Articles Tagged with Investment Adviser Representative

In our previous post regarding state-registered investment advisers, we examined the landscape and discussed common deficiencies found in state adviser examinations.  In this post, we will discuss enforcement actions typically aimed at state-registered investment advisers, as well as current enforcement trends such as fraud pertaining to emerging markets and protection of senior investors.

Earlier in 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)  published its 2018 Enforcement Report.  This report contains information and statistics regarding NASAA members’ enforcement actions in 2017 and highlights current trends in enforcement actions aimed at state-registered investment advisers.

According to the Report, NASAA members received 7,998 complaints that resulted in 4,790 investigations.  Once the investigations were completed, NASAA members initiated 2,105 enforcement actions, over half of which were administrative actions.  Criminal actions made up the second largest number of enforcement actions, followed by civil and other types of enforcement actions. Continue reading

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 www.sec.gov.

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

The Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions recently adopted amendments to the written examination requirements that enable investment adviser representatives to be registered with the Louisiana Securities Commissioner.  These amendments became effective on September 1, 2016.  The Office of Financial Institutions explained that the amendments were adopted to ensure that all investment advisers are properly qualified to provide investment advice to Louisiana’s citizens.

The amendments that the Office of Financial Institutions made are detailed in LAC 10:XIII.1301-1311, Investment Adviser Registration Procedure.  The amendments are as follows: Continue reading

Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) instituted and simultaneously settled an administrative enforcement case in which a civil penalty of $225,000.00 was assessed against Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc. (Cambridge).  The action illustrates the importance of designing and implementing effective heightened supervision programs for investment adviser representatives who have a history of allegations of rules violations or other misconduct or disclosure items on the Form U-4.

The case stemmed from an incident that was the subject of a separate SEC proceeding filed in 2013 against Richard P. Sandru, who was an investment adviser representative operating from Cambridge’s Perrysburg, Ohio branch office.  In that proceeding, Sandru was found to have forged clients’ signatures on financial planning agreements or, in some cases, adding client charges to the agreements without the clients’ knowledge and without obtaining additional signatures from the clients authorizing the additional charges.  Sandru’s conduct, which the SEC characterized as a fraudulent scheme to misappropriate client funds, took place between 2009 and 2011 and potentially affected 47 advisory clients, from whom Sandru allegedly misappropriated “at least $308,850.00.”  Sandru was, at this time, an OSJ of Cambridge and supervised two other Cambridge representatives and other administrative assistants.

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In a case that underscores the importance of maintaining thorough and contemporaneous records of compliance reviews of trading records of firm personnel for both broker-dealers and registered investment advisers, on October 15th, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division instituted an administrative proceeding against a former compliance officer at Wells Fargo Advisors for allegedly altering documents requested by the SEC during an insider trading investigation.

The Wells Fargo Advisors’ compliance officer was responsible for identifying suspicious trades by Wells Fargo personnel and determining, after a thorough analysis, or what was called a “look back review,” whether such trading was based on material non-public information. On September 2nd, 2010, the compliance officer began review on a set of trades in Burger King securities made by a registered representative of Wells Fargo Advisors, prior to an announcement that the private equity firm, 3G Capital Partners Ltd. (“3G Capital”), was to acquire Burger King at take it private. The findings contained within the compliance officer’s review confirmed that the registered representative and his customers bought Burger King securities ten days prior to the announcement. However, the compliance officer failed to make any additional inquiries into the trades and closed the review with “no findings.” The registered representative was later criminally charged in September of 2012, and subsequently was convicted of trading in Burger King securities on the basis of material non-public information.
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The Colorado Securities Division recently declined to issue a no-action letter in connection with a company that intends to educate and train people in stock market trading. Mark Espy, owner of MarkEspyMentorin.com, sent a letter to the Colorado Division of Securities on January 17, 2012 asking for either a no-action letter or the Staff’s clarification that he and his company do not need to be licensed as an investment adviser in Colorado. Espy plans to tutor people on how to use various tools in order to trade in the stock market. The course will be taught through webinars, and students will pay a fee to enroll.

According to Espy, the instruction provided in the course will include curriculum designed to teach various techniques and procedures to measure an equity’s viability for trading or investing, portfolio management, the importance of diversification, explanations of indicators, trading strategies, and building a trading plan, among other topics. Espy has also been approved to teach an adult education class on the stock market at a local community college.
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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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The Georgia Secretary of State issued an Implementation Order that became effective yesterday (December 31, 2010) excluding many solicitors from the definition of “Investment Adviser Representatives,” thereby eliminating the registration requirement for those coming within the exclusion. Entered pursuant to the Georgia Uniform Securities Act of 2002, Secretary of State Uniform Act Implementation Order No. 2010-4 substantially preserves, but slightly modifies, the practice that prevailed under the Georgia Securities Act of 1973.

Under the Georgia Uniform Securities Act of 2008, an individual associated with an investment adviser who “receives compensation to solicit, offer, or negotiate for the sale of investment advice” must register as an “investment adviser representative.”

The Implementation Order, however, excludes from the definition of “investment adviser representative” a solicitor that does not provide investment advice and who meets a number of other requisites. The effect of the Order is to allow persons who typically provide client solicitation services under SEC Rule 206(4)-3, without advising solicited clients, to avoid registration in Georgia. Care should be taken to insure that the solicitor who seeks benefit of the exclusion follows a number of unique provisions of the Georgia order, among them that compensation can be received for no more than 10 clients in a calendar year, unless the solicitor does nothing more than provide a list of investment advisers without determining or representing the advisability of a prospective client entering into a relationship with a particular adviser. Attorneys and CPAs may also solicit persons with whom they have existing relationships.