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SEC Targets Two Robo-Advisers for False Disclosures

The SEC announced settlements with two robo-advisers for making false statements about investment products and publishing misleading advertising.  The settled proceedings are the SEC’s first enforcement actions against robo-advisers. The SEC found that Wealthfront Advisers made false statements about a tax-loss harvesting strategy it offered to clients.  Wealthfront disclosed to clients employing its tax-loss harvesting strategy that it would monitor all client accounts for any transactions that might trigger a wash sale – which can diminish the benefits of the harvesting strategy – but failed to do so. The SEC also found that Wealthfront improperly re-tweeted prohibited client testimonials, paid bloggers for client referrals without the required disclosure and documentation and failed to maintain a compliance program reasonably designed to prevent violations of the securities laws. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Wealthfront consented to SEC sanctions and a $250,000 penalty. A separate SEC order found that Hedgeable Inc. made misleading statements about its investment performance.  According to the order, from 2016 until April 2017, Hedgeable posted on its website and social media purported comparisons of the investment performance of Hedgeable’s clients with those of two robo-adviser competitors.  The performance comparisons were misleading because Hedgeable included less than 4 percent of its client accounts, which had higher-than-average returns.  Hedgable compared this with rates of return that were not based on competitors’ actual trading models.  Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Hedgeable consented to SEC sanctions and an $80,000 penalty.

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