Articles Tagged with Surprise Audit

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.

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The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) today published for comment a proposed custody rule for investment advisers. The proposed rule modifies the account statement detail requirement in subsection (b)(4)(A) of a proposed rule previously issued by NASAA relating to the same subject.

Comments to the previous proposed rule focused on the requirement that an investment adviser to private funds provide detailed quarterly statements to all clients. In response to these overwhelming comments, NASAA modified subsection (b)(4)(A) to reduce the level of detail to be contained in the quarterly statements that are to be sent to investment fund participants. Under the new proposed rule, the quarterly statements need only contain the quarter-end holdings and transactions during the quarter.

The basic structure of the proposed custody rule is consistent with prior model custody rules proposed by NASAA pursuant to Uniform Securities Acts of 1956 and 2002 and adopted by many states. More specifically, it provides for a number of safekeeping requirements including, among other things, providing notice to the state’s securities administrator, employing a qualified custodian, and giving certain notices to clients. In particular, the NASAA proposed rule requires any investment adviser who sends a statement to a client to urge the client to compare the account statements received from a qualified custodian with those received from the investment adviser. Any adviser who has a reasonable basis for believing that the qualified custodian sent account statements to the investors directly need not provide a separate account statement.
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