The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that two BMO advisers have agreed to pay over $37 million to settle charges regarding their failure to tell clients about certain aspects of how the advisers selected investments in their retail investment advisory program, known as the Managed Asset Allocation Program (MAAP), which included the selection of more expensive investments from which BMO advisers profited.
According to the SEC’s order, when selecting investments for clients, BMO Harris Financial Advisors Inc. (BMO Harris) and BMO Asset Management Corp. (BMO Asset Mgmt) preferred mutual funds managed by BMO Asset Mgmt (proprietary funds) and invested approximately 50% of MAAP client assets in proprietary funds. This practice resulted in payment of additional management fees to BMO Asset Mgmt, however, the SEC’s order found that neither BMO adviser disclosed this practice or the associated conflict of interest to clients. Moreover, the SEC’s order found that, when considering mutual funds for MAAP, BMO Asset Mgmt evaluated the lower-cost institutional share class for both proprietary and non-proprietary funds, but the higher-cost, non-institutional share class for proprietary mutual funds always was selected for MAAP.
In addition, the SEC found that BMO Harris failed to disclose its conflicts of interest arising from investing MAAP client assets in higher-cost share classes of certain mutual funds, including funds managed by BMO Asset Mgmt, when lower-cost share classes were available. By selecting the higher-cost share classes, BMO Harris received revenue sharing payments and avoided paying certain transaction costs, while clients received lower returns on these investments.
“These BMO advisers repeatedly put their own financial interests ahead of clients by giving preference to their own mutual funds or selecting higher-cost share classes,” said C. Dabney O’Riordan, Co-Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “This is important information for an adviser to tell clients as it goes to the heart of the adviser-client relationship and will impact the clients’ returns.”
The SEC’s order finds that BMO Harris and BMO Asset Mgmt willfully violated Sections 206(2) and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206(4)-7 thereunder. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, BMO Harris and BMO Asset Mgmt agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of these provisions, to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $29.73 million, and to pay a civil penalty of $8.25 million, amounts which will be distributed to harmed investors, and to be censured.
Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers including SEC whistleblowers. The Securities & Exchange Commission does not release the names or identifying information about SEC whistleblowers.