Charles Schwab to Pay $187M for Misleading Robo-Advisor Clients on Fees
Charles Schwab has agreed to pay $187 million in a settlement with the SEC. The agency had launched an investigation into alleged hidden fees charged by the firm’s robo-advisor, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios.
Three Charles Schwab investment adviser subsidiaries are accused of not disclosing that they were allocating client funds in a manner that their own internal analyses showed would be less profitable for their clients under most market conditions.
From March 2015 through November 2018, Schwab’s mandated disclosures for its robo-adviser product, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, stated that the amount of cash in the robo-adviser portfolios was determined through a “disciplined portfolio construction methodology,” and that the robo-adviser would seek “optimal return[s].” In reality, Schwab’s own data showed that under most market conditions, the cash in the portfolios would cause clients to make less money even while taking on the same amount of risk. Schwab advertised the robo-adviser as having neither advisory nor hidden fees, but didn’t tell clients about this cash drag on their investment.
Schwab made money from the cash allocations in the robo-adviser portfolios by sweeping the cash to its affiliate bank, loaning it out, and then keeping the difference between the interest it earned on the loans and what it paid in interest to the robo-adviser clients.
“In entering the settlement, Schwab neither admits nor denies the allegations in the SEC’s Order” Charles Schwab said in a statement. “We believe resolving the matter in this way is in the best interests of our clients, company, and stockholders as it allows us to remain focused on helping our clients invest for the future. As always, we are committed to earning our clients’ trust every day and work diligently to maintain the highest standards for professional conduct throughout our organization.”
Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., Charles Schwab Investment Advisory, Inc., and Schwab Wealth Investment Advisory, Inc., agreed to a cease-and-desist order prohibiting them from violating the antifraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, censuring them, and requiring them to pay approximately $52 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and a $135 million civil penalty.