Subsidiary of TIAA Settles With SEC

A subsidiary of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) has agreed to a settlement exceeding $2.2 million with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for not adhering to the standards set by Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) regarding investment recommendations to retail clients for opening TIAA Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

This settlement highlights the SEC's ongoing efforts to enforce compliance with Reg BI, emphasizing the obligation of brokerage firms to prioritize their customers' best interests.

Under the terms of the settlement, the broker-dealer subsidiary offered TIAA IRA clients investment opportunities through a primary selection of pre-determined investments and an alternative brokerage window. Despite the availability of some mutual funds and investments across both platforms, the SEC noted discrepancies in share classes and associated costs, leading to instances where clients incurred higher expenses than necessary.

Specifically, the SEC's findings revealed that certain clients paid more for mutual fund investments than they would have for equivalent, lower-cost share classes accessible through the brokerage window, without being informed of these more economical options or the underlying conflict of interest.

The majority, over 94%, of TIAA IRA clientele utilized the primary investment menu exclusively, resulting in nearly 6,000 clients paying in excess of $900,000 in avoidable expenses by not opting for similar funds available through the brokerage window. This breach of Reg BI took place between June 2020 and November 2021.

TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, the implicated TIAA subsidiary, has settled the charges by agreeing to a civil penalty of $1.25 million and the forfeiture of $936,714 in profits, including $103,424 in interest, without confirming or denying the SEC's findings. The firm disclosed the issue proactively to the SEC during a routine examination.

Thomas Smith, Associate Regional Director of the SEC's New York Regional Office, underscored the importance of Reg BI in safeguarding retail investors, stating that the resolution of this case reaffirms the SEC's dedication to enforcing broker-dealers' compliance with their duty to act in their clients' best interests. In response, a TIAA spokesperson expressed the organization's commitment to resolving the matter and improving its processes to align with the SEC's standards.

This settlement serves as a critical reminder to wealth advisors and Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) of the paramount importance of adhering to Reg BI, which was introduced by the SEC in 2020 to enhance the conduct standards across the financial services industry. The enforcement of this regulation remains a priority for both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), underscoring the industry-wide mandate to ensure that investment recommendations are made with the client's best interest as the foremost consideration.


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