Since the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority debuted its Securities Helpline for Seniors a year ago, more than $1.25 million in reimbursements have gone back to customers because the regulator raised the issues to the firms, said Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s executive vice president of regulatory operations, during SIFMA’s (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s) annual Private Client Conference.
“I have to commend firms that have really taken a look at issues that we’ve raised and gone proactively to the customers to reimburse them,” Axelrod said during a regulatory panel at the event.
For example, a tax professional called the hotline on behalf of an 86-year-old client who had a promissory note from their broker for $200,000 to be paid back at a rate of $1,200 a month. The client would have to live a long time to get that money back. Within a week, the firm fired that advisor and fully compensated the client.
In another situation, an investor was trying to close out her account for almost a year, and the firm was delaying it. FINRA highlighted the issue to the firm, which liquidated the account and credited the client $50 toward her account balance.
So far, FINRA’s hotline has received 4,000 in-bound calls from people ranging in age from 22 to 100.
“Yes, we know 22-year-olds aren’t seniors, but they have a question about a relative. We don’t turn anyone away,” she said.
The average wait time is under two minutes, while the average call time is 24 minutes, Axelrod said.
“We get lots of phone calls that are strictly education; people see or learn about BrokerCheck somehow and say, ‘Wow, I want to look at my broker. I’m not in front of my computer,’ so we’ll do it for them over the phone and give them the information. Or it’s the conversation of, ‘My broker is suggesting I purchase a variable annuity. Can you talk to me about what that product is? Where can I find information?’
“There are other calls that are incredibly alarming, and where we’ve discovered instances of fraud,” she said.
The regulator is currently tracking these calls, and is in the process of scheduling meetings with individual firms based on call volume.