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TIAA unit in $97 mln retirement investment settlement with US, NY regulators

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People exit the headquarters of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

  • Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America
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NEW YORK, July 13 (Reuters) - A unit of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America will pay $97 million in restitution to tens of thousands of customers who were misled into moving their retirement money into higher-fee accounts, regulators said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the settlement with TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, which includes a $9 million SEC civil fine.

Based in New York, TIAA ended March with $1.3 trillion of assets under management, and serves about 5 million customers including college professors, doctors and nurses, researchers and government employees.

Regulators said that from January 2012 to March 2018, TIAA advisers pressured clients to move their retirement money to higher-cost, individually-managed accounts in TIAA's Portfolio Advisor program from lower-cost, employer-sponsored plans.

Some advisers made misleading representations that they "put the client first," and were trained to identify clients' "pain points" before recommending Portfolio Advisor as the solution to their fears about investing, regulators said.

The conflicts of interest enabled TIAA to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue, James said.

"TIAA relied on its reputation as a trusted and objective financial advisor to profit off of clients through fraudulent and manipulative sales practices," James said in a statement. "We're finally making things right."

The TIAA unit did not admit or deny wrongdoing in the settlements. It agreed to several reforms including subjecting rollover recommendations to a strict fiduciary standard, and eliminating financial incentives for selling managed accounts.

"We regret the times that we did not live up to our clients' expectations of us," TIAA said in a statement. "We have learned some valuable lessons and have applied those lessons to enhancing our training, supervisory controls and disclosures."

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York Editing by Marguerita Choy
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