Monday, November 23, 2009
FINRA fined Terra Nova Financial, LLC, of Chicago, $400,000 for making more than $1 million in improper soft dollar payments to or on behalf of five hedge fund managers, without following its own policies to ensure the payments were proper. Terra Nova was also charged with failing to properly supervise its soft dollar program, failing to implement adequate supervisory procedures and failing to retain its business-related electronic instant messages. Terra Nova also failed to timely respond to FINRA's requests for productions of various documents, including emails and instant messages, thus delaying FINRA's investigation.
As part of the settlement, Terra Nova is required to retain an independent consultant to review and enhance its policies, systems and procedures relating to its soft dollar operations.
FINRA found that starting in 2004, Terra Nova set up soft dollar accounts for eight hedge funds to encourage the funds to execute trades with the firm. Terra Nova collected a portion of the commissions generated by the funds' trading in separate soft dollar accounts and from those accounts paid invoices from the fund managers or third parties for various services. Federal securities laws allow advisors to use soft dollars to pay for research or brokerage-related expenses. But advisors may only use soft dollars to pay for personal expenses or other non-research or non-brokerage related expenses if those types of payments were previously disclosed to investors and if they are made in accordance with the terms of the fund's organizing documents.
FINRA found that in 2004 and 2005, Terra Nova made numerous improper soft dollar payments to or on behalf of five hedge fund advisors totaling more than $1 million. Some payments (for estate planning fees, administrative staff and accounting expenses) were not allowed by the fund documents. Other payments made directly to the funds' managers were improper because Terra Nova did not receive written authorization from a third party evidencing that the payments were appropriate, as required by fund documents that the firm had or should have obtained under its own policies.