Do any of your clients have a connection to the Mafia? Brian Hamburger, a lawyer specializing in securities law, says he represents a financial advisor who was threatened by someone claiming to have family in the Mob.
“We’ve had the unusual situation of having the client make it known to the advisor that their family is connected with the mafia, and they will go to any length to restore the value of their portfolio,” Hamburger says.
Bear markets have a way of souring client relationships, of course; this is nothing new. New arbitration case filings are up 82 percent through June compared to the same time last year, according to FINRA’s most recent dispute resolution statistics. FINRA estimates there will be 7,750 cases filed this year, reaching levels not seen since 2004, following the fallout of the dot com bubble bursting. (See here for more on the dispute resolution statistics.)
But, anecdotally at least, for one lawyer, threats of violence by disgruntled clients seem to be increasing. “At the end of the day if a client has lost a significant amount of money, they’re desperate, they pursue desperate measures,” says Hamburger, the head of a law firm that bears his name. Hamburger says its gotten serious enough where his clients have had to get restraining orders to protect the FA from the client.
Violence perpetrated by clients on FAs is rare. Last month, in Germany, elderly pensioners allegedly beat their financial advisor with Zimmer Frames (metal walkers) and then kidnapped him and tortured him for four days. He had lost them about $3.3 million.
In addition to perhaps roughing up their advisor, some clients want to kick up dirt with every regulatory authority around. Hamburger says one of his colleagues calls it a “pig piling,” where, in addition to filing their action with FINRA, the client will also notify state securities regulators, and following that, he says clients have gone to local law enforcement to accuse the advisor of stealing money.
“We’ve had clients go to jail because the police didn’t understand what was going on,” Hamburger says. “It isn’t extraordinary to have seven or eight regulators or some type of regulatory authority in on the action, all resulting from a single client complaint.” Often the damages the clients are seeking are anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000.
“I think advisors are going to be more scrutinizing of clients going forward, to make sure they have the right clients coming in,” says Dennis Gallant of GDC Research. “Every advisor I know who really does have a process about making sure their clients are the right fit, always had a client that burned them, maybe not in arbitration, maybe their relationship just blew up and they had to part ways.” Yeah, these days getting burned by clients takes on new meanings.