The Curious Case Of An Ameriprise Office Manager

June 27, 2014

What did FINRA know and when did they know it? No, we're not trying to channel the spirits of Nixon and Watergate but a recent FINRA settlement raises an odd issue as to whether the self-regulatory organization knew the status of an individual respondent -- or whether that same individual had puffed up his role at a financial services firm.  In the end, you're left wondering: Was this guy just an Office Manager?

An Ameriprise Branch Office

For the purpose of proposing a settlement of rule violations alleged by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"), without admitting or denying the findings, prior to a regulatory hearing, and without an adjudication of any issue, Justin M. Weseloh submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent ("AWC"), which FINRA accepted. In the Matter of Justin M. Weseloh, Respondent (AWC 2013038611701, June 17, 2014).

Weseloh first became registered in 2008, and by March 2010, he was registered with FINRA member firm Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. While registered with Ameriprise, Weseloh worked out of an Independence, OH branch office which operated under the name of "The Partners Group." 

Office Manager Weseloh

The AWC alleges that from March 2010 until September 2013, Weseloh was employed at an annual salary of $45,000 by The Partners Group as an Office Manager, whose responsibilities included managing the office's clerical staff; bookkeeping functions, payroll, vendors, and marketing. In furtherance of his payroll management duties, Weseloh purportedly sent gross payroll and commission figures for all of The Partners Group's employees to a third-party payroll company, which then paid the the employees directly from The Partners Group's banking account. The AWC asserts that:

Pursuant to Ameriprise policy, Weseloh was prohibited from advising clients and receiving client transaction-based compensation, including commission payments.

The AWC alleges that between January 2011 and September 2013, Weseloh knowingly sent the payroll company inflated salary figures. Additionally, Weseloh allegedly submitted commission payment requests for himself, although he was not allowed to receive commission payments pursuant to Ameriprise policy.

Gravy Train Train Wreck

As a result of Weseloh's payroll and commission submissions, the AWC alleges that he wrongfully received about $21,000 in salary payments and $63,000 in commissions, in violation of FINRA Rule 2010. According to online FINRA records as of June 22, 2014, Weseloh was "Permitted to Resign" by Ameriprise on September 19, 2013, based upon allegations:


Stay In Touch

In accordance with the terms of the AWC, FINRA imposed upon Weseloh a Bar from associating with any FINRA member in all capacities. Additionally, he is subject to:

An undertaking to cooperate with FINRA Department of Enforcement staff (the "Staff') in its continuing investigation of FINRA matter number 20140402693, including but not limited to testifying truthfully at any hearings in this matter, participating in meetings and/or interviews with and by the Staff, and providing the Staff with any requested documents, all without requiring the Staff to rely on FINRA Rule 8210.

Bill Singer's Comment

Gotta tell ya -- something here just doesn't add up. The FINRA AWC specifically asserts the following [Ed: Emphasis supplied]:

From March 2010 until September 2013, Weseloh was employed by The Partners Group as an Office Manager. His responsibilities included managing the office's clerical staff; bookkeeping functions, payroll, vendors, and marketing. Weseloh's salary was $45,000 per year. Pursuant to Ameriprise policy, Weseloh was prohibited from advising clients and receiving client transaction-based compensation, including commission payments.

What I understood from that above statement in the AWC was that we were dealing with a a mere salaried Officer Manager. In researching this article, I came upon a LinkedIn page titled: Justin Weseloh, Partner at Ameriprise Financial/The Partners Group  In contradistinction to the AWC's characterization, this "Justin Weseloh's" LinkedIn page (perhaps not Justin M. Weseloh???) presents this description:

Ameriprise Financial/The Partners Group
March 2010 - October 2013 (3 years 8 months)

Oversaw and optimized an annual budget that increased yearly to $3M: added new departments and initiatives, hired staff with multiple talents, streamlined staff to eliminate redundancies, and managed wholesaler/vendor relationships to leverage and maximize their financial support of PFG..
Interviewed, recommended, hired, trained, and semiannually reviewed a team of 35 in four offices (Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh, greater Columbus), including financial advisors, a client concierge, client service manager, office manager, operations manager, business development manager, marketing manager, and other administrative, marketing, accounting, and business processing staff.
Coordinated the launches of the Akron and Columbus area offices, including space, staff and the transition of all clients.
Cut salary costs and increased efficiency by eliminating high-salaried, underperforming advisors in favor of nearly 50 performance-based new-hire compensation packages, compensation reviews, and adjustments based on AMPF's practice efficiency profile.
Identified, valuated, and executed 8 business acquisitions, each acquisition carrying with it strong recurring revenue models: analyzed potential revenue generated versus projected business assimilation expenses, including calculating a profitable crossover point for each practice purchase price.
Facilitated transitions of new advisors and support staff into the PFG team and culture: analyzed workload capacity for new staff, supervised transition teams to migrate old practices to PFG/Ameriprise culture and technology, resolved any "culture clashes" diplomatically, and ensured that retiring advisors mentored new advisors in order to maximize efficiency and continuity for clients.
Added a client concierge to welcome and assist all new clients with online registration-ensuring electronic submission of paperwork and the security of future client-advisor electronic communication.

Rather than the Office Manager of the AWC, this Justin Weseloh is purportedly a Partner and Chief Operating Officer of "Ameriprise Financial/The Partners Group." Further, if you read Page 11 of the Brecksville Magazine (September 2003, Volume 24, No. 9), you find a full page advertisement for the Partners Group, and the following statements among others:

With over 100 years of combined experience, Private Wealth Advisor Peter F. Butler, CRPC, and his partners Justin Weseloh, MBA and Thomas M. Compernolle, CHFC, and their team came to Ameriprise to found The Partners Group. Since then, they've expanded to operate four offices in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, which include Independence, Akron, Cambridge and Pittsburgh.

. . .

"It's very difficult to find a solution to a problem if we don't know someone's entire picture, so we start the majority of our relationships in an advice-driven capacity, where people come to us asking questions about what they should do," said Weseloh. "We then analyze their situation,
provide council and proceed from there. It's a comprehensive process."

So it now appears that Weseloh was a Founder, Partner, and Chief Operating Officer of The Partners Group. What's with FINRA's characterization of his role as only an Office Manager?

I'm not quite sure what FINRA is and is not aware of but assuming that the online Justin Weseloh that I reference above is the same individual who is the Respondent in the AWC, I don't quite understand why he is being presented to us in the FINRA AWC as a mere Office Manager. Perhaps the answer to my question is yet to be found in Weseloh's "undertaking to cooperate with FINRA Department of Enforcement staff (the "Staff') in its continuing investigation of FINRA matter number 20140402693 . . ."