The SEC announced on Thursday that Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit admitted wrongdoing and has agreed to pay $415 million to settle charges that it "misused customer cash to generate profits for the firm."
According to the statement, Merrill violated the SEC's Consumer Protection Rule by misusing customer cash that rightfully should have been deposited in a reserve account, freeing up billions to finance its own trading activities as a result.
An SEC investigation found that Merrill Lynch violated the SEC’s Customer Protection Rule by misusing customer cash that rightfully should have been deposited in a reserve account. Merrill Lynch engaged in complex options trades that lacked economic substance and artificially reduced the required deposit of customer cash in the reserve account. The maneuver freed up billions of dollars per week from 2009 to 2012 that Merrill Lynch used to finance its own trading activities. Had Merrill Lynch failed in the midst of these trades, the firm’s customers would have been exposed to a massive shortfall in the reserve account.
Furthermore, Merrill held up to $58 billion per day of customer securities in a clearing accounts that were subject to third party claims. Consumer protection Rules require that fully-paid for customer securities be held in lien-free accounts and shielded from claims by third parties.
According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding, Merrill Lynch further violated the Customer Protection Rule by failing to adhere to requirements that fully-paid for customer securities be held in lien-free accounts and shielded from claims by third parties should a firm collapse. From 2009 to 2015, Merrill Lynch held up to $58 billion per day of customer securities in a clearing account that was subject to a general lien by its clearing bank and held additional customer securities in accounts worldwide that similarly were subject to liens. Had Merrill Lynch collapsed at any point, customers would have been exposed to significant risk and uncertainty of getting back their own securities.
You can read the full statement here.
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While we're not surprised that this took place, we are actually shocked that the SEC finally had a bank admit to wrongdoing.
Perhaps if BAML would have used this guy as a consultant, they wouldn't be facing any charges at all: