The Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Tuesday that it has secured a settlement from Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company related to fraud charges it brought against the firm earlier this year.
The basis of the charges, according to an SEC statement, is that Equitable allegedly provided account statements to about 1.4 million variable annuity investors that included “materially misleading statements and omissions” concerning investor fees.
Equitable has agreed to pay $50 million to the harmed investors to settle the charges. Most of the clients affected are public school teachers and staff members.
As described in the SEC’s order, since at least 2016, Equitable gave investors the false impression that their quarterly account statements listed all fees paid during the period. The SEC’s investigation found that, in reality, the statements listed only certain types of fees that investors infrequently incurred and that the statements often had $0.00 listed in fees.
Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, noted in the SEC statement that it is “essential” that investors are not misled about the fees they are paying.
“This case should serve as an important reminder to investment firms to carefully review their statements to ensure fee information is disclosed properly,” he said.
Specifically, the SEC’s order finds that Equitable violated the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933. In agreeing to pay the settlement, the firm neither admits nor denies the SEC’s findings. The firm has also agreed to “cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of these provisions and to pay a $50 million civil penalty that it will distribute to affected investors.”
Equitable also agreed to revise how it presents fee information in its variable annuity account statements.