Faulty Design and Implementation of Share Class Selection Tool Costs Morgan Stanley More Than $1.5 Million

As part of the SEC’s continuing focus on retail investors, the agency has been targeting advisers and broker‑dealers that fail to make appropriate disclosures to clients about their practices for selecting mutual fund share classes. The SEC’s latest target, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (MSSB), represented to certain brokerage customers that it used an automated tool to select the most economical mutual fund share class for them. There were, however, certain issues with the tool itself. In addition, MSSB failed to use the tool at all for certain customers, resulting in some customers not being sold the most cost-effective share classes for which they were eligible. This article discusses the circumstances giving rise to the enforcement proceeding and the terms of the settlement order, including a significant civil penalty. For discussion of SEC enforcement proceedings against MSSB in its capacity as an investment adviser, see “Investment Advisers Must Have Adequate Policies, Procedures and Controls to Prevent Theft of Client Funds” (Jul. 26, 2018); and “Failure by Investment Advisers to Ensure Accurate Client Billing May Lead to SEC Enforcement Action and Penalties” (Feb. 2, 2017).

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