The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority on Tuesday said it has sanctioned four banks and fined them a collective $9.1 million over improper sales of leveraged and inverse exchange traded funds.
The four firms are Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), Citigroup (NYSE: C), Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) and UBS (NYSE: UBS).
FINRA said the financial companies were fined for selling leveraged and inverse ETFs “without reasonable supervision and for not having a reasonable basis for recommending the securities.”
Leveraged ETFs are designed to magnify the returns of a market or sector for a specific time period, usually one day. Inverse funds provide short exposure and let investors profit from market declines or hedge long portfolios.
Firms that manage leveraged and inverse ETFs such as ProShares and Direxion stress the products are designed as trading vehicles rather than buy-and-hold funds.
Volume and assets in these high-octane ETFs continue to rise as traders tap the funds to make bets on entire market segments and sectors. Advisors are also incorporating alternative and hedging strategies with the ETFs.
Last month, reports surfaced that FINRA would bring enforcement cases against brokerage firms for selling complex ETFs that were not suitable for their clients. [FINRA Prepping Cases Over Leveraged, Inverse ETFs]
“The added complexity of leveraged and inverse exchange-traded products makes it essential that brokerage firms have an adequate understanding of the products and sufficiently train their sales force before the products are offered to retail customers,” Brad Bennett, FINRA chief of enforcement, said in a press release Tuesday. “Firms must conduct reasonable due diligence and ensure that their representatives have an understanding of these products.”
In settling the matters, the firms neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.