An Ohio based financial advisor is asking Smith Barney to forget about that loan he owes them which stems from a sign-on bonus. In fact, he alleges, the original contract he signed with his old firm is unenforceable and void.
Thomas Banus says Citigroup offered him a $45,675.36 recruiting bonus structured as a forgivable loan over seven years in 2004 when he joined the firm. When Banus resigned from his job in 2006, the firm requested that the portion of the loan he had not repaid, corresponding to the remaining five years in the loan terms, be paid back with interest immediately, therefore “accelerating the note”—a standard practice in the industry. For Banus, that debt adds up to $39,150.31.
According to the class action complaint, which involves over 500 employees, “Because the defendant may terminate the employment and accelerate the note at will, with no loss to itself, with or without prior notice, this is an illusory contract, with lack of mutuality and lacking any consideration for the executory portion of what is essentially a unilateral contract. The employee, on the other hand, must pay an accelerated note with accumulated interest if he or she decides to terminate employment with Defendant.” In other words, the acceleration and interest clauses are “unconscionable,” one-sided and unfair to one party.
“The firm is saying the advisor has a loan requirement he or she has to meet once a year. But all of a sudden, they want the money all at once the day the advisor leaves. Well, then it doesn’t look like a loan anymore when you do that. It looks like you’re punishing the broker for leaving,” say Mark Thierman, a lawyer representing Banus. (Thierman was the architect behind the class action overtime lawsuits against Wall Street firms.) The complaint says penalty for termination of employment is unlawful and unenforceable by statute.
“We believe the suit to be without merit and we will defend ourselves against these claims,” says Citigroup spokesperson, Alex Samuelson.
There’s likely to be similar suit against the remaining Wall Street wirehouses since most of them offer forgivable loans with similar terms. “It seems to be happening a lot more because advisors are leaving their firms not because they want to, but because the firm they liked working for is now owned by someone else,” Thierman says.
Banus is asking that repayment of his forgiveble loan be voided, or, at the very least, not be required in one lump sum.