiler room” broker-dealers.
Aegis Capital Corp. – A Duty to Supervise
Financial institutions like Aegis Capital Corp. must properly supervise financial advisors and customer accounts. Brokerage firms must establish and maintain a reasonably designed system to oversee account activity, such as annuity switches, to ensure compliance with securities laws and industry regulations. When a brokerage firm fails to supervise its financial advisors or the investment account activity sufficiently, it may be liable for investment losses sustained by customers.
Iorio Altamirano LLP Investigates Aegis Capital Over GPB Funds
According to publicly available records filed with the SEC, Aegis Capital likely received sales compensation for selling the private offerings by GPB Capital to retail investors.
Iorio Altamirano LLP is investigating claims on behalf of defrauded investors who were victims in the GPB funds scheme. The GPB funds were marketed to independent broker-dealers and investment advisers who would, in turn, sell the GPB funds to their retail investors.
If you lost money investing in private offerings by GPB Capital with Aegis Capital Corp, including GPB Automotive, you might have a claim.
The SEC has charged GPB Capital, Ascendant Capital, and Ascendant Alternative Strategies with running a Ponzi-like scheme that raised roughly $1.8 billion from securities issued by GPB Capital. The SEC believes that as many as 17,000 retail investors nationwide have been defrauded.
Nearly $1.7 billion of that total was invested in GPB Capital’s four flagship funds:
- GPB Holdings, LP / GPB Holdings Qualified, LP (“Holdings Qualified”) (collectively, “Holdings I”), launched in March 2013;
- GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP (“Automotive Portfolio”), launched in May 2013;
- GPB Holdings II, LP (“Holdings II”), launched in April 2015; and
- GPB Waste Management, LP (“Waste Management”), launched in August 2016.
See Also: Iorio Altamirano LLP Files GPB Automotive Claim Against Aegis Capital Corp
If you invested in the GPB funds with Aegis Capital, contact New York securities arbitration lawyers Iorio Altamirano LLP for a free and confidential evaluation of your account. We have nearly 20 years of combined experience as securities arbitration lawyers and have helped investors recover investment losses in over 1,000 cases. Our firm will file a FINRA arbitration claim on your behalf on a contingency fee basis to try to recover your losses. If we do not obtain a recovery, you do not owe us a legal fee.
Related actions have also been initiated all over the country. The New York State Attorney General filed a complaint against GPB Capital. According to the complaint, as of June 2019, GPB Capital estimated the fair market value of its funds’ portfolio assets at approximately $1 billion – representing a more than 40% loss on investors’ initial capital contributions. The exact portfolio asset values are unknown, as the funds have not issued audited financials since 2016.
In addition to the State of New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, South Carolina, and Alabama have initiated similar legal proceedings.
You can read more about our firm’s investigation into the GPB funds and the SEC action here.
How to Recover Financial Losses or Obtain a Free Consultation
If you have suffered investment losses with Aegis Capital Corp. or suspect other inappropriate activity occurred in your investment or retirement account, contact New York securities arbitration attorney August Iorio of Iorio Altamirano LLP. August Iorio can be reached at email@example.com or toll-free at (855) 430-4010 for a free and confidential review of your legal rights.
Iorio Altamirano LLP is a securities arbitration law firm based in New York, NY. Iorio Altamirano LLP pursues FINRA claims nationwide on behalf of investors to recover financial losses arising out of wrongful conduct by stockbrokers and brokerage firms.