On August 21, 2023, a retired artist and teacher of the visually impaired represented by Lax & Neville LLP won a FINRA award against Morgan Stanley for its years-long recommendation that she invest her savings in WisdomTree (WETF), a sponsor of exchange traded funds (“ETFs”) and asset manager. Over a period of nearly seven years, the customer’s Morgan Stanley advisors, David and Todd Wachsman, solicited numerous purchases of WisdomTree stock even as its price fell and her position became highly concentrated. WisdomTree stock ultimately made up the vast majority of her networth. Despite numerous red-flags and internal recognition that the position was highly concentrated and sustaining substantial losses, Morgan Stanley permitted the Wachsmans to recommend additional investments in WisdomTree for years, including selling risky put options that significantly increased her exposure to decline in WisdomTree’s price, decimating her savings. Morgan Stanley’s primary defense was that, over the lifetime of the account prior to the first WisdomTree purchase a decade ago, Morgan Stanley had made money for the customer, a retiree in her mid-seventies, and was therefore entitled to bet it all on a single-stock strategy. Additionally, Morgan Stanley took the position that they warned the customer of the risks involved. However, it still allowed the Wachsmans to recommend that she purchase more WETF, that she sell other securities rather than WETF, and that she hold the overly concentrated position they built in her accounts.
After considering the pleadings, testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the Arbitration Panel rejected Morgan Stanley’s defense and unanimously awarded the customer $1.8 million, including the entirety of damages caused by Morgan Stanley’s investment in WisdomTree market adjusted to account for Morgan Stanley’s mismanagement of her account during an historic bull market.
The Arbitration Panel also denied the expungement requests made on behalf of the financial advisors, Todd Wachsman and David Wachsman. To view this Award, Karen Busch v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC – FINRA Case No. 21-00203, click here.