Articles Tagged with Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations

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.

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 12, 2017, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) published its examination priorities for 2017.  OCIE selects its priorities based on practices and products that it believes to constitute significant risks to investors and the investment markets.  It also receives insight from a variety of sources, such as staff from the SEC’s regional offices and other regulators.  The priorities for 2017 are primarily based around protection of retail investors, protection of elderly and retiring investors, and addressing market-wide risks like cybersecurity and anti-money laundering.

The first priority that OCIE plans to emphasize is the protection of retail investors.  Over the years, new technology has provided investors with new, innovative ways to invest their finances.  As a result, the SEC and other regulators must regulate new potential risks that are bound to occur.  To address the possible challenges that retail investors face, OCIE plans to implement a number of examination initiatives.  For example, it plans to evaluate registered investment advisers and broker-dealers who provide electronic investment advice, such as “robo-advisers.”  It also intends to pay particular attention to wrap fee programs and exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), as well as enlarge its Never-Before-Examined Adviser Initiative program.  Finally, OCIE intends to address the challenges related to investment advisers who operate on a multi-branch business model Continue reading

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) on Sept. 15, 2015 issued Risk Alert to announce its new focus on cybersecurity of securities firms and registered investment advisers. Cybersecurity programs of securities firms had best be strengthened, otherwise they may be subject to additional regulatory scrutiny according to the Risk Alert, which is meant to serve as helpful guidance for firms that need to create or heighten a cybersecurity program. The National Exam Program in 2014 conducted cybersecurity examinations on 106 securities firms. As a follow-up to the 2014 SEC security examinations The Risk Alert highlights certain additional measures the national registered entities need to be aware of when the SEC is conducting examinations.

A sample examination request with a list of information that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations may review in conducting examinations of registered entities regarding cybersecurity matters may be viewed here.
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