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FINRA has fined Citigroup Global Markets Inc. $1.85 million for failing to provide best execution in approximately 22,000 customer transactions involving non-convertible preferred securities, and for related supervisory deficiencies for more than three years. FINRA also ordered Citigroup to pay more than $638,000 in restitution, plus interest, to affected customers.

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In any customer transaction, a firm or its registered persons must use reasonable diligence to ensure that the purchase or sale price to the customer is as favorable as possible under current market conditions. FINRA found that one of Citigroup’s trading desks employed a manual pricing methodology for non-convertible preferred securities that did not appropriately incorporate the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO) for those securities.

As a result, Citigroup priced more than 14,800 customer transactions inferior to the NBBO. In addition, Citigroup priced more than 7,200 customer transactions inferior to the NBBO because the firm’s proprietary BondsDirect order execution system (BondsDirect) used a faulty pricing logic that only incorporated the primary listing exchange’s quotation for each non-convertible preferred security. As securities trade on multiple exchanges, Citigroup missed the prospect of a better price for that security on an exchange other than its primary listing exchange.

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Thomas Gira, FINRA executive vice president and head of market regulation, said, “FINRA will continue to pursue firms that neglect their duty of best execution. Citigroup lacked the necessary systems and supervision to ensure that it provided customers with the executions they deserved and, as a result, customers were receiving inferior prices for more than three years.”

FINRA also found that Citigroup’s supervisory system and written supervisory procedures for best execution in non-convertible preferred securities were deficient. Citigroup failed to perform any review of customer transactions in non-convertible preferred securities executed on BondsDirect or manually by the trading desk to ensure compliance with the firm’s best execution obligations.

The firm failed to conduct these supervisory reviews even though it had received several inquiry letters from FINRA staff. Moreover, while many of the transactions in question were identified on FINRA’s best execution report cards, the firm only attempted to access its best execution report cards once during the relevant period.

In concluding this settlement, Citigroup neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

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Originally published on Advisor.ca

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