Articles Tagged with Supervision

A new Risk Alert released by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) reminds advisers of the added compliance obligations that arise when hiring representatives carrying the baggage of reportable disciplinary histories. While by no means exhorting advisers not to hire such persons, the Risk Alert nonetheless encourages advisers to properly consider the obvious compliance risks presented by such hiring practices, and, in turn, to adopt prudent policies and procedures to address those risks.

We follow OCIE’s periodic Risk Alerts closely as they not only provide insights regarding the focus of recent OCIE examinations, but also provide insights as to what OCIE management will be directing the staff to focus on in the future. This particular Risk Alert is a read-out of the results of a recent series of OCIE exams from 2017 specifically targeting advisory firms that (i) previously employed, or currently employ, any individual with a history of disciplinary events and (ii) for the most part serve retail clients. Indeed, OCIE makes special notation of its “focus on protecting retail investors” as a genesis for both the targeted exam initiative (the “Initiative”) as well as this new Risk Alert. Accordingly, advisers with a large retail customer base should pay especially close attention to the new Risk Alert.

In conducting the Initiative, OCIE’s staff focused on three areas of interest: (i) the compliance policies and procedures put into place to specifically cover the activities of previously-disciplined individuals; (ii) the disclosures relating to previously-disciplined individuals required to be made in filings and other public documents (including advertising); and (iii) conflicts of interest implicated by the hiring of previously-disciplined individuals. With this roadmap in place, the Initiative identified a variety of observed deficiencies across a range of topics, including:

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

Most deficiencies identified in the course of investment adviser examinations can be remedied by the adviser simply taking corrective measures. This can be true even with regard to deficiencies that are somewhat serious violations, but only if corrective action is taken and sustained.

In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) starkly demonstrated the importance of following through with promises advisers make to the SEC Examinations Staff. Because they did not make promised corrections, Moloney Securities Co., Inc. and Joseph R. Medley, Jr. were forced to consent to the entry of an Order Instituting Proceedings that required them, among other things, to pay civil penalties and to hire an independent compliance consultant to monitor and report certain aspects of the firm’s compliance program. Continue reading

On November 17, 2016, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) issued a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (“AWC”), in which Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. (“Oppenheimer”) agreed to settle numerous charges.  Pursuant to the AWC, Oppenheimer will be fined $1.575 million.  It will also be required to make remediation payments of $703,122 to seven arbitration claimants and $1,142,619 to customers who qualified for but did not receive applicable sales charge waivers pertaining to mutual funds.

Many of the violations related to FINRA Rule 4530. Rule 4530(f) requires FINRA members promptly to provide FINRA with copies of certain civil complaints and arbitration claims.  Rule 4530(b) provides that if a FINRA member realizes that it or an associated person has violated any securities or investment-related laws that have widespread or potential widespread impact to the firm, the member must notify FINRA.  The notification should take place within either 30 calendar days after the determination is made or 30 calendar days after it reasonably should have been made.

According to FINRA’s findings, Oppenheimer failed to file in excess of 350 of these required filings.  Moreover, FINRA found that when Oppenheimer did make the required filings, the disclosures were, on average, more than four years late.

In a matter underscoring how important it is for investment advisers to dedicate sufficient resources and attention to their compliance program, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has sanctioned a firm for multiple compliance failures. On June 23, 2015 the SEC instituted cease-and-desist proceedings against Pekin Singer Strauss, a registered investment advisor firm boasting approximately $1.07 billion in AUM which primarily serves high-net-worth clients.

Among the violations cited, the order states that Pekin Singer failed to conduct timely annual compliance program reviews in 2009 and 2010 and failed to implement and enforce provisions of its policies and procedures and code of ethics during this same period. The firm has been ordered to pay a civil money penalty in the amount of $150,000.
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Earlier this month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) announced that it had fined LPL Financial (“LPL”) $10 million for lack of supervision in several areas of its operations, including sales of ETFs, variable annuities, REITs, and other complex products. In addition, FINRA found LPL failed to monitor trades and failed to report them to FINRA and failed to deliver more than $14 million in trade confirmations to customers. FINRA also ordered LPL to repay certain customers $1.7 million in restitution relating to the purchases of ETFs. Among FINRA’s findings were that the firm did not have a system that monitored how long customers were holding ETFs in their accounts, information that would be important in formulating advice as to whether the ETFs should have been purchased in the first place and how long the client should be recommended to hold the ETFs in their portfolios. Additionally, even though LPL had created policies limiting the concentration of ETFs in customer accounts, it failed to enforce the limits it had established and had not trained its registered representatives on the risks of those products.

With respect to variable annuities, FINRA found that in several instances, LPL had permitted said annuities to be sold without proper disclosure of surrender fees. Additionally, although LPL employed an automated surveillance system, that system failed to adequately review transactions commonly known as mutual fund “switches,” which involve a redemption of one mutual fund in order to purchase another.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is taking an increased interest in examining chief compliance officers (CCO) to determine whether enforcement action should be taken against them. At the Investment Adviser Association’s annual compliance conference, CCOs were given a number of stern warnings. Director of the SEC’s Division of Investment Management Robert Plaze spoke about changes and improvements being made by the SEC. He warned CCOs that a newly created Asset Management Unit, which is part of the Division of Enforcement, “is dedicated to suing you.” He also claimed that the new unit will be staffed with people who understand the asset management business. It will also collaborate with both the Investment Management Division and the agency’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. Mr. Plaze stated that the unit will make the SEC’s oversight of registered investment advisers more efficient, allowing it to be able to perform more effective examinations. These warnings should concern CCOs who have taken a supervisory role within their firm.

The SEC has the authority to impose sanctions on people who are associated with a broker-dealer or an investment adviser if those people have reasonably failed to supervise. Both broker-dealers and investment advisers employ legal and compliance personnel to provide advice to them and their firms regarding the application of laws and regulations. One major issue that arises is whether the CCO is considered a supervisor within the firm. If so, the CCO could be subject to sanctions by the SEC for failure to supervise.
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