In SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White’s opening statement to about 1,000 broker-dealer compliance officials at the Annual Broker-Dealer Compliance Outreach Program, she was clearly dismissing a growing sense that compliance professionals are being singled out by the SEC enforcement program, “To be clear, it is not our intention to use our enforcement program to target compliance professionals” she said, adding “We have tremendous respect for the work that you do. You have a tough job in a complex industry where the stakes are extremely high.” White also drew on the close similarities between the SEC and compliance officials, “Like you, much of our work at the Commission centers on protecting investors. We want to support you in your efforts and work together as a team.”

White’s statement came shortly after a public difference of opinion between commissioners Daniel Gallagher and Luis Aguilar. Gallagher, who issued dissents in the SEC’s cases against BlackRock Advisors in April and SFX Financial Advisory Investment Management in June, argued that the SEC rules governing compliance officials issued in 2003 are vague and leave too much uncertainty “as to the distinction between the role of CCOs and management in carrying out the compliance function.” In addition to the ambiguity in the rules, the only rule interpretations which have been provided by the SEC have come in the form of enforcement actions which Gallagher wrote “are undoubtedly sending a troubling message that CCOs should not take ownership of their firm’s compliance policies and procedures, lest they be held accountable for conduct that is the responsibility of the adviser itself.” Gallagher suggested that the SEC consider either amending the rules or providing commission-level guidance which would help clarify what is expected of compliance officers in their roles.
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FINRA has recently released Regulatory Notice 15-16 which contains proposed amendments to the rules currently governing public communications they will make reporting by FINRA member firms regarding public communications less onerous due to more lenient filing requirements. If the proposed amendments are adopted, the rules proposed to be amended are FINRA Rules 2210, 2214 and 2213.

FINRA Rule 2210 relates to communications of a firm with the public. Under the current regime new firms are required, at least 10 days prior to making any retail communications, to file such communications with FINRA for the first year of the firm’s membership. Under the proposed amendment, new firms would only be required to file their websites and any material changes thereto within 10 days of first use of the website for the first year of the firm’s membership. This proposed change was prompted by FINRA’s recognition that the primary form of retail communications is now done through the firm’s websites and that the 10-day waiting period served no significant investor protection function.
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Amendments have been proposed to form ADV and certain rules under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 that would have significant effects on reporting requirements for investment advisers. In addition to codification of “umbrella registration” which was initially proposed in an SEC no action letter to the American Bar Association in 2012, new information would be required regarding separately managed accounts and general advisory business.

Umbrella Registration
Larger investment managers to private funds or other pooled vehicles are often comprised of many legal entities conducting a single advisory business. The proposed modifications to form ADV, which are a codification of the SEC no action letter, would if approved allow for umbrella registration which would permit multiple private fund investment advisers that operate as a single business, on an affiliate basis, to register on a single form ADV as opposed to individual registrations. This new codification would require that the principal office of the filing investment adviser be located within the United States, that each investment adviser operate under a single code of ethics under the Advisers Act, that each adviser be subject to the Advisers Act (and therefore subject to SEC examination), and that the filing advisor and each relying advisor would advise only private funds or qualified clients (as defined in Rule 205-3 under the Advisers Act). While this is a more efficient method of reporting, as only one Form ADV would be required to be submitted by the filing adviser, it would require additional information on proposed Schedule R to Form ADV which includes more detailed information on the ownership structure of each relying investment adviser falling under the umbrella of the filing investment adviser submitting the Form ADV. Under proposed Schedule R each relying adviser would be required to provide identifying information, basis for registration and ownership information.
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In a matter underscoring how important it is for investment advisers to dedicate sufficient resources and attention to their compliance program, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has sanctioned a firm for multiple compliance failures. On June 23, 2015 the SEC instituted cease-and-desist proceedings against Pekin Singer Strauss, a registered investment advisor firm boasting approximately $1.07 billion in AUM which primarily serves high-net-worth clients.

Among the violations cited, the order states that Pekin Singer failed to conduct timely annual compliance program reviews in 2009 and 2010 and failed to implement and enforce provisions of its policies and procedures and code of ethics during this same period. The firm has been ordered to pay a civil money penalty in the amount of $150,000.
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