The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is on its way to posting a record year in terms of the amount of fines that it has assessed to member firms. Law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan reported that the firm’s total fines for 2016 will exceed the 2015 total by a whopping 70%, and will also beat the previous record that was set in 2014.
Much of this is due to a small number of very large penalties that the regulatory agency has assessed to members as a result of infractions with the use of variable annuities. FINRA assessed nearly $80 million in fines during the first half of this year, compared with a total of only $37.5 million for the first half of 2015. If FINRA continues to assess fines at this rate for the rest of 2016, then its total fines would come to nearly $160 million. The Sutherland report states that this would represent almost a 20% increase over the record amount of fines that were levied in 2014. (For more, see: Culture Questions FINRA Will Ask in Exams.)
One factor of interest with these fines is that they are part of a slightly smaller number of disciplinary actions that has been taken against regulatory offenders. But there have been a total of 11 fines levied so far in 2016 that have exceeded $1 million, which is nearly twice the number that were levied last year.
“The number of cases is actually not on track compared to last year, so the main driver of the increased fines are the large number of supersized fines,” Brian Rubin, a partner and head of Sutherland's Washington litigation practice group, told InvestmentNews. In fact, four of the fines levied by FINRA have exceeded $5 million apiece. MetLife, for example, paid a whopping $20 million fine for variable annuity sales violations, plus another $5 million in client restitution. Rubin went on to say, “It is [a] real area of focus, and from what I know there will be several large variable-annuity cases this year.” (For more, see: Top Compliance Headaches for Financial Advisors.)