FINRA examines cross-selling practices at bank broker-dealers

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FINRA is trying to sniff out errant cross-selling practices at bank brokerage firms.

The regulator has asked select FINRA-registered firms nationwide to provide details of their cross-selling programs in a letter sent to them this week. It did not disclose how many firms were included in the so-called "sweeps" examination.

FINRA wants to find out about the incentives that brokers and other firm employees receive to promote bank products to retail brokerage customers through referrals or direct sales, it said in the letter. It is also looking into incentives that they receive to open additional broker-dealer retail accounts.
The firms have until Nov. 15 to provide the regulator with the documents it requested. Among other demands, the regulator is asking for a list of employees terminated or disciplined for not meeting production goals as well as lists of whistleblower and investor complaints related to cross-selling programs. It also wants a description of metrics used to track and evaluate employees' performance.

The inquiry comes as Wells Fargo writhes under the weight of a scandal arising from overly aggressive cross-selling practices.

As part of its examination, the regulator is asking firms to provide any reviews or inquiries ordered by their parent companies to assess whether they conducted improper cross-selling programs. They were directed to flag any inquiries that were initiated after Sept. 1 and indicate whether those inquiries had ended or were still ongoing.

Several banks noted during their earnings calls this quarter that they were reviewing their sales and incentive practices. Regions Bank's chairman and CEO, Grayson Hall, said that even though the bank has great confidence in the processes it built, it nonetheless is "re-reviewing everything it's doing."

"We're all re-challenging ourselves to make sure that everything is done correctly and appropriately," he said.

Huntington National Bank's chairman and CEO, Steve Steinour, also noted during a recent earnings call that the bank had undertaken a detailed review of its practices, policies and procedures for "any signs of misalignment of incentives" but that to date it had not "uncovered any systemic, cultural or operational areas of concern."

"We focus our branches and officers on revenue, not product-specific or product required sales," Steinour said.

Richard Davis, U.S. Bancorp's chairman and CEO, was original in his remarks on cross-selling practices. He said the bank doesn't set quotas or measure the level of cross-selling at the bank. "Honest to God, I've never ever looked at the number," he said.

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Regulatory actions and programs Richard Davis Steve Steinour Grayson Hall FINRA Huntington National Bank Regions Bank U.S. Bank