Articles Tagged with Compliance

On February 26, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Making Findings and Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist Order against EquityStar Capital Management, LLC, an unregistered investment adviser, and its owner, Steven Zoernack.  According to the SEC’s Order, EquityStar and Zoernack offered and sold investment interests in two unregistered investment funds from about May 2010 to about March 2014.  The SEC’s Order alleges that in the course of making these offers and sales, EquityStar and Zoernack “made material misrepresentations and omissions and engaged in a fraudulent scheme involving this and other deceptive conduct.”

Zoernack was tasked with writing and publishing marketing materials for the funds that EquityStar managed.  In these marketing materials, Zoernack allegedly claimed that the funds’ manager, whose name was not disclosed, had “an impeccable and unblemished past record with the SEC.”  According to the SEC, however, Zoernack was in fact the manager, and he had “two criminal fraud convictions, had previously filed for bankruptcy, and had numerous money judgments and liens against him.”  The Order also claims that Zoernack made various efforts to hide his criminal record and negative financial history, including paying a search-engine manipulator to make positive information about him appear before negative information in search engine results. Continue reading

On February 13, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it is accepting registrations for the National Compliance Outreach Seminar (“National Seminar”).  The National Seminar, which is part of the SEC’s Compliance Outreach Program, is designed to help educate registered investment advisers’ chief compliance officers (“CCOs”), as well as their senior officers, about “various broad topics applicable to larger investment advisory firms and investment companies.”  The National Seminar will take place on April 12, 2018 at the SEC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and it will last from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.  While only 500 participants can attend in person, a live webcast will be provided via

This year the National Seminar will include six panel discussions between SEC personnel, CCOs, and various other industry representatives.  SEC personnel who participate in the panels typically include officers from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, the Division of Investment Management, and the Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit, as well as officers from other SEC divisions or offices.  CCOs and other senior staff in private advisory firms typically participate in the panels as well.  Each of these panels reflects areas of concern which the SEC likely intends to prioritize in 2018. Continue reading

The amendments to Form ADV, Part 1 that became effective October 1, 2017 are presenting some registered investment advisers with unforeseen problems as we move into “annual amendment season” in 2018.  As we previously highlighted among those changes to Form ADV is the requirement for advisers to disclose estimated percentages of assets held within separately managed accounts in twelve categories of assets.

Advisers with more than $10 billion in regulatory assets under management are required to report the same data as of mid-year and year-end.  Smaller firms must report the same data as of year-end only.

This has not proved a simple exercise for some firms.  Many have assumed that the custodians of their clients’ assets would readily be able to categorize their clients’ holdings and provide them reports summarizing the data.  Continue reading

On February 7, 2018, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published its Examination Priorities for 2018.  The Examination Priorities cover “certain practices, products, and services that OCIE believes may present potentially heightened risk to investors and/or the integrity of the U.S. capital markets.”  The five priorities that OCIE specifically listed are (1) issues crucial to retail investors, such as seniors and those saving for retirement, (2) compliance and risks in critical market infrastructure, (3) FINRA and MSRB, (4) cybersecurity, and (5) anti-money laundering programs.  This is not an exclusive list, and OCIE invited comments concerning how it can adequately promote compliance.

OCIE intends to continue to make shielding retail investors from fraud a priority.  OCIE plans to focus especially on senior investors and those saving for retirement.  For example, examiners will pay particular attention to firms’ internal controls that are intended to monitor their representatives, especially in relation to products targeted at senior investors.  OCIE will also focus on disclosure of the costs of investing, examination of investment advisers and broker-dealers who primarily offer advice through digital platforms, wrap fee programs, mutual funds and exchange traded funds, municipal advisors and underwriters, and the growth of the cryptocurrency and initial coin offering markets. Continue reading

On November 15, 2017, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, published the Division’s Annual Report for fiscal year 2017.  Avakian and Peikin emphasized the Division’s commitment to enforcing the federal securities laws in order to “combat wrongdoing, compensate harmed investors, and maintain confidence in the integrity and fairness of our markets.”  They also emphasized their goals of shielding investors, discouraging misconduct, and reprimanding and penalizing those who violate the federal securities laws.  To accomplish these goals, five core principles, according to Avakian and Peikin, will serve as the Division’s road map.

First, the Division will focus primarily on retail investors, who Avakian and Peikin believe are not only the most common market participants, but also are the most susceptible and least equipped to handle financial loss.  The Division plans to keep confronting violations of the securities laws that can have a strong impact on retail investors, such as accounting fraud, sales of unsuitable products, Ponzi schemes, and pump and dump schemes.  The Division has also established a Retail Strategy Task Force to formulate competent methods of confronting securities law violations that affect retail investors.  The Retail Strategy Task Force will work with the SEC’s examination staff and the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy to pinpoint risk areas common to retail investors. Continue reading

Beginning October 1, 2017, registered investment advisers are required to use revised form ADV, which requests certain information not sought on previous versions of the form. Advisers will also have to comply with amendments to Rule 204-2 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  With the compliance date less than three months away, advisers should examine whether to modify their internal policies and procedures pertaining to Form ADV reporting and recordkeeping, and also should begin the process of collecting the new information and assuring that the information remains available for future Form ADV filings.

The amendments to Form ADV changed the requirements of Item 5 of Part 1A of Form ADV and Section 5 of Schedule D.  The amendments will obligate investment advisers to disclose the estimated percentage of regulatory assets under management (“RAUM”) held in separately managed accounts (“SMAs”) and to indicate those assets “that are invested in twelve broad asset categories.”  Investment advisers with $10 billion or more in RAUM connected to SMAs will be obligated to report both mid-year and end-of-year percentages for each category.  Investment advisers with fewer than $10 billion in RAUM connected to SMAs will only be obligated to report only end-of-year percentages.  The amendments to Form ADV will also require investment advisers to disclose the identity of custodians that make up 10 percent or more of an investment adviser’s total SMA RAUM. Continue reading

On June 5, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Alpine Securities Corporation (“Alpine”), a Salt Lake City-based broker-dealer.  The complaint alleges that Alpine failed to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) in the manner prescribed by the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).  According to the SEC’s complaint, Alpine’s alleged misconduct “facilitated illicit actors’ evasion of scrutiny by U.S. regulators and law enforcement, and provided them with access to the markets they might otherwise have been denied.”

The BSA obligates a broker-dealer to file SARs with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) to report transactions that the broker-dealer knows or suspects involve funds obtained from illegal activities or that were used to conceal such activities.  Broker-dealers are also obligated, under the “SAR Rule” (31 C.F.R. § 1023.320), to file SARs if they know or suspect that a transaction’s purpose was to evade BSA obligations or that the transaction did not have an obvious business or lawful purpose.  Broker-dealers are also required to file SARs if they know or suspect that a transactions’ purpose is to instigate criminal activity.  In addition, both FinCEN, under the SAR Rule, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), under FINRA Rule 3310, require that broker-dealers establish and enforce anti-money laundering programs that are tailored to guarantee compliance with the BSA and its regulations.  Since Alpine was a FINRA-member firm, it was obligated to comply with FINRA’s rule regarding the adoption and enforcement of an anti-money laundering program.

The SEC alleged that while Alpine had adopted an anti-money laundering compliance program, it did not adequately put this compliance program into practice.  For example, evidence showed that Alpine’s records included information revealing incidents of “money laundering, securities fraud, or other illicit financial activities relating to [Alpine’s] customers and their transactions.”  These constituted so-called “material red flags” and were required to be reported in Alpine’s SARs.  However, the SEC alleged that at least 1,950 of Alpine’s SARs did not report these material red flags.  Evidence also showed that Alpine filed SARs on about 1,900 deposits of a security, but did not file SARs upon the subsequent liquidation of deposits.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently announced a proposal to amend Rules 203(l)-1 and 203(m)-1 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”). The purpose of these proposed amendments is to “reflect changes made by… the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (the “FAST Act”).” The FAST Act amended sections 203(l) and 203(m) of the Advisers Act to provide advisers to small business investment companies (“SBICs”), venture capital funds, and certain private funds with additional avenues to registration exemption.

SBICs are commonly defined as privately-owned investment companies that are licensed and regulated by the Small Business Administration (“SBA”). They typically provide a vehicle for funding small businesses through both equity and debt. Section 203(b)(7) of the Advisers Act provides that investment advisers who only advise SBICs are exempt from registration. Moreover, investment advisers who use the SBIC exemption are not obligated to comply with the Advisers Act’s reporting and recordkeeping provisions, and they are not subject to SEC examination. Continue reading

On May 24, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint against an options trading instructor and unregistered investment adviser, Gustavo A. Guzman (“Guzman”).  The complaint alleges that Guzman obtained more than $2.1 million from investors, assuring them that their funds would be invested in equity options and real estate.  However, evidence showed that Guzman misappropriated a third of the funds “and lost the remainder through his options trading while misleading existing or prospective investors.”

Guzman was not registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or any state authority.  However, he was tasked with managing investments in two private funds specializing in options trading and one real estate hedge fund.  He also received management fees for managing these funds.  As a result, Guzman met the definition of an investment adviser in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and was subject to its anti-fraud provisions. Continue reading

On May 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published a Risk Alert pertaining to cybersecurity.  According to the Risk Alert, an extensive ransomware attack called WannaCry, WCry, or Wanna Decryptor “rapidly affected numerous organizations across over one hundred countries.”  In light of the WannaCry attack, OCIE is urging registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, and investment companies, to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

According to the Risk Alert and an alert published by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Cert Alert TA17-132A, the hacker or hacking group who instigated the WannaCry attack obtained access to enterprise servers by way of exploiting a Windows Server Message Block vulnerability. WannaCry infects computers using software that encrypts data on a server using a .WCRY file-name extension, which prevents the rightful owner from accessing the data. Once infected, the ransomware software demands payment from the business in return for access to the business’ data. Microsoft released a patch to this vulnerability in March of 2017, but many users of Microsoft operating systems do not diligently update their software. Continue reading