SEC Blasts Wall Street Firms for Structured Product Failures

Yesterday the SEC issued a scathing report stemming from a broad review of Wall Street firms’ sales of structured products to their retail customers.  After its comprehensive study, the SEC staff concluded that the Street was rife with “fraud and abusive sales practices” as well as faulty training and lax supervision.

Specifically, the SEC has found that the firms:

  • recommended unsuitable structured products to their customers;
  • omitted material facts about the structured products they pitched;
  • engaged in questionable sales practices; and
  • treated their customers unfairly in secondary-market sales, including charging outsized commissions

For years we have been warning investors about the dangers of these opaque derivatives with their catchy names, exotic benchmarks, hidden commissions and shaky issuers.  Now it appears the federal regulators have reached the same conclusion many of our clients learned the hard way: Wall Street’s creativity in separating investors from their money knows no bounds!

Analyzing an early 20th-century bout with another brand of ruinous “financial innovation,” the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “If there must be madness something may be said for having it on a heroic scale.”  Apparently Wall Street agrees, since Bloomberg now reports that following a brief slowdown in the wake of Lehman’s failure, the sales of structured products in the U.S. reached a record $25.3 billion in the first half of 2011, an increase of 14%.

Whether your brokerage firm is pitching reverse convertibles (products that offer tempting upside but turn, pumpkin-like, into a company’s shares if the stock tanks), so-called “principal protection notes” (ask the Lehman noteholders about that one) or whatever Wall Street’s mad scientists cook up next, buyer beware.

Disclosure: Zamansky & Associates represents customers in arbitration cases against brokerage firms concerning structured products.

About Jacob H. Zamansky 57 Articles

Jacob (”Jake”) H. Zamansky is one of the country’s foremost authorities on securities arbitration law, the legal recourse for investors claiming broker wrongdoing, or for brokers claiming wrongful termination or other misconduct by their employer. Zamansky & Associates, the New York-based law firm he founded, represents both individuals and institutions in complex securities, hedge fund, and employment arbitrations.

Mr. Zamansky was at the forefront of recent efforts to “clean up” Wall Street. In 2001, he successfully sued former Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget on behalf of a New York pediatrician misled by Blodget’s stock research. The case’s successful resolution was the catalyst for New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to investigate the conflicts of interest on Wall Street and resulted in the well-reported $1.4 billion Global Settlement, which included many of the biggest names on Wall Street.

More recently, Mr. Zamansky is one of the leading litigators and opinion leaders of the subprime mortgage crisis and the related hedge fund collapses, representing both investors and mortgage borrowers who were defrauded by Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders. Among Mr. Zamansky’s early actions is filing the first arbitration case on behalf of institutional and high net worth investors against Bear Stearns Asset Management with regard to the two hedge funds which collapsed as a result of exposure to subprime mortgage backed securities. He also has filed claims on behalf of individual investors victimized by brokers that steered their portfolios into unsuitable subprime stocks and mortgage borrowers who were fraudulently coerced into inappropriate mortgage and investment transactions.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Zamansky worked for more than 30 years as a litigator, including positions at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. His tenure also included serving as a federal prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Zamansky has been a frequent expert commentator on CNBC, CNN, and FOX News and has published opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and USA Today. He is regularly quoted and his cases have been chronicled in major financial and news publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Fortune and Forbes. He is a frequent lecturer for industry and legal groups around the country. He also writes a blog that can be viewed here.

Visit: Zamansky & Associates

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