By Chris Prentice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An investment advisory unit of American International Group has agreed to pay about $40 million for failing to disclose to teachers and other clients conflicts of interest and practices that generated millions of dollars for the firm, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Tuesday.
VALIC Financial Advisors Inc (VFA), a financial services vendor in all but two school districts in Florida, failed to disclose that its parent company paid a for-profit entity owned by Florida K-12 teachers’ unions, and also failed to disclose it received millions in financial benefits from advisory mutual fund investments, SEC said in a statement.
The AIG subsidiary did not admit or deny the SEC’s findings. An AIG spokesperson said the firm was taking “all necessary steps to ensure a robust program of disclosure improvements and governance enhancements”.
VFA failed to disclose to certain teachers the firm was providing cash and other financial benefits to a company owned by the Florida K-12 teachers’ unions from October 2006 to late 2019, according to SEC charges.
Three full-time VALIC employees were “deceptively identified” as employees of the teachers’ union entity, increasing access to the teachers, SEC said.
Creative Benefits for Educators, the entity in contract with VALIC, said it was unaware the vendor had not disclosed details of the relationship to regulators. VALIC terminated the contract in October 2019 following an internal investigation, SEC said.
CBE is owned by local affiliates of the Florida Education Association, according to its website. An association spokeswoman said the statewide union never endorsed a particular financial product.
VFA, which earned $30 million on the products it sold to Florida teachers during the time period, agreed to pay a $20 million penalty and cap advisory fees for teachers at its lowest rate to resolve the issue, SEC said.
In separate charges, SEC said the firm received fees related to the sale of mutual fund products and provided false and misleading disclosures about those financial benefits. VFA agreed to pay back $15.4 million in ill-gotten gains and interest and a civil penalty of $4.5 million.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Chris Reese, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)