Excessive Trading (aka Churning)

Churning is a manipulative and deceptive practice in violation that violates Section 10(b), Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and FINRA Rules 2020 and 2010. It is fraudulent conduct that occurs when: (i) a registered representative controls trading activity in an account, (ii) the level of activity in the account is inconsistent with the customer’s objectives and financial situation, and (iii) the registered representative acts with intent to defraud or a reckless disregard for the customer’s interests.

FINRA Rule 2111 governs suitability, and provides, in part, that a broker-dealer or associated person must “have a reasonable basis to believe that a recommended transaction or investment strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for the customer, based on the information obtained through the reasonable diligence of the [firm] or associated person to ascertain the customer’s investment profile.” Pursuant to FINRA Rule 2111, a broker must have reasonable grounds to believe that the number of recommended transactions within a particular period is not excessive and unsuitable for the customer.

Excessive trading occurs, and is unsuitable, when a registered representative has actual or de facto control over trading in an account and the level of activity in that account is inconsistent with the customer’s investment objectives and financial situation. A violation of FINRA Rule 2111 is also considered to be a violation of FINRA Rule 2010 which requires an associated person to “observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade.”

Possible Signs of Churning:

  • Lots of trading activity – Frequent in-and-out purchases and sales of securities that are inconsistent with the customer’s investment goals or otherwise questionable may be evidence of churning. Excessive trading usually stems from a broker’s desire to make money.  To make money, the broker must place trades.  To the broker, it makes no difference whether the trade benefits your bottom line, because the broker makes his money via the commission generated by the trade.  The more the costs of your trading activity rises, however, the higher your returns must be to outpace those costs.  Further, there is a point at which the cost of the trading activity is so excessive that it is improbable – if not impossible – for you to break even or make money.  That is, at some level your costs are so high that even the most successful of trades cannot keep pace.


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Excessive buying and selling of securities in an investor’s account, also known as churning, is not only unethical, but also violates securities laws.  Most, if not all, churning stems from the broker’s desire to generate commissions that benefit the broker.  For churning to occur, the broker must exercise control over the investment decisions in the