On November 8, 2017, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that a broker named Hank Mark Werner of upstate New York had been barred from the securities industry. The headline: “FINRA Hearing Panel Bars Broker for Defrauding Elderly, Blind Customer”.
The pattern of this behavior is outrageous but not all that unusual. It makes a good example of how financial professionals fail their clients.
According to the FINRA news release, Mr. Werner served as the licensed broker for an elderly couple since 1995. The husband died in 2012. Mr. Werner made some 700 trades on “behalf” of his client, a sightless 77-year old recently widowed woman in poor health between October 2012 and December 2015. He ultimately collected $210,000 in commissions. The panel’s decision includes an order of restitution to the widow, a fine, Mr. Werner’s banishment from the industry, and a further fine and censure for his employer – Legend Securities, brokerage firm expelled from the securities industry as of April, 2017.
The hearing panel found that Mr. Werner engaged in a pattern of “fraudulently churning and excessively trading” the client’s brokerage accounts – trades executed only for the sake of generating commissions. Compounding the excessive number of trades, Mr. Werner’s commission rates were so above range as to be “exorbitant”.
“Churning” is one common way investors can be defrauded by financial professionals. On a commission-based account, where a fee is generated for the broker for each purchase and sale, it’s easy to see how an unscrupulous broker might take advantage of a client with unnecessary trading.
Mr. Werner also steered his elderly client’s money into “unsuitable recommendations” — specifically a risky variable annuity that was not suitable based on his client’s age, heath, financial position, and other factors. Why do bad actors love putting their clients’ money into high-risk investments? It’s not just incompetence or the urge to gamble (although there’s that too). Again, it comes down to commissions. There’s a whole class of dubious variable annuities, commodities instruments, exotic real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other extremely complicated investments that are engineered to carry all kinds of risk, while cloaked in the appearance of a moderate investment, and which richly reward any broker who signs somebody up.
We applaud FINRA’s enforcement actions. But FINRA can’t help everybody.
As a securities litigator, I represent investors who have lost money due to the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product. If you have concerns about how your money is being handled, or if your broker has stopped returning your calls, contact me for a free, confidential consultation at 1-800-647-8130 or InvestorDefenders.com
Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice also includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes.