Scottrade's 'aggressive sales culture' draws regulatory action in Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts authorities took aim at sales contests conducted by Scottrade.
  • The complaint charged the discount brokerage with dishonest and unethical activity and a failure to supervise.
  • Scottrade allegedly offered thousands of dollars in incentives to its agents, in order to win and retain clients.
A Scottrade location on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
A Scottrade location on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.

Massachusetts authorities on Thursday accused discount brokerage Scottrade of practicing aggressive and improper sales practices, stating the firm "knowingly" violated established rules by linking sales contests to retirement accounts.

In a complaint filed Thursday, state regulators detailed "an aggressive sales culture" at Scottrade that violated federal laws requiring investment firms to act in the best interests of their clients when providing retirement advice.

Scottrade undermined this so-called Fiduciary Rule by encouraging brokers to "drum up additional business" ahead of a planned merger with TD Ameritrade, and during the second half of 2017 "knowingly included retirement accounts in the scope of these contests."

Those incentives undercut Scottrade's internal policies, officials say, and offered weekly cash prizes in the amounts of $500 and $2500 that involved the firm's agents making a certain number of cold-calls. In one nationwide contest, Scottrade allegedly offered $285,000 in incentives to win and retain clients.

"Scottrade failed to develop and implement policies and procedures to segregate retirement assets from the scope...of the sales contest," the filing stated, and thus failed to comply with the Fiduciary Rule.

Among other actions, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin is calling for Scottrade to return profits it earned from the alleged activities, and is seeking an undisclosed administrative fine.

A spokeswoman for TD Ameritrade, which acquired Scottrade in September 2017, declined to comment.