SEC slaps startups Wealthfront and Hedgeable with fines for making false disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission appears to be keeping a close eye on financial services startups, with today’s news that the agency has settled cases with two robo-advisory companies over allegations that they misled investors. Wealthfront Advisers, one of the darlings of the fintech investment sector with $11 billion under management and roughly $200 million […]

The Securities and Exchange Commission appears to be keeping a close eye on financial services startups, with today’s news that the agency has settled cases with two robo-advisory companies over allegations that they misled investors.

Wealthfront Advisers, one of the darlings of the fintech investment sector with $11 billion under management and roughly $200 million in venture capital backing, was fined $250,000 for making false statements to investors about one of its newer automated financial services products. The company consented to the SEC’s censure without confirming or denying the SEC’s claims.

The SEC also fined New York-based startup Hedgeable, a company with $81 million in assets under management, for inflating performance figures for its service. Hedgeable also agreed to the SEC’s censure order without confirming or denying any wrongdoing.

“Technology is rapidly changing the way investment advisers are able to advertise and deliver their services to clients,” said C. Dabney O’Riordan, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit, in a statement.  “Regardless of their format, however, all advisers must take seriously their obligations to comply with the securities laws, which were put in place to protect investors.”

The charges against Redwood City, Calif.-based Wealthfront Advisers stems from alleged false statements the company made about a tax-loss harvesting strategy that the company offered to its clients.

Wealthfront told its customers that it would look for transactions in its automated service that might trigger a “wash sale” — which has tax implications and can limit the benefits of a tax-harvesting strategy.

According to the SEC, the company actually failed to monitor the accounts accurately and roughly 31% of Wealthfront account holders enrolled in the tax harvesting strategy were subject to penalties associated with wash sales.

Additionally the company promoted prohibited client testimonials and paid bloggers for client referrals without disclosing and documenting the payments. The company also failed to maintain appropriate compliance programs designed to prevent violations of securities laws, according to the SEC.

Wealthfront issued the following statement about the SEC action:

“We take our regulatory duties seriously at Wealthfront and are happy to have reached a settlement with the SEC. The settlement order addressed Wealthfront’s retweets of clients’ positive tweets from our corporate account and compensation to some bloggers for client referrals without proper disclosures.

Additionally, Wealthfront did not have proper disclosure in its tax-loss harvesting whitepaper concerning monitoring for any and all wash sales that could occur in client accounts.

For example, a wash sale can be triggered by infrequent events outside of tax-loss harvesting trading including a client changing their risk score or a withdrawal. During the period January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2016, wash sales made up approximately 2.3% of tax losses harvested for the benefit of clients. Therefore the average Wealthfront client received 5.67% in total annual harvesting yield versus 5.8%.”

At Hedgeable, another, much smaller robo-advisor, the SEC found that the company had manipulated results it reported to the public by cherry-picking the best-performing accounts it managed. Hedgeable then compared these rates of return with figures that were not based on its competitors training models to skew results in its favor. The company also lacked proper compliance programs that would prevent the company from violating securities laws. 

These penalties follow a crackdown that the SEC imposed on cryptocurrency companies that were also illegally promoting themselves via social media channels and famous influencers like DJ Khaled and Floyd Mayweather.

While Wealthfront and Hedgeable are real companies offering tangible services (unlike many of the obviously fraudulent cryptocurrency schemes that the SEC has been monitoring), the SEC investigations coupled with the botched rollout of brokerage accounts from the free trading service, Robinhood, show that even viable fintech companies are under the regulatory microscope.

As these services become more popular and their assets under management continue to grow, they may find that more regulators will be knocking at startups doors.

Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled to pay SEC fines for flogging garbage ICOs

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled have agreed to “pay disgorgement, penalties and interest” for failing to disclose promotional payments from three ICOs including Centra Tech. Mayweather received $100,000 from Centra Tech while Khaled got $50,000 from the failed ICO. The SEC cited Khaled and Mayweather’s social media feeds, noting they touted securities for pay […]

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled have agreed to “pay disgorgement, penalties and interest” for failing to disclose promotional payments from three ICOs including Centra Tech. Mayweather received $100,000 from Centra Tech while Khaled got $50,000 from the failed ICO. The SEC cited Khaled and Mayweather’s social media feeds, noting they touted securities for pay without disclosing their affiliation with the companies.

Mayweather, you’ll recall, appeared on Instagram with a whole lot of cash while Khaled called Centra Tech a “Game changer.”

“You can call me Floyd Crypto Mayweather from now on,” wrote Mayweather. Sadly, the SEC ruled he is no longer allowed to use the nom de guerre “Crypto” anymore.

Without admitting or denying the findings, Mayweather and Khaled agreed to pay disgorgement, penalties and interest. Mayweather agreed to pay $300,000 in disgorgement, a $300,000 penalty, and $14,775 in prejudgment interest. Khaled agreed to pay $50,000 in disgorgement, a $100,000 penalty, and $2,725 in prejudgment interest. In addition, Mayweather agreed not to promote any securities, digital or otherwise, for three years, and Khaled agreed to a similar ban for two years. Mayweather also agreed to continue to cooperate with the investigation.

“These cases highlight the importance of full disclosure to investors,” said Stephanie Avakian of the SEC. “With no disclosure about the payments, Mayweather and Khaled’s ICO promotions may have appeared to be unbiased, rather than paid endorsements.”

The SEC indicted Centra Tech’s founders, Raymond Trapani, Sohrab Sharma, and Robert Farkas, for fraud.

Lyft gave DJ Khaled one of its electric scooters for his upcoming tour

Electric scooters are all the rage right now in Silicon Valley and as of late, they’ve made their way into the entertainment industry. Musician DJ Khaled recently posted a video of him riding one of Lyft’s electric scooter while also promoting his participation in Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run II tour. Word on the […]

Electric scooters are all the rage right now in Silicon Valley and as of late, they’ve made their way into the entertainment industry. Musician DJ Khaled recently posted a video of him riding one of Lyft’s electric scooter while also promoting his participation in Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run II tour.

Word on the street, according to a source, is that DJ Khaled asked Lyft for one of its electric scooters for his upcoming tour. This is not too surprising given Lyft has previously tapped DJ Khaled to be one of its spokespeople.

Earlier this month, Lyft outlined its scooter plans, along with its bike-share plans. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely it will happen soon.

Lyft, along with 11 other companies, is currently vying for a permit to operate an electric scooter service in San Francisco. As of July 19, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was still reviewing the 12 applications from companies to operate electric scooters in the city.

A bit of background: In early June, companies like Uber, Lime, Bird, Lyft and others applied for permits to operate electric scooter-share services in San Francisco. San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in San Francisco without a permit.

The SFMTA expects to finalize its recommendations and documentation “in the coming weeks,” the SFMTA wrote in a blog pos. Once that’s done, the agency says it will work with companies to finalize and clarify the terms and conditions of the permit. The goal, according to the blog post, is to issue permits sometime in August.

There are, of course, plenty of other markets for Lyft and its competitors to launch scooters in. You can read more about where you’ll find scooters below.