Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought and simultaneously settled administrative proceedings against accounting firm Santos, Postal & Co. P.C. (“SPC”) and one of its accountants, finding that SPC and the accountant conducted deficient surprise audits of investment adviser SFX Financial Advisory Management Enterprises (“SFX”). The surprise examinations were conducted pursuant to the SEC custody rule and are designed to confirm the adviser’s appropriate handling of assets under their custody and to uncover, to the extent possible, fraudulent activity of the advisers.
As background to this enforcement action, under Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-2, investment advisers with custody of client funds or securities must maintain certain controls, commonly known as “safekeeping procedures,” to protect those assets. State-registered advisers must comply with rules that vary from state to state, but the model rule of the North American Securities Administrators Association is substantially similar to the SEC rule. Since approximately March 2010, the Rule has required advisers that have custody other than because of an ability to deduct client fees to obtain an annual surprise exam by an independent public accountant to verify all client assets. Another basic requirement of the rule applicable to all advisers with custody is having a reasonable basis for believing that a qualified custodian or the adviser sends quarterly account statements to each client for which custody was maintained. Advisers that advise hedge funds or pooled investment vehicles may satisfy the audit requirement and other safekeeping provision by having an audit completed by a PCOAB auditing firm and timely delivering audit results to the fund’s shareholders.