Articles Tagged with Compliance

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

On January 13, 2017, the United States Supreme Court agreed to examine a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) ability to seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in fraud cases, including fraud cases involving investment advisers.  The case, Kokesh v. SEC, raises the issue of whether claims for disgorgement are subject to a five-year statute of limitations on civil penalties.  Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court in April.

The underlying case involves a New Mexico investment adviser named Charles R. Kokesh (“Kokesh”), who acted as an investment adviser to various funds organized as limited partnerships.  The SEC filed suit against Kokesh, alleging that from 1995 through 2006, Kokesh ordered the funds’ treasurer to take money from the funds to pay various expenses, including $23.8 million for salaries and bonuses to the funds’ officers, including Kokesh, $5 million for office rent, and $6.1 million characterized as “tax distributions.”  According to the Tenth Circuit, the payments violated the funds’ contracts because the contracts did not permit payments for salaries of the funds’ controlling persons, including Kokesh, until 2000.  The contracts also did not address bonus payments, and they only permitted payment of tax obligations if certain prerequisites were present.  A jury found that Kokesh violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, among other statutes, and the District Court ordered Kokesh to pay a $2.4 million civil penalty, plus disgorgement of $35 million based on amounts going back to 1995.

In response, Kokesh appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the disgorgement was a penalty subject to a five-year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  The SEC argued that the disgorgement was remedial and not punitive, and therefore not a penalty subject to the statute of limitations.  The Tenth Circuit agreed with the SEC and held that disgorgement was not a penalty.

On April 10, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it brought enforcement actions against 27 firms and individuals.  According to the SEC, these firms and individuals published articles on investment websites about various companies’ stock.  The articles did not disclose to investors, however, that they were not “independent, unbiased analyses,” and they allegedly gave investors the opinion that they were.  The articles also did not have any disclaimers stating that the authors were being paid for promoting various companies’ stock.

The SEC conducted investigations through which it found that public companies engaged promoters or communications firms to create publicity for their stocks.  The promoters and communications firms then employed writers to write articles about the companies.  These articles, however, did not inform the public that the writers were receiving compensation from the public companies.  The SEC claims that, because these articles did not disclose the compensation arrangement, they created the impression that they were impartial when in fact they were “nothing more than paid advertisements.”  Moreover, the SEC found that more than 250 articles contained untrue statements that the writers were not being paid by the companies that their articles were discussing.  As a result, the SEC is alleging that the relevant firms and individuals committed fraud. Continue reading

In December 2016, then acting Chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Mary Jo White drafted a proposal that, if adopted, would enable third-parties, such as private sector organizations, to perform compliance exams of investment advisers.  Chairwoman White drafted this proposal in order to “increase SEC oversight of the approximately 11,800 registered investment advisers.”  In 2016, the SEC conducted evaluations of only 11% of all registered investment advisers.

However, Michael Piwowar, the current SEC Chairman, has expressed opposition to the proposal.  Piwowar claims that allowing third parties to conduct investment adviser exams would not increase the SEC’s efficiency because the SEC would still be required to monitor the third parties that it hires to conduct the exams.  He is also of the opinion that requiring SEC employees to conduct the exams would better enable the SEC to become aware of “trends in the industry.” Continue reading

On February 7, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released a list of five compliance topics that are the most commonly identified topics “in deficiency letters that were sent to SEC-registered investment advisers.”  OCIE published this list in a National Exam Program Risk Alert in order to help advisers who are conducting their annual compliance reviews.

The first compliance topic was compliance with the Compliance Rule, Rule 206(4)-7, which requires an investment adviser to create and execute written policies and procedures that are reasonably tailored to prevent the investment adviser and its supervised persons from violating the Advisers Act and to detect potential violations.  The rule also requires an investment adviser to review the sufficiency of its policies and procedures at least annually and to appoint a chief compliance officer.  According to OCIE, common violations of the Compliance Rule include not having a compliance manual that is reasonably suited to the adviser’s method of doing business, failure to conduct annual reviews or annual reviews that did not cover the sufficiency of the investment adviser’s policies and procedures, failure to follow policies and procedures, and compliance manuals that are outdated.

The second topic that OCIE identified was compliance with the Advisers’ Acts rules on regulatory filings.  For example, Rule 204-1 provides that investment advisers must make amendments to their Form ADV on at least an annual basis, and the amendments must be made “within 90 days of the end of their fiscal year and more frequently, if required by the instructions to Form ADV.”  For investment advisers to private funds, Rule 204(b)-1 provides that an investment adviser must file a Form PF if the investment adviser is advising a private fund or fund with assets of $150 million or more.  Finally, Rule 503 of Regulation D of the Securities Act of 1933 provides that issuers of private funds must file a Form D, and investment advisers usually file the Form D for their private fund clients.  OCIE determined that the most frequent violations of these rules were inaccurate disclosures on Form ADV Part 1 or Part 2A, late modifications to Form ADVs, faulty and late Form PF filings, and faulty and late Form D filings.

On January 25, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts (“District Court”) against Strategic Capital Management, LLC (“SCM”), an investment advisory firm, and its owner, Michael J. Breton.  The complaint alleges that Breton, through SCM, garnered about $1.3 million by defrauding clients using what is known as a “cherry-picking” scheme.  The action follows a similar action brought by the SEC last October.

According to the SEC, cherry-picking occurs when an investment adviser “defrauds clients by purchasing stock and then waiting to see if the stock price goes up, or down, before deciding whether to keep the trades… or to put the trades into clients’ accounts.”  Cherry-picking typically involves the investment adviser allocating more profitable trades to its own accounts and allocating less profitable ones to client accounts.  It is a breach of fiduciary duty because it entails an investment adviser placing its interests above those of its clients.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that from about January 2010 through August 2016, Breton and SCM were investment advisers to numerous client accounts.  Breton, through SCM, bought public companies’ securities using a block trading omnibus account known as a “Master Account.”  Through this Master Account, Breton was permitted to make orders for both his personal accounts and his clients’ accounts.