The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Wells Fargo Advisors with failing to maintain adequate controls in order to prevent one of its employees from using confidential customer information to engage in insider trading. Additionally, the SEC charged Wells Fargo Advisors with producing an altered document in a compliance review of the broker’s trading activities. This case, in which Wells Fargo has agreed to the monetary penalty of $5 million, is the first time the SEC has charged a brokerage firm for its failure to protect a customer’s confidential information, an important ruling at a time when many peoples’ personal information is reportedly being compromised due to computer hacking.
According to the SEC’s order, a Wells Fargo broker received confidential information from a customer that Burger King was being acquired by private equity firm 3G Capital Partners. The broker, Waldyr Da Silva Prado Neto (Prado), then used that confidential information to enact trades ahead of the public announcement. The SEC has also charged Prado with insider trading, freezing his assets to prevent any transfers of the ill-gotten profits, alleged to be $175,000.
The SEC’s order goes on to state that multiple groups responsible for compliance or supervision at Wells Fargo were told of the broker’s misuse of customer information, but failed to act. According to Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, “When investors entrust private information to their stockbrokers or investment advisors, they have the right to expect that it will not be exploited.” Wells Fargo admitted to the SEC’s findings and agreed to pay the $5 million penalty.
Section 15(g) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Section 204A of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 require broker-dealers and investments advisers to establish, maintain, and enforce policies and procedures reasonably designed to prevent the misuse of material nonpublic information. Brokerage firms like Wells Fargo Advisors have a legal duty to protect their customers’ confidential information and to supervise their brokers to ensure compliance and prevent violations of the rules and regulations of the securities industry.