FINRA is on track to set a new record for fines it assessed against firms and individuals, according to a study released by law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.
During the first half of 2016, the regulator reported $79.4 million in fines, up from $37.5 million in the same period last year. If it continues to levy fines at the current rate, its year-end total could easily hit $159 million and shatter its 2014 record of $134 million, the study found.
FINRA reported 11 supersized fines of $1 million or more, totaling $57.1 million. That far outpaces the six fines, totaling $17.8 million, the regulator assessed during the first half of 2015.
Of the 11 supersized fines, four surpassed $5 million, according to the study. MetLife Securities was hit with the largest single fine — $20 million — for allegedly making negligent material misrepresentations and omissions regarding costs and benefits on variable annuity replacement applications for tens of thousands of customers over a five-year period. Raymond James got thrown the second hardest punch, paying $17 million for allegedly failing to establish and implement adequate anti-money-laundering procedures. Its alleged failings prevented the firm from detecting, investigating and reporting suspicious activity for several years, according to FINRA.
"Firms and individuals will need to adjust their mindsets regarding fine levels in disciplinary cases," said Brian Rubin, a partner at Sutherland and a co-author of the study. "To try to avoid being the subject of one of these actions, firms should consider focusing on nuts-and-bolts issues like marketing and suitability of products."
While fines are up, the number of disciplinary actions initiated by FINRA declined slightly. During the first six months of 2016, the regulator reported 547 disciplinary actions, down 1% year-over-year.