Tuesday, January 29, 2008
FINRA continues to crack down on sales of deferred variable annuities to senior citizens. It fined Banc One Securities Corporation (BOSC) of Chicago $225,000 for making unsuitable sales of deferred variable annuities to 23 customers and for having inadequate systems and procedures governing annuity exchanges. Twenty-one of the 23 customers were over 70 years old. FINRA is also requiring the firm to allow each of the 23 customers to sell their variable annuities without penalty. Ordinarily, these variable annuities would have been subject to a six-year "surrender period" during which time the customers would have been required to pay surrender charges as high as 7 percent of the amount invested if they were sold in the first two years. The firm will also pay restitution of about $6,500 to two customers who incurred surrender charges when exchanging annuities.
In 2006, BOSC merged with J.P. Morgan Securities, Inc.
FINRA found that in each of the 23 transactions between January 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, BOSC representatives recommended that the customers exchange their fixed annuities then paying a minimum of 3 percent, for variable annuities. Following the exchange, the customers placed 100 percent of their assets into the fixed rate feature of the variable annuity, which paid a maximum of 3 percent - as recommended by BOSC representatives. All but one of the fixed annuities were beyond the surrender period - that is, the customers were not subject to any financial penalties if they withdrew any of their funds from the fixed annuity. Each of the newly purchased variable annuities was subject to a six-year surrender period requiring the customers to pay a penalty if they withdrew more than the sum of their earnings and 10 percent of their principal. FINRA found that each of these 23 recommendations was unsuitable, given the customer's age, investment objective, financial situation and income needs.
The settlement cites one example of an 80-year old customer who exchanged a fixed annuity earning 3 percent for a variable annuity, in which he invested the entire $80,000 balance in the fixed income feature, which also paid 3 percent interest. This new variable annuity was subject to a six-year surrender period. Within the first year of owning the variable annuity, the customer withdrew $9,000. Sixteen months after buying the variable annuity, the customer liquidated it and incurred a $4,628 surrender fee.
In concluding this settlement, BOSC neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.