RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (RBC DS) has been fined $350,000 by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) for supervisory failings.
In a settlement agreement with IIROC, RBC DS acknowledged that, between 2007 and 2015, it failed to adequately supervise a former advisor, Roberta Benson, whose elderly client — referred to as SK in an agreed statement of facts — was taken advantage of by a trusted friend.
The friend — referred to as SC — acted as SK’s accountant and had trading authority over SK’s accounts. According to IIROC, Benson placed undue reliance on communications with SC as SK’s trading authority, rather than ensuring the account parameters were appropriate for SK.
SC went on to open margin accounts at RBC DS for himself and his spouse. The margin accounts were guaranteed by SKL, a business owned by SK that had a corporate account with RBC DS.
As with SK’s accounts, SC was the sole trading authority for SKL. SC signed the guarantees for his and his spouse’s margin accounts on behalf of SKL — representing a conflict of interest that Benson failed to address, IIROC noted.
“Benson did not take adequate steps to ensure that SK understood the nature, significance, and financial implications of the guarantees, and RBC DS failed to sufficiently supervise Benson in regard to confirming the extent of her direct communication with SK,” the settlement agreement read.
The use of margin in SC’s and his spouse’s accounts was several times their stated net worth, according to IIROC. SC’s most heavily traded account was almost always in a negative equity position, and his spouse’s account was always in a negative equity position.
When RBC DS inquired about the spouse’s account, Benson adjusted the spouse’s investment knowledge upward on a KYC form without undertaking the due diligence to support such a change, according to IIROC.
Following SK’s death in October 2014, SC began transferring money from SKL to his and his spouse’s margin accounts, beginning in December 2014. RBC DS approved three transfers totalling more than $3 million following discussions with Benson. The transfers amounted to “a substantial part of the assets of SKL,” according to the agreement.
Although Benson became aware of SK’s death shortly after it happened, she didn’t inform RBC DS of her client’s death until January 2015. When the transfers were approved, RBC DS had not been provided a copy of SK’s will or received instructions from SK’s estate trustees.
RBC DS did arrange a meeting with SK’s estate trustees and alerted them to the transfers from the SKL account. RBC DS also made a voluntary payment of $500,000 to SKL. IIROC considered both of these actions to be mitigating factors.
Nonetheless, IIROC said RBC DS “placed undue reliance on Benson’s representations regarding her knowledge and discussions with the clients at issue, when heightened supervision or direct contact with clients was required.”
In addition to a $350,000 fine, RBC DS agreed to pay $50,000 in costs.
In a separate settlement hearing, Benson agreed to a $30,000 fine and a five-year suspension from IIROC. She also agreed to pay $10,000 in costs. Benson retired from RBC DS in March 2016 and is no longer a registered representative.