Articles Tagged with Investment Adviser

For the majority of investment advisers registered with either the SEC or state regulators, annual updating amendment season is once again upon us. Advisers whose fiscal year ends on December 31 are required to file their Form ADV annual amendment within 90 days or by March 31, 2023.

While investment advisers are under a continuing obligation to update their disclosure documents when certain or material information becomes inaccurate, the annual update is a universal requirement designed to ensure that the filing information for investment advisers is up to date. This serves an important function in that it allows clients and potential clients to review the publicly filed ADVs for investment advisers on FINRA’s BrokerCheck and the SEC’s IADP. Additionally, regulators review the filings and the underlying analytics to track industry trends, plan examination targets, and conduct regulatory sweeps.

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On October 26, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) proposed a rule that would prohibit investment advisers from using certain third party service providers without additional due diligence and monitoring.

The proposed rule provides an oversight framework for investment advisers designed to ensure that any “covered functions” outsourced to third parties are consistent with the adviser’s obligations to their clients. A “covered function” is a function or service that is necessary to provide investment advisory services in compliance with Federal securities laws, and if the service is not performed or is performed negligently, would be reasonably likely to cause a material negative impact on the adviser’s clients or advisory services.

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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.
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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.

The Massachusetts Securities Division (“MSD”) has announced the adoption of new rules requiring that investment advisers registered with the MSD provide, to clients and prospective clients, an additional one-page stand-alone disclosure document specifically detailing the adviser’s fee schedule. This new disclosure document or “Fee Table” will need to be “updated and delivered consistent with the existing requirements for Form ADV (including the Brochure).” The new rules, which were adopted pursuant to the MSD’s notice and comment process, take effect—and will be enforced—commencing on January 1, 2020.

While only applicable to advisers registered with the MSD, the new rules requiring the Fee Table could portend similar future action by additional states. Moreover, the new rules come on the heels of the SEC’s June 5th high profile standard-of-conduct releases (which we have previously chronicled) that also include a new stand-alone disclosure document for SEC-registered advisers to be known as Form CRS. If the MSD’s actions here are in fact echoed by additional states, it could cause potential headaches for the RIA industry, as this would require RIAs operating in multiple states to conform to multiple differing disclosure document regimes. Additionally, with the new Form CRS (applicable to SEC-registered advisers only) beginning to circulate at about the same time, an assortment of new documents being presented to clients may cause marketplace confusion as well.  Continue reading ›

The SEC, on June 5th, adopted a comprehensive set of rules and interpretations that will have a profound effect on the brokerage and advisory industries going forward, first and foremost by revising the standard-of-conduct applicable to broker-dealers and their registered representatives in dealings with retail customers. Even casual observers will likely be familiar with the various proceedings just concluded at the SEC, which resolve debates that have raged in the investment industry for decades as to the need to align the higher fiduciary “standard-of-conduct” applicable to investment advisers with the lesser suitability standard applicable to broker-dealers. While the June 5th releases do not equalize the two standards—as many commentators would have desired—they do significantly raise the standard applicable to broker-dealers from suitability to “best interests.” The SEC’s releases number four separate documents, each covering a distinct aspect of the standard-of-conduct controversy, and run over 1200 pages. Accordingly, this note will seek to identify the major headlines from the various releases. Look for future writings, wherein we will explore the nuances of the June 5th releases in greater detail.

As noted, the SEC released a package of Final Rules and Interpretive Releases comprising four separate components: (1) Final Rules implementing Regulation Best Interest (“Reg BI”), the new enhanced standard for brokers; (2) Final Rules implementing a new Form CRS Relationship Summary (“Form CRS”), a new disclosure document applicable to both brokers and advisers (that, for advisers, will function as a new Part 3 to Form ADV); (3) an Interpretive Release clarifying the SEC’s views of the fiduciary duty that investment advisers owe to their clients; and (4) an Interpretive Release intended to more clearly delineate when a broker-dealer’s performance of advisory activities causes it to become an investment adviser within the meaning of the Advisers Act. All four components of the regulatory package were approved by a 3-1 vote of the SEC’s Commissioners, with Commissioner Robert Jackson being the sole dissenter.

While the June 5th releases are the culmination of a decades-long controversy, they are the proximate result of a formal rulemaking commenced on April 18, 2018, at which time the SEC published initial proposed versions of Reg BI, Form CRS and the advisory interpretations. The Final Rules for Reg BI and Form CRS will become effective 60 days after they are formally published in the Federal Register; however, firms will be given a transition period until June 30, 2020 to come into compliance. The two Interpretive Releases will become effective upon formal publication.  Continue reading ›

A recent pair of SEC enforcement Orders against registered investment adviser Talimco, LLC and its Chief Operating Officer Grant Rogers highlight the need for advisers to be ever-mindful of their fiduciary duties to both clients when effecting cross trades between such clients.

Cross trading occurs whenever an adviser arranges a securities transaction between two parties, both of whom being advisory clients of the firm. While “principal trading” (where the adviser buys or sells for its own proprietary account) and “agency cross trading” (where the adviser acts as a broker and receives compensation) are accorded heightened scrutiny and require additional disclosures and consents, this recent pair of Orders show that even ordinary cross trades can be highly problematic when one client is favored over another.

In this particular case, the SEC alleges that Talimco and Rogers went so far as to manipulate the auction price of a commercial loan participation in a sham transaction between two of its clients that distinctly advantaged one client over the other. Continue reading ›

On December 20, 2018, two days before the recent partial federal government shutdown began, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations announced its 2019 Examination PrioritiesAs discussed previously, the shutdown resulted in the SEC operating at a quite minimal level.  Now that the shutdown is over, registered investment advisers and broker-dealers can likely expect OCIE to fully implement the following examination priorities.

OCIE listed six examination priorities for 2019: (1) matters of importance to retail investors, especially seniors and investors saving for retirement; (2) compliance and risk in registrants who are tasked with overseeing critical market infrastructure; (3) focus on FINRA and MSRB; (4) digital assets; (5) cybersecurity; and (6) anti-money laundering.  According to OCIE, this is not an exhaustive list, and one can expect OCIE to cover other issues in its examinations.  However, OCIE has concluded that these issues “present potentially heightened risk to investors or the integrity of U.S. capital markets.” Continue reading ›

Demonstrating its regulatory interest in the robo adviser industry, on December 21, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against Wealthfront Advisers, LLC, a registered investment adviser which uses a software-based “robo adviser” platform in servicing its clients. The action is the second case against robo advisers filed on the same day. Wealthfront submitted an offer of settlement in light of the proceeding.

According to the SEC’s Order, Wealthfront utilizes a proprietary tax loss harvesting program (“TLH”) to help its clients garner tax benefits. These tax benefits would typically come through selling assets at a loss, which could potentially be used to reduce income or gains and create a lower tax liability. From October 2012 onward, Wealthfront has featured whitepapers on its website that provide information about the TLH strategy. Continue reading ›

Following several enforcement actions brought against registered investment advisers that received 12b-1 fees when institutional shares were available to be purchased in clients’ advisory accounts, in February of this year the Securities and Exchange Commission announced an initiative under which firms could self-report the receipt of “avoidable” 12b-1 fees since 2014.  Under the so-called Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative (SCSDI), advisers who self-reported receiving 12b-1 fees under those circumstances would be subject to an SEC enforcement action but would receive favorable treatment in such a case. Such favorable treatment included no recommended civil penalties as long as the firm agreed to disgorge all avoidable 12b-1 fees received.

In order to participate in the SCSDI, however, firms were required to report to the SEC by June 12, 2018. In announcing the SCSDI, the SEC indicated that firms that did not self-report may be subjected to harsher sanctions if their practice was later discovered.

In recent weeks through information available through clearing firm data and public sources the SEC has identified RIAs that may have received 12b-1 fee but chose not to self-report. Some of these firms are receiving subpoenas or requests for information and testimony.  Whether the failure to report was justified and/or the original receipt of the 12b-1 fees were not improper are questions that the SEC Enforcement Staff will be evaluating during its investigations.  In some limited circumstance a firm might be able to justify receipt of the questioned fess, and also might be excused from or ineligible for the self-reporting initiative. Continue reading ›

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