The Most Common Examples of Breach of Fiduciary Duty (And What to Do)

Breaches of fiduciary duty are unfortunately common. Since the fiduciary duty is the highest legal standard of care, however, there are severe consequences for a breach of fiduciary duty. With the help of an investment loss recovery attorney, you can hold the fiduciary accountable for his or her misconduct. What Constitutes a Breach of Fiduciary Duty? A fiduciary duty is a responsibility to act in the best interests of investors as advisors or brokers. When a client’s principal fails to act responsibly in his or her best interests, he or she has committed a breach of fiduciary duty. Investment loss? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. If you believe you are dealing with investment loss due to a breach in fiduciary duty, you should strongly consider hiring an investment loss attorney. The quicker you reach out, the quicker you can begin the process of recovery. The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., offers free consultations. Give us a call at 561-556-2927. Let’s discuss your case and see what we can do to help you get the compensation you need and deserve. The Four Elements of a Valid Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim A breach of fiduciary duty occurs when the fiduciary fails to act in the best interest of the principal. This can happen through an intentional act or failure to act.  There are four elements to a valid breach of fiduciary duty claim. Duty A fiduciary relationship must exist for the fiduciary to owe a duty. You must show that the fiduciary knowingly accepted that role to hold them to the fiduciary standard of care. This is typically shown through a written agreement between the parties, such as a customer agreement. Breach The fiduciary must act contrary to your best interests. A breach of fiduciary duty can be shown through deliberate acts, such as making decisions on your behalf without consent. You can also prove a breach through the fiduciary’s failure to act—for example, not disclosing a conflict of interest.  Damages You must suffer actual harm or damages from the fiduciary’s breach. Proving there was a breach is not enough for a valid claim of breach of fiduciary duty. Damages can be either economic or non-economic, such as mental anguish.  Causation There must be a direct causal link between the fiduciary’s breach and harm to you. Despite your damages, if they are unrelated to the fiduciary’s misconduct or an unforeseeable result of the breach, you cannot recover your losses.  What Is a Fiduciary Duty? A fiduciary is a person entrusted to act in the best interests of another (i.e. the principal). Once the fiduciary agrees to the relationship, the fiduciary is bound by a set of legal and ethical obligations, known as fiduciary duties.  In general, all fiduciaries owe a duty of loyalty and a duty of care. Some fiduciaries will owe additional duties based on the relationship and the industry in which they are in.  The duty of loyalty requires fiduciaries to act in the best interest of the principa, avoid any conflicts of interest, and refrain from self-dealing. The duty of care means the fiduciary must make informed decisions based on all information available.  Fiduciary Duties of Financial Advisors  While all financial advisors have a duty of care to their clients, only registered advisors have a fiduciary duty. It is important to know whether your financial advisor is registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or a state securities regulating agency. Financial advisors who are not registered can make investments that benefit them, as long as the investment is within your stated objectives. A registered financial advisor, on the other hand, can invest only if it is in your best interest. For registered financial advisors, the fiduciary duties owed vary by state. However, the following fiduciary duties apply to all registered financial advisors in all states Duty to Recommend Suitable Investments Prior to recommending an investment, the financial advisor must study and understand the investor’s objectives, tax status, and financial situation, among other things. Any investments that the financial advisor recommends must be suitable to the investor’s needs.  Duty to Inform Investor A financial advisor must fully inform the investor of the risks associated with the purchase or sale of a security. The advisor cannot misrepresent any material facts regarding the transaction. Duty to Act Promptly and with Authorization  All client orders must be performed promptly and with investor’s express consent. The advisor must obtain separate authorization for each investment unless the investor has a discretionary account.  Duty to Refrain from Self-Dealing  A financial advisor cannot initiate a transaction where he or she personally benefits. Duty to Avoid Conflicts of Interest For any recommendations made after June 30, 2020, financial advisors have a fiduciary duty to avoid any conflicts of interest. If unavoidable, the advisor must disclose the conflict to the investor.  What Are Common Forms of Breach of Fiduciary Duty? Below are just a few examples of how a financial advisor can breach his or her fiduciary duty. In each instance, the fiduciary fails to act in the best interest of the investor. Misrepresentation or Failure to Disclose Information If a financial advisor does not present a client with all material information about an investment, this is a breach of fiduciary duty. Material information is what a reasonable investor would consider important when deciding whether to invest.  Sometimes financial advisors will mislead investors by omitting information, such as risk factors or any negative information about a stock.  Excessive Trading Excessive trading, also known as churning, in your account is a breach of fiduciary duty. Financial advisors will make large numbers of trades solely to generate more commissions for themselves.  Unsuitable Investments Financial advisors must “know their customer” before making investment recommendations. This includes understanding the client’s investment objectives, risk tolerance, time horizon, financial standing, and tax status. The advisor breaches their fiduciary duty if they make an unsuitable investment, even with the best intentions.  Failure to Diversify Your financial advisor must recommend a mix of investments...

Continue Reading

What Is Financial Advisor Malpractice?

As an investor, you expect your financial advisor to properly manage your investment portfolio. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. Financial advisors owe their clients certain obligations with respect to their investment accounts. Failure to adhere to these obligations can result in a claim for financial advisor malpractice. In certain circumstances, the financial fraud committed by your financial advisor will be obvious. For example, if your financial advisor forged your signature on a document, he or she clearly committed misconduct. However, most financial malpractice claims are not this straightforward.  The investment loss recovery attorneys at The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., have helped hundreds of investors recover losses caused by financial advisor malpractice. Contact us today for a free consultation. What Are My Financial Advisor’s Obligations and Duties to Me?  Registered financial advisors must adhere to certain fiduciary duties, or obligations, with respect to their clients. Financial advisors who are not registered and are not making securities recommendations to retail customers still owe their clients certain obligations, but they are not as stringent as fiduciary duties. Fiduciary Duties Registered investment advisors are bound by fiduciary duties to their clients. The Investment Advisers Act of 1940 defines the role and responsibilities of investment advisors. At its core, the purpose of this act was to protect investors.  A financial advisor owes their client a duty of care and a duty of loyalty. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) interprets these fiduciary duties to require a financial advisor to act in the best interest of their client at all times. The SEC provides additional guidance for each fiduciary duty specifically. The duty of care requires that an investment advisor provide investment advice in the client’s best interest, in consideration of the client’s financial goals. It also requires that a financial advisor provide advice and oversight to the client over the course of the relationship. The duty of loyalty requires an investment advisor to disclose any conflicts of interest that might affect his or her impartiality. It also means that the financial advisor is prohibited from subordinating his or her client’s interests to their own. The Suitability Rule Broker-dealers in the past were subject to less demanding obligations.  The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulates broker-dealers in the United States. FINRA previously imposed a suitability obligation on broker-dealers that only required them to make recommendations that were “suitable” for their clients.  Under the suitability rule, a broker-dealer could recommend an investment only if it was suitable for the client in terms of the client’s financial objectives, needs, and risk profile. Broker-dealers did not owe a duty of loyalty to their clients and did not have to disclose conflicts of interest.  Recently, however, FINRA amended its suitability rule. Regulation Best Interest FINRA recently amended its suitability rule to conform with SEC Regulation Best Interest (Reg. BI), making it clear that stockbrokers now uniformly owe certain heightened duties when making recommendations to retail customers.  As with fiduciary duties, under Reg. BI, all broker-dealers and their stockbrokers now owe the following duties:  Disclosure,  Care,  Conflicts, and  Compliance.  However, it’s important to remember that they owe these duties only when they make recommendations regarding a securities transaction or investment strategy involving securities to a retail customer.  While these changes are still new, one thing is certain—the Reg. BI standard is definitely a heightened standard compared with the previous suitability standard.  Forms of Financial Advisor Malpractice Investors usually hire financial advisors because they do not have experience in investing. With this lack of experience, how can an investor know when a financial advisor is committing malpractice? There are several ways financial advisors can commit financial malpractice. Lack of Diversity Financial advisors have a duty to ensure your investment portfolio is properly diversified to include a variety of investment assets. That may include a mixture of stocks, bonds, or mutual funds in multiple different sectors.  A portfolio that lacks diversification is likely to result in significant losses to the client in the event of a market downturn in a specific sector. If you believe your financial advisor failed to properly diversify your portfolio, contact an investment loss recovery attorney today. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., have significant experience handling these types of cases and will ensure the financial advisor responsible for your losses is held accountable.  Your Investments Are Unsuitable Every investor is unique. That means financial advisors must consider the specific goals and needs of each individual client before recommending investments. A financial advisor must consider a client’s risk tolerance when recommending investments. Risk tolerance refers to an investor’s willingness to endure losses in the financial market. For an aggressive investor, a financial advisor might recommend a risky investment that has a better possibility of high returns. The same recommendation would be unsuitable for an investor with a low risk tolerance. If your financial advisor recommended investments that you believe are unsuitable, contact the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce to have your case reviewed by an experienced investment losses attorney. Your Investment Advisor Is Excessively Trading Excessive trading, sometimes called churning, occurs when a financial advisor buys and sells stocks excessively with the goal of generating commission fees. Churning is prohibited by the SEC. Investors should frequently review their account statements to ensure that the number of trades in their account does not increase drastically. If your financial advisor has been excessively trading in your investment account, reach out to an attorney as soon as possible to prevent further losses.  Financial Advisor Negligence In some cases, your financial advisor may seem like he or she is doing nothing at all. The financial advisor could be focused on other clients or on personal matters. Regardless of the reason, this behavior is not appropriate. A financial advisor may be guilty of malpractice for failing to give the appropriate amount of attention to a client.  Client Testimonials The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., has been representing investors in disputes against...

Continue Reading

How to Respond to a CFTC Subpoena

Receiving a subpoena from the CFTC (U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission) is often met with panic by anybody who receives one. The recipient will usually have no advanced notice of the subpoena, other than a letter from the CFTC stating that he or she should produce documents related to a specific time period. The recipient may be scared of what will happen if they do not comply with the subpoena, but in fact there are several ways to proceed after receiving a CFTC subpoena. The first thing to note is that all subpoenas issued by the CFTC are civil subpoenas. In other words, they are issued to an individual or business that may or may not be accused of a violation of the Commodity Exchange Act or any CFTC rules and regulations in a civil proceeding. But aware of the fact that the CFTC can share whatever documents or information it gathers with criminal prosecutors and other agencies. What is a CFTC Subpoena? A CFTC subpoena is a document issued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that requires a person or entity to provide information or documents to the CFTC. The subpoena is a formal order from the court to produce documents, data, or both. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. IMPORTANT: The CFTC will not inform you whether you are a target, subject, or witness. In fact, the CFTC attorneys and investigators will tell you nothing about the investigation! This is why the first thing you should do if you receive a subpoena from the CFTC is contact an experienced CFTC defense attorney. A lawyer can help you decide how you are going to respond to the subpoena. Although there are several ways to proceed, a lawyer can recommend the best course of action based on your specific circumstances and reduce your chances of making a procedural misstep that will result in a more aggressive investigation by the CFTC or worse. CFTC Enforcement Actions If you do not produce the documents, or if you fail to comply in another way outlined by the subpoena, then you could be facing an enforcement action. The usual course of an enforcement action is for the CFTC prosecuting attorneys to file a complaint with the federal district court where your business is located. What happens next could include the filing of a complaint with the federal district court where you or your business is located. The filing will contain a proposed order for the court to enter. The order will direct you to produce specific documents and information, and inform you if you do not comply with the order you may be held in contempt of court and put in jail until you comply. If you receive a subpoena from the CFTC, be sure to contact an experienced lawyer right away! CFTC’s Information Gathering Process As a general matter, it is important to know that the CFTC has very broad powers when it comes to investigating suspected violations of the Commodity Exchange Act. Specifically, the CFTC can issue subpoenas to a person or entity for any records related to its investigation. The compelled production must be made within the date stated on the subpoena. The CFTC can be quite aggressive in investigating suspected violations of the Commodity Exchange Act. This investigation can include issuing subpoenas for documents and testimony as noted, as well as using the depositions of those who appear or testify before them in court. They may also issue subpoena duces tecum orders to require production of books, records, papers and other data that they believe might be relevant to their investigation. This means that anybody could be served with a subpoena if the CFTC believes that you have relevant information in your possession. The CFTC has very broad powers when it comes to enforcing subpoenas issued by them. For instance, they can issue a civil investigative demand to require an individual or entity produce for inspection and copying all records relating to any transactions or activities related to any agreements, contracts, or transactions in any commodity. The CFTC can also issue an administrative subpoena to require that someone appear before them to testify under oath about the production of documents and records. Do not assume that because you are only served with a subpoena for documents, that this is all you have to worry about. You may be subject to a deposition or some other form of testimony at some point during the investigation. It is important to know that, as an individual or entity being investigated by the CFTC , you have a right to counsel present at any hearings on enforcement matters. Steps to Take When Receiving a CFTC Subpoena When you receive an administrative subpoena issued by the CFTC, it is important to take certain steps that can greatly reduce your risk. These include: Preserve all documents and gather supporting evidence. All staff that need to know must be notified (in-house counsel and certain officers) and a litigation hold must be issued. Consult with an experienced CFTC defense lawyer immediately. Examine any potential legal responsibility under the relevant laws and regulations. The Formal Order of Investigation should be obtained by your attorney. If your attorney thinks it’s necessary, he or she may want to speak with the CFTC’s Staff about limiting the subpoena’s scope where appropriate. If you’re not sure whether an internal investigation is required, consult with your lawyer. Review all collected documents for responsiveness, privilege and confidentiality Consider whether any particular employee requires independent legal counsel if you are unsure. Your CFTC defense lawyer can help you with this. Determine whether there are any objections to the scope or burden of the subpoena, as well as whether to fight the subpoena (by motion to quash) or comply. If the subpoena recipient is a corporation, see if public disclosure is required. Given the complexity and number of necessary action steps involved with responding to a CFTC subpoena, individuals and firms without experienced legal representation...

Continue Reading