France financial regulator Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF) has announced that its AMF Enforcement Committee has fined a French tied agent of a Cypriot investment services provider and its manager a total of €400,000, for breaches of their professional obligations.
In its decision of November 10, 2023, the Enforcement Committee imposed a fine of €300,000 on France Safe Media (FSM) and banned it from acting as a tied agent and from providing reception and transmission of orders (RTO) service for 10 years. It also fined its manager, Lior Mattouk, €100,000 and banned him from managing or directing any entity operating as a tied agent and providing RTO service for 10 years.
The Enforcement Committee found five sets of breaches for events that took place between January 2019 and September 2021, in relation to FSM’s RTO business on behalf of third parties. As a tied agent of Cypriot investment services provider VPR Safe Financial Group Limited, FSM offered its clients the opportunity to subscribe to contracts for difference (CFDs) through accounts accessible on an online platform called “Alvexo”. A tied agent is an intermediary who acts on behalf of a service provider.
Alvexo is a Cyprus-based, France and Italy focused Retail FX and CFDs brokerage brand. We’d note that VPR / Alvexo itself has run into some issues with its regulator in Cyprus. In 2021 Alvexo operator VPR was fined €100,000 by CySEC for CFD marketing. And in August 2022 CySEC partially suspended VPR/Alvexo’s CIF license regarding a host of violations, including not appearing to act fairly, honestly and professionally when providing investment services to clients, and misleading advertising. VPR’s license was reinstated by CySEC last month.
Regarding the fines to FSM and Lior Mattouk, the Commission found that FSM had not demonstrated that it had checked that its sales staff had a minimum qualification and sufficient level of knowledge, and that FSM had provided the inspection team with a test to assess the knowledge of its sales staff which had been drawn up after the start of the investigation period and whose content was inadequate.
It then pointed out the inadequacy of the questionnaire used to assess client knowledge and experience and the inappropriateness of the scoring system associated with this questionnaire. In addition, it found that account managers interfered with the process of assessing potential clients by asking them to change their answers or to complete the questionnaire again, thereby rendering the questionnaire useless. The Commission considered that FSM was therefore unable to determine whether its clients or potential clients had the necessary experience and knowledge to understand the risks associated with the products or services offered.
It also found shortcomings in FSM’s promotional communications for CFDs, noting the absence of an appropriate warning about the risks associated with CFDs in promotional banners and the failure to comply with the prohibition on promoting CFD accounts other than limited risk accounts.
In addition, the Commission found that FSM had failed to comply with its obligation to inform its clients and potential clients of its tied agent status and of the identity of its principal when it came into contact with them.
Finally, it considered that FSM had failed to exercise due care and diligence in relation to the audit.
The Commission found that FSM’s failures were attributable to its manager, Lior Mattouk.
The AMF noted that an appeal may be lodged against this decision.