Articles Posted in Industry News

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced a series of enforcement actions centered on several of the largest broker-dealers in the financial sector. The enforcement actions addressed longstanding failures of the firms and their employees to preserve certain electronic communications. The 15 broker-dealers, and one affiliated investment adviser, admitted to the facts as stated, acknowledged their actions violated the securities laws, and agreed to pay a combined $1.1 billion in penalties.

Under the various securities rules, including recordkeeping provisions, broker-dealers and investment advisers are required to maintain and preserve electronic communications of business-related matters. Regulators expect that the written policies and procedures address this requirement and set forth a framework for the firm and firm employee’s compliance with the policies and procedures. To meet the regulatory expectations, firms traditionally have set out parameters for both internal and external communications and prohibited communications outside of those parameters. The goal of this method is to limit the forms of communications to those that the firm can monitor and preserve.

Continue reading ›

While it comes with little surprise, on Monday the SEC’s Division of Examinations officially announced the areas of focus regarding compliance with the New Marketing Rule. The recently released Risk Alert was expected as the compliance date for the New Marketing Rule is quickly approaching.

Initially introduced in December 22, 2020 the modernized Marketing Rule allowed for an 18-month transition period ending with a compliance date of November 4, 2022. Since adoption, we have previously written about the passage of the New Marketing Rule and some of the significant areas impacted by the new rule. The newest announcement shows that the SEC is going to initially focus on some of the top-level issues under the New Marketing Rule: policies and procedures, substantiation, and performance advertising.

When reviewing policies and procedures, the SEC will look that the investment adviser has adopted and implemented a compliance program that is reasonably designed to prevent violations of the New Marketing Rule by the firm and its supervised persons. The Risk Alert mirrors sections of the Adopting Release and states that the SEC expects a thorough New Marketing Rule compliance program should include objective and testable means to prevent violations. Testing includes some documentable review process for advertisements for compliance with the policies and procedures.

For the past several years, regulators at both the federal and state levels have placed a greater emphasis on the advisory fees charged to retail clients and how those fees are calculated and disclosed. We have previously written about these efforts publicized through Risk Alerts, Exam Priorities and Observations, and Staff Bulletins. Recently, the Colorado Division of Securities published an Ongoing Financial Planning Guide that articulated its concerns regarding investment adviser firms that provide continuous financial planning services.

The Colorado Division of Securities stated that it has encountered a growing trend in which investment advisers provide on-going financial planning rather than the traditional hourly or one-time fixed fee models. Under the on-going financial planning arrangement, investment advisers theoretically take a greater role in implementing financial plans, assisting clients with day-to-day financial decisions, updating financial plans, and making themselves available to the client as needed.

Compliance concerns regarding financial planning have traditionally focused on the disclosure of services and fees, including how and when the fees are charged, whether collecting fees in advance triggers custody concerns, and whether collecting fees in advance create a refund obligation. Colorado’s Guidance continues highlighting these areas of focus and expands what it considers to be best practices.
Continue reading ›

On June 13, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an order instituting administrative and cease-and-desist proceedings against Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (“CS & Co.”), Charles Schwab Investment Advisory, Inc. (“CSIA”), and Schwab Wealth Investment Advisory, Inc. (“SWIA”), (collectively, “Schwab subsidiaries”) who submitted an offer of settlement without admitting or denying the findings of the order, except as to jurisdiction and subject matter. The order alleges that these investment adviser subsidiaries of The Charles Schwab Corporation (“Schwab”) listed before made false and misleading disclosures on Forms ADV Part 2A and published false and misleading advertising regarding Schwab Intelligent Portfolios (“SIP”), a robo-adviser service.

The Schwab subsidiaries did not charge an advisory fee for the SIP service and instead made money by allocating a fixed percentage of a client’s portfolio to cash and depositing that cash with Schwab Bank. Schwab Bank then loaned the cash out at a higher interest rate than the interest rate paid to clients in order to make a profit.

Continue reading ›

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently released a Staff Bulletin regarding the Standards of Conduct for Broker-Dealers and Investment Advisers Account Recommendations for Retail Investors. Since the adoption of Regulation Best Interest, or Reg BI, in 2019, the SEC has issued guidance and best practices for adoption of the policies and procedures expected for compliance with the regulation. We have previously written about the best interest standard applied to retirement rollover recommendations and the SEC’s announcement of the first enforcement case being filed under Reg BI.

The Staff Bulletin, presented in a Q&A format, provides the SEC’s views on how financial professionals can fulfill their obligations to retail investors when making account recommendations. The obligations discussed include the applicable standard for making account recommendations, factors to consider when making account recommendations, how and when cost is a factor, retirement rollover considerations, client account preferences, and developing and implementing a compliance plan reasonably designed to address Reg BI.

While Reg BI and the investment adviser fiduciary standard differ, the SEC points out that both standards require an account recommendation to be in the client’s best interest and prohibits an investment adviser from placing its interest ahead of a client’s interest. Additionally, the SEC states that a firm that does not evaluate sufficient information about a retail investor, it will not have the ability to form a reasonable basis to believe its account recommendations are in the retail investor’s best interest.

Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed its first-ever civil lawsuit seeking to enforce Regulation Best Interest. The case, filed in a federal district court in California, seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement with prejudgment interest and civil penalties against broker-dealer Western International Securities Inc. and five of its registered representatives. Regulation Best Interest, also known as “Reg BI,” became effective in mid-2020, requiring broker-dealers and their associated persons to act in the best interest of their retail clients when making recommendations.

Reg BI does not apply to registered investment advisers, but, at the time of its adoption in 2019, the SEC issued guidance in which it affirmed and substantially clarified its view of what investment advisers must do to comply with their fiduciary obligations to their clients. Among those obligations is to act in the client’s best interests at all times. Both broker-dealers and investment advisers are required to deliver Client Relationship Summaries to their clients and prospective clients at various times. This document, among other things, describes conflicts of interests the firm has relating to the services it provides or the fees it receives.

Continue reading ›

While the majority of the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule, Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (“PTE 2020-02), became enforceable on January 31st, some of the requirements pertaining to rollover recommendations are set to be enforced on July 1, 2022.

As detailed in this blog post, the DOL provided transition relief in its Field Assistance Bulletin, FAB 2021-02 by extending the enforcement date of PTE 2020-02 through January 31, 2022 for investment advice fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the “Impartial Conduct Standards” for any transactions that are exempted under PTE 2020-02. These standards include a best interest standard, a reasonable compensation standard, and a requirement to avoid any materially misleading statements about the recommended transaction and other relevant matters.

PTE 2020-02 also requires investment advice fiduciaries to document the specific reasons any rollover recommendations from an employee benefit plan to another plan or an IRA, from an IRA to a plan, from an IRA to another IRA, or from one type of account to another is in the best interest of the retirement investor. PTE 2020-02 further requires this documentation to be provided to the retirement investor prior to engaging in the rollover. In FAB 2021-02, the DOL announced that it would not enforce the documentation and disclosure requirements for rollover recommendations under PTE 2020-02 through June 30, 2022.
Continue reading ›

On April 26, 2022, the Division of Examinations of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a Risk Alert titled Investment Adviser MNPI Compliance Issues. The Alert identifies compliance issues relating to material non-public information – sometimes called “insider information” – and provides guidance to investment advisers, investors, and other market participants on complying with Section 204A of the Investment Advisers Act and corresponding Rule 204A-1.  

Section 204A of the Advisers Act requires investment advisers to establish, maintain, and enforce written policies and procedures designed to prevent the misuse of material non-public information (“MNPI”). Rule 204A-1 requires investment advisers registered under the Advisers Act to adopt a Code of Ethics. 

The Division identified three categories of compliance issues related to Section 240A of the Advisers Act. First, the Division observed that advisers have not adopted or implemented adequate policies and procedures to address the risk of receipt and use of data from non-traditional sources (“alternative data”), such as social media and internet search data. Second, the Division observed that advisers have not adopted or implemented adequate policies and procedures regarding investors who are likely to possess insider information, such as corporate investors or financial professional investors. Third and finally, the Division observed that advisers did not have adequate policies and procedures regarding possible interactions with consultants who might have access to insider information. 

Continue reading ›

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently released the 2022 Examination Priorities from the Division of Examinations, formerly known as the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. This annual release provides insight into the areas that the SEC plans to highlight when examining investment advisers during the coming year.

While the SEC notes the continued impact of COVID-19 on investment advisers and the investment industry, the SEC reported an increase in examinations conducted during FY21, with the total number of completed examinations close to the pre-pandemic levels of FY19.

For FY22 examinations, the SEC will place a significant focus on (1) private funds; (2) environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing; (3) standards of conduct: Regulation Best Interest (Regulation BI), fiduciary duty, and Form CRS; (4) information security and operational resiliency; and (5) emerging technologies and crypto-assets. Many of these focus areas, such as ESG and Regulation BI, are carried over from previous years and mark a multi-year emphasis for the SEC.

With the date for compliance with the new Investment Adviser Marketing Rule approaching, now is the time for registered investment advisers to consider how the new rule impacts many facets of their regular practices. One area that should be carefully evaluated is the use of “hypothetical performance.” The new rule expands the definition of an “advertisement” to include many one-on-one presentations that were not covered by the former advertising rule. Now, any one-on-one presentation that contains “hypothetical performance” is subject to the general anti-fraud provisions of the new rule, as well as to several specific conditions and limitations on the use of hypothetical performance.

The definition of “hypothetical performance” is “performance results that were not actually achieved by any portfolio of the investment adviser.” That definition expressly encompasses “targeted or projected performance returns.” The illustration of “targets” or “projections” in one-on-one presentations was previously covered by the general anti-fraud rules, but the new regime imposes more onerous requirements and may indeed prevent RIAs from using the types of illustrations they are currently routinely using with new clients and prospects.

A common approach to acquiring new clients involves presenting an illustration of how a proposed portfolio will perform. This is frequently done through the use of reporting software or publishing services such as Morningstar, Riskalyze, and others, although the adviser may have the ability to customize the inputs and the contents of the final report. Sometimes specific returns are projected, while at other times the projections will show a range or band of returns coupled by a specific probability range.

Continue reading ›

Contact Information