UBS Settles Charges Related to Investments in Complex Exchange-Traded Product

More Than $8 Million Returning to Harmed Investors as Part of Ongoing Risk-Based Initiative

The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed a settled action against UBS Financial Services Inc. for compliance failures relating to sales of a volatility linked exchange-traded product (ETP).  This is the sixth matter arising from the Enforcement Division’s ETP Initiative

As described in the SEC’s order, the ETP at issue is designed to track short-term volatility expectations in the market as measured against derivatives of a volatility index.  According to the order, the issuer of the product warned UBS that it was not appropriate to hold the product for extended periods, and the product’s offering documents made clear that the product was more likely to decline in value when held over a longer period.  The order finds that UBS prohibited brokerage representatives from soliciting sales of the product and placed other restrictions on sales of the product to brokerage customers, but did not place similar restrictions on certain financial advisers’ use of the product in discretionary managed client accounts.  The order further finds that UBS adopted a concentration limit on volatility-linked ETPs, but failed to implement a system for monitoring and enforcing that limit for five years.  According to the order, UBS prohibited the financial advisers from making additional recommendations of this ETP prior to being contacted by the Commission staff.

The order also finds that between January 2016 and January 2018, certain financial advisers had a flawed understanding of the appropriate use of the volatility-linked ETP and failed to take sufficient steps to understand risks associated with holding the product for extended periods.  These financial advisers, the order further finds, purchased and held the product in client accounts for lengthy periods, including hundreds of accounts that held the product for over a year, resulting in meaningful losses.

“Advisory firms must protect clients from inappropriate investments in complex financial products,” said Daniel Michael, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit.  “We will continue to scrutinize firms’ policies and procedures related to these risky products, and we will take action when they are inadequate.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, UBS agreed to cease and desist from violations of Rule 206(4)-7 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, a censure, and disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $112,274 and a civil penalty of $8 million, which will be distributed to investors harmed by the conduct at issue.

The ETP Initiative is led by the Enforcement Division’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit.  This investigation was conducted by Kerry Dakin and Colin Forbes and supervised by Celia Moore of the Boston Regional Office and assisted by Alex Lefferts of the Enforcement Division’s Office of Investigative & Market Analytics and Eric Forni of the Boston Regional Office.

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