FINRA announced its 529 Plan Share Class Initiative, a program allowing firms to avoid fines by self-reporting unsuitable share class recommendations to 529 Plan customers. FINRA questions the suitability of no-load, higher-fee share class recommendations where the beneficiary has more than 6 years until drawing on the account (e.g. where the beneficiary is less than 12 years old). According to FINRA, no-load share classes tend to exceed the aggregate costs of front-end load, lower-fee share classes after six years. Member firms have until April 1, 2019 to self-report the issues uncovered and how they intend to remedy violations and pay restitution to harmed customers. FINRA warns that the 529 Plan Share Class Initiative will not absolve individuals accused of violating MSRB rules.
At the very least, member firms should review their 529 Plan recommendations to see if they have exposure and then take action to remediate. Because of the broader implications of an enforcement action and individual liability, we recommend consulting counsel about whether to self-report.