Articles Tagged with Custody Rule

Recognizing the “swiftly developing” digital asset marketplace—a loosely defined sector encompassing cryptocurrencies, virtual coins or tokens (including Initial Coin Offerings or “ICOs”), and other blockchain-related financial assets—the SEC’s Division of Investment Management (the “Division”) has commenced an open-ended request for public comment on how such crypto-assets impact its decades-old Advisers Act Custody Rule (Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-2). The Division’s request for comment comes in the form of a March 12, 2019 letter to the Investment Adviser Association (“IAA”), a lobbying/trade group representing the investment advisory industry.

By way of background, the Custody Rule sets up a number of requirements for SEC-registered investment advisers that have “custody” of a client’s funds or securities. Custody is defined as “holding, directly or indirectly, client funds or securities, or having any authority to obtain possession of them.” Notably, custody includes, among other things, any arrangement under which the adviser is authorized to withdraw client funds or securities, as well as acting as general partner, or in a comparable control position, for an investment fund. The four primary obligations of an adviser having custody are that the adviser must: (i) maintain those funds or securities with a “qualified custodian;” (ii) notify the client in writing of the qualified custodian’s name, address, and the manner in which the funds or securities are maintained; (iii) have a “reasonable basis” for believing that the qualified custodian sends an account statement, at least quarterly, to each client, identifying the amount of funds/securities and setting forth all transactions in the account; and (iv) arrange for an independent public accountant to conduct an annual surprise examination in order to verify the safekeeping of the client’s funds and/or securities. The Custody Rule provides a number of exemptions to some of the above requirements; most notably, one that allows investment fund advisers to avoid the surprise exam requirement so long as audited financial statements are distributed within 120 days of the end of the fund’s fiscal year.

In an effort to “further inform our consideration of how characteristics of digital assets impact the application of the Custody Rule,” the Division’s request for comment seeks public comment on a wide array of trenchant queries, including the following:

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued new guidance regarding the Custody Rule and inadvertent custody of client assets in the form of a No-Action Letter on standing letters of authorization (SLOAs) and a Guidance Update on custodial contract authority. This guidance comes in the wake of the recent SEC Risk Alert identifying most frequent compliance issues found in examinations of registered investment advisers and listing custody as one of these most frequent compliance issues.

The Custody Rule, or Rule 206(4)-2, provides that it is a fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act within the meaning of section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 for a registered investment adviser to have custody of client assets unless certain requirements are met. One of these requirements is an annual surprise examination requirement, although this requirement does not apply if the investment adviser solely has custody as a result of its authority to make advisory fee deductions. 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.

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently released a no-action letter allowing sub-advisers in certain situations to avoid the annual surprise examination requirement of Rule 206(4)-2 for investment advisers with custody of client funds or securities. Going forward, sub-advisers who do not have actual custody of client assets but are deemed to have custody because they are related to the qualified custodian and primary adviser will no longer have to comply with this burdensome requirement, so long as certain conditions are met.

As a review, custody is defined by Rule 206(4)-2 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 as the holding, directly or indirectly, of client funds or securities, or having any authority to obtain possession of them. This includes situations where a “related person,” or a person controlled by you or under common control with you, has custody of client funds. Pursuant to SEC Rule 206(4)-2, investment advisers with custody of client funds must take certain steps to safeguard such client assets. Those steps include: 1) maintaining assets with a qualified custodian; 2) notifying clients about the qualified custodian; 3) ensuring that the qualified custodian sends quarterly account statements to client; and 4) obtaining an annual surprise examination by an independent public accountant.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last week that it has charged Sands Brothers Asset Management, LLC and three of its officers with violating the custody rule as it relates to firms who manage funds in which their clients invest. Investment advisers who have custody, as defined by Rule 20642, must engage in certain “safekeeping practices.” If the adviser has custody by virtue of any reason other than the mere authority to deduct client fees from advisory accounts, one of the safekeeping requirements is that of obtaining an independent audit of fund assets. In the case of a private fund, that requirement can be met by the employment of an auditor approved by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board who audits and reports to shareholders, (i.e., investors in the funds), annually and reports to shareholders within 120 days from the end of the fiscal year.

In its recent enforcement action, the SEC enforcement division alleged that Sands Brothers had been late in providing investors with audited financial statements. According to the Order instituting administrative proceeding, Sands Brothers was 40 or more days late in distributing the financial statements for ten different private funds for the fiscal year 2010. In the following year, the financial statements for those same funds were between six and eight months past due. In 2012, the financial statements for those funds were distributed approximately 90 days late.
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On October 13, 2011 the Georgia Secretary of State published proposed rules under the Georgia Uniform Securities Act of 2008 (“the 2008 Act”). Among the proposed rules are twenty (20) rules governing investment advisers and investment adviser representatives.

Although many of the proposed rules are consistent with the applicable rules under the prior Georgia Securities Act of 1973, quite a few of the proposed rules are new, and are designed to respond to the changing business and regulatory environment, including passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Firms currently registered in Georgia should pay careful attention to the regulatory changes. In addition, formerly SEC-registered advisers that are switching to Georgia registration will find the Georgia regulatory landscape, under both the old rules and the new ones, if adopted, to be quite different than what they are accustomed to.
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