In the recent “2019 Report on FINRA Examination Findings and Observations,” one of the topics highlighted was the use of digital communications. This can include a wide range of social media, email, text messaging, and various other digital tools. The regulatory requirements pertaining to the usage of digital communications are outlined in Exchange Act Rule 17a-3 and 17a-4 and FINRA Rules 3110(b)(4) and 4510. These rules require procedures pertaining to the usage of these types of communications, as well as the appropriate maintenance of the communications in the form of books and records.
At the end of each calendar year, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) staff of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) publish a list of topics for the next year’s examination priorities. Not so surprisingly, the first item for the 2019 exam priorities listed is “fees and expenses”. This topic was also the highlight of an OCIE Risk Alert in April 2018 as one of the most frequent compliance issues identified in Examinations of Investment Advisers.
Today, investment advisers and broker-dealers face many challenges when providing advice to and working for senior investors. Many seniors are living with or approaching diminished capacity due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and/or other health-related issues. Unfortunately, these health issues create vulnerability for financial exploitation from caregivers, family members, neighbors, friends, medical professionals, lawyers, clergy, bank employees, or financial service professionals.
Under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”), Investment Advisers assume a fiduciary responsibility requiring them to seek and obtain the “best execution” for client transactions when trading in client accounts. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has outlined this responsibility as “an adviser must execute securities transactions for clients in such a manner that the client’s total costs or proceeds in each transaction are the most favorable under the circumstances.” Also, the SEC has indicated Investment Advisers need to periodically “evaluate the execution quality of the broker-dealer executing their clients’ transactions.”
With the transition into the electronic storage of client data, Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealers are faced with more complex compliance issues regarding safeguarding client information and records. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) OCIE Risk Alert from May 2019 addresses some of the issues and concerns identified with cloud-based storage and possible issues to consider regarding the protection of electronic client and business data.
Investment Adviser Principal and Agency Cross Trading practices was the topic of a recent OCIE Risk Alert. The Investment Adviser’s Act Principal Transactions Section 206(3) indicates “Investment Adviser’s acting as a principal for his own account, knowingly to sell any security to or purchase any security from a client, or acting as broker for a person other than such client, without disclosing to such client in writing before the completion of such transaction the capacity in which he is acting and obtaining consent of the client to such transaction” are prohibited unless the appropriate disclosures and consent procedures are addressed and completed according to the compliance requirements.
Beginning in 2017, the United States Security and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) initiated a series of examinations aimed at compliance policies and procedures regarding individuals within these firms that had a prior disciplinary history.
In June, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) passed “Regulation Best Interest: The Broker Dealer Standard of Conduct” and “Form CRS Relationship Summary; Amendments to Form ADV”. This legislation, Regulation Best Interest and CRS Relationship Summary, is the cumulation of many attempts to mesh the “fiduciary standard” for Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealer Representatives. The objective of this legislation and its requirements are to educate investors through disclosures regarding any conflicts, fees, costs, and whether the investment opportunities being offered are suitable for the investor. This legislation will impose new documentation requirements for both Investment Advisors and Broker-Dealer Representatives.