Investors staggered by last year's stock market crash are still trying to sort through their finances, unable to get complaints against their brokers resolved, state securities regulators say.
Two out of three small investors who experienced problems during the stock market crash have not been able to get a resolution of their complaints, according to a new survey.The North American Securities Administrators Association said its survey also showed that 82 percent of investors now have less confidence in securities markets and one out of every seven investors has left the market entirely.
"A lot of people with unresolved complaints don't know where to go for help," said NASAA President John Baldwin. "Our survey shows that these burned investors are not rushing back into the arms of Wall Street."
Of those still in the market, 29 percent said they had substantially less money invested now and two-thirds said they had changed or were planning to change brokerage firms.
Baldwin said it was important for investors to know what help was available to get complaints resolved. He called it particularly disturbing that 40 percent of investors who had incomes of $30,000 a year or less had taken no action to resolve their complaints, suggesting a lack of sophistication among these investors about how to proceed.
Baldwin said a good place to seek help is the securities regulatory bureau in the state in which the investor lives. Baldwin said state regulators often are able to get results simply by getting the brokerage firm and the investor together to discuss the problem.
He said taking the case through arbitration or filing a court suit are also options, although time-consuming. The survey found that of the cases that had gone to court, 90 percent were still pending while 87 percent of the arbitration cases were unresolved.
The association said the typical respondent was a male, aged 55 or older, with a gross income of around $30,000, who had lost between $1,000 and $5,000 in the stock market crash.
Half of the respondents to the survey complained that their brokers executed trades late or got them wrong during the hectic period surrounding the Oct. 19 crash.
The next most common gripes were that brokers had misled investors or put them in unsuitable investments, such as highly risky ventures for a customer without a lot of money to lose.
Asked about the disposition of their complaints, 64 percent of those responding said their problems were still unresolved. Only 3.6 percent had been lucky enough to get a resolution in less than one month.
The survey turned up a number of horror stories from what Baldwin termed the "invisible victims" of Black Monday:
- An elderly woman in Wausau, Wis., wrote, "I have lost $5,000 and it hurts, because I lost my husband in March 1988 and depended on him for support. The Social Security check does not cover all the expenses in a month."
- A Florham Park, N.J., housewife said she had lost $50,000 invested in stocks, commenting, "Even if I were in a financial position to invest now, I would never put my money anywhere but in the bank. I could never have faith in brokers again."
- A retiree in Cape Gable, Fla., said he had lost "basically everything" and had been forced to go back to work "to earn enough to live on."
- A New York City public relations man wrote, "This continues to be one of the most painful situations I've ever experienced - to have lost so much money, which was hard-earned and difficult to save, and to feel that I have nowhere to go for help and don't know how to rectify the problem or recoup the loss."