The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought its first-ever enforcement actions against robo-advisory firms Friday, sanctioning a couple of robos for making misleading statements to investors.
The SEC announced settlements with California-based Wealthfront Advisers LLC and New York-based Hedgeable Inc. for making false statements about investment products and publishing misleading advertising, the regulator says in a news release.
Both firms settled without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. Wealthfront agreed to pay a US$250,000 penalty and Hedgeable agreed to pay US$80,000.
Wealthfront made false statements about a tax-loss harvesting strategy that it offered to clients, the SEC says. Specifically, the SEC found that Wealthfront failed to monitor for transactions that might trigger a wash sale, which can diminish the benefits of the strategy. It also found that the firm improperly re-tweeted prohibited client testimonials, paid bloggers for client referrals without the required disclosure and failed to maintain a compliance program designed to prevent violations of the securities laws.
Separately, the SEC found that Hedgeable posted misleading performance comparisons on its website and on social media, and its compliance program was adequate to prevent violations.
“Technology is rapidly changing the way investment advisers are able to advertise and deliver their services to clients. Regardless of their format, however, all advisers must take seriously their obligations to comply with the securities laws, which were put in place to protect investors,” says Dabney O’Riordan, chief of the SEC enforcement division’s asset management unit, in a statement.