FINRA Suspends Nikolay Zotenko (Morgan Stanley)

My Take on FINRA’s Suspension of Nikolay Zotenko for Shady “Exclusive” Investment Pitch

I’ve stumbled across quite a few industry blunders through my journey. Now, I’ve got the scoop on a major decided action from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). They just slapped a hefty fine on an ex-broker from Morgan Stanley, right out of Beverly Hills, for promoting a private placement that was a bit on the shady side.

Nikolay Zotenko once worked with Morgan Stanley, but after a stint of half a decade, it all went south in May 2021 when he was shown the door. Not only was he dismissed, but he was also suspended and given a $10,000 fine over his actions.

Here’s the gist: From late January to early February 2021, Zotenko blitzed through a flurry of over 1,150 messages and emails to potential investors. He was selling them on what he dubbed an “Exclusive Venture Capital Investment Opportunity,” which, he claimed, was an offer usually kept away from new investors.

In his communications, Zotenko sang praises of this investment like it was the next big thing in portfolio venture capital funds, spotlighting particular industries. He boasted about returns that supposedly crushed the industry average, while conveniently glossing over the very real risks that come with speculative investments.

According to FINRA, his letters were problematic – to the point of being misleading. They say that the content was unbalanced and didn’t provide enough solid information to properly evaluate the investment. In layman’s terms, it was a pitch with all sizzle and no steak.

Zotenko didn’t just cross the line with FINRA; he also side-stepped Morgan Stanley’s safety checks. After his pitch was rejected internally, he went right ahead and sent those communications anyway, in direct violation of FINRA’s rules on integrity and ethical conduct. As Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Zotenko’s actions here are a vivid example of this.

Though he accepted the sanctions, Zotenko neither admitted nor denied the allegations. He mentioned that he’s done with the industry, which says something about the situation. As for his next chapter, it seems he’s switched into startup mode with his new venture, according to his LinkedIn profile.

I reached out to Morgan Stanley for a comment, but I haven’t heard back just yet.

On a termination notice, Morgan Stanley underscored their concerns about Zotenko’s conduct—sending unsanctioned emails teeming with investment pitches, bypassing approval, and taking steps to dodge further scrutiny from the bank.

After over 600 emails went out through his official account, Zotenko hung on for an official green light. But when it came down from the compliance higher-ups, they shut it down, spotting several issues, including promises they deemed inappropriate.

However, not one to take no for an answer, he cleverly circumvented the firm’s watchful eyes and fired out roughly 550 additional messages in the span of two days using the firm’s internal system. Crafty indeed, he sent them in batches of 25, skirting the automatic rejection for unapproved messages sent to more than 26 people within a month, and he persisted in this deception each time.

In the world of finance, trust is a currency as valuable as money itself. Did you know, for example, that the Securities and Exchange Commission reveals thousands of arbitration claims filed each year against financial advisors, many of whom are accused of misleading their clients?

As your guide through the sometimes murky waters of finance, remember—it’s essential to verify the credentials and background of any financial advisor or broker. Always check an advisor’s FINRA record by referencing their CRD number. It’s your right as an investor to ensure you’re dealing with reputable professionals.

To wrap up, Zotenko’s case serves as a cautionary tale. It underscores the importance of transparency in communications and the need for investors to remain vigilant and informed. Financial opportunities may be plentiful, but due diligence is the order of the day to avoid those that are too good to be true.

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