Equitable Financial To Pay $50 Million Penalty To Settle SEC Charges That It Provided Misleading Account Statements to Investors
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company for providing account statements to about 1.4 million variable annuity investors that included materially misleading statements and omissions concerning investor fees. Equitable agreed to pay $50 million to harmed investors, most of whom are public school teachers and staff members, to settle the charges.
As described in the SEC’s order, since at least 2016, Equitable gave investors the false impression that their quarterly account statements listed all fees paid during the period. The SEC’s investigation found that, in reality, the statements listed only certain types of fees that investors infrequently incurred and that more often than not the statements had $0.00 listed for fees.
“When considering how to invest their hard-earned money and save for retirement, it is essential that investors not be misled about the fees they are paying,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This case should serve as an important reminder to investment firms to carefully review their statements to ensure fee information is disclosed properly.”
The SEC’s order finds that Equitable violated the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Equitable agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of these provisions and to pay a $50 million civil penalty that it will distribute to affected investors. Equitable also agreed to revise how it presents fee information in its variable annuity account statements.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Michael C. Ellis of the Retail Strategy Task Force and Peter Lamore, with assistance from Alison Conn and Gwen Licardo, under the supervision of Hane L. Kim, Chief of the Retail Strategy Task Force, and Thomas P. Smith, Jr., Associate Regional Director of the New York Regional Office.
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy today issued an updated Investor Bulletin with tips to help teachers make informed investment decisions, including about retirement plans.