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Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FINRA Fines NEXT Financial Group for Supervisory Violations

FINRA) announced today that it fined NEXT Financial Group, Inc., headquartered in Houston, TX, $1 million for supervisory violations that primarily involved the failure to supervise its approximately 130 Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction (OSJ) branch managers, who typically supervise transactions and sales activity for individual brokers or branches within a particular region. OSJ branch managers' transactions and sales activities are then supposed to be supervised by another registered principal designated by the firm.  Between January 2005 and November 2006, the firm allowed its OSJ branch managers to self-supervise their own handling of customer accounts without adequate review. In November 2006, the firm adopted a Regional Manager supervisory system to provide principal review of the OSJ managers’ transactions. Through at least December 2007, however, this new system was also unreasonable because, among other reasons, it required three Regional Managers to review thousands of transactions each month with limited access to client suitability information.

The lack of reasonable policies and written procedures resulted in the firm’s failure to detect churning of customer accounts and excessive markups and markdowns on corporate bond trades.  

FINRA further found that the firm’s systems and procedures governing variable annuity exchanges were not reasonable. Variable annuity sales accounted for approximately 33 percent of the firm’s revenue during the relevant period. The firm’s written supervisory procedures, however, failed to provide adequate guidance concerning the criteria that should be considered in recommending variable annuity exchanges to its customers including, for example, a comparison between the features, costs and benefits of the old and new products. 

As part of the settlement, the firm must certify that it has implemented new systems and procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the federal securities laws and FINRA Rules described above and in other areas identified in the settlement agreement.  In settling this matter, NEXT and Eyster neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.

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