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Thursday, November 17, 2011

SEC Enforcement Actions Against Investment Advisors Increased 30% During 2011

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently announced that during its previous fiscal year, enforcement actions against registered investment advisers increased thirty percent over the 2010 fiscal year.  During the 2011 fiscal year, which ended in September, the SEC filed a total of 146 enforcement actions against investment advisers and investment companies.  For a point of reference, from 2006-2009 the SEC filed on average 82 enforcement actions against registered investment advisers.

The SEC attributed this increase to a “significant reorganization” to the SEC’s Enforcement Division.  According to the SEC, in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, the Enforcement Division “flattened its management structure, revamped the way it handles tips and complaints, facilitated the swift prosecution of wrongdoers through a formal program that encourages cooperation from individuals and companies in the SEC investigations, and created national specialized units in five priority areas involving complex and higher risk areas of potential securities laws violations.”  These changes appear to be effective because the Enforcement Division filed more enforcement actions in 2011 than it ever had before.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Make Sure You Properly Renew Your Investment Adviser Firm and Representative Registrations

Investment adviser firms and investment adviser representatives must maintain active registrations and/or notice filing statuses with applicable jurisdictions/states. Investment advisers should be aware that renewing registrations includes paying all applicable renewal fees by December 12, 2011. Unless properly renewed, all investment adviser firm and representative registrations will expire on December 31st of each calendar year. Failure to maintain active registration or failing to properly renew registration may be detrimental to an investment advisor firm.  Investment adviser firms and investment adviser representative that are not properly renewed may become ineligible to conduct business affected jurisdictions effective January 1, 2012.  Additionally, certain regulators may assess fines against those firms or representatives that fail to properly renew.

Most jurisdictions participate in the IARD Automatic Failure to Renew Program.  If your investment adviser firm or representatives are registered or noticed filed in a jurisdiction that participates in the IARD Automatic Failure to Renew Program, your jurisdiction has authorized FINRA to automatically terminate your investment adviser firm and investment adviser representative registrations on December 31, 2011 if your IARD account was not funded in full by the Renewal Deadline.  As of September 1, 2011, 44 Jurisdictions are participating in the IARD Automatic Failure to Renew Program.

Beginning November 14, 2011, firms may retrieve their Preliminary Renewal Statements using the IARD/Web CRD system. Your investment adviser’s Preliminary Renewal Statement will reflect the full payment your investment adviser firm must provide to FINRA by Monday, December 12, 2011. Investment adviser firms and representatives with an active “Approve” registration status will have a Preliminary Renewal Statement available.

If you would like help filing any necessary forms to your firm’s IARD account or want to discuss how RIA Compliance Consultants can assist you with your IARD renewals, click here to schedule a time to speak to one of our consultants.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Professor Suggests Using External Auditors to Increase Investment Adviser Examinations

Section 914 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”) required the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to review the frequency of investment adviser examinations and to consider various ways to increase the frequency of such examinations, such as forming an investment adviser self-regulatory organization (“SRO”).  As a result, Congress has begun to look at different ways to increase the frequency of examinations of investment advisers.  The solutions that have been proposed and are being debated include forming an independent SRO, giving FINRA the authority to serve as the investment adviser SRO, increasing the SEC’s funding, charging investment advisers a user fee, or shifting the regulatory authority to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.  James Angel, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business has proposed another solution.  In his article titled “On the Regulation of Investment Advisory Services:  Where do we go from here?” Angel suggests that the best solution to provide increased regulatory oversight of investment advisers is to require investment advisers to hire external auditors to conduct compliance reviews.  Angel’s research paper was supported by a grant from TD Ameritrade and his research paper indicates that his research included numerous conversations with broker, regulators, advisors, scholars and industry trade groups.

According to Angel, requiring investment advisers to hire external auditors is the best solution for several reasons.  Angel suggests that requiring audits by external auditors would increase the frequency of examinations and would allow the SEC staff to focus more on “for-cause examinations.”  Also, he suggests that allowing investment advisers to choose their auditor would lower the prices for such services and result in better service.  Angel stated that the SEC has already “started down this path by requiring RIA firms that have custody of customer assets to have surprised audits once a year.”

Under Angel’s suggested plan, external compliance reviews would be conducted every five years and compliance audits would be “tailored to the size and risk of the firms.”  These reviews would be conducted by qualified industry professionals who hold certain designations like the CFA or CPA and have experience working as an examiner.

Angel dismissed the use of an SRO for several reasons.  He notes that SROs have “a strong financial incentive to side with the industry against the consumer.”  He references that one of the findings of  the investment adviser oversight study that was required by Section 914 of the Dodd-Frank Act was that the only area where the SEC’s investment adviser oversight is deficient is in examination frequency.  According to this study, the SEC is still meeting expectations for the rulemaking process and is adequately addressing other industry deficiencies.  Based on this, Angel concludes that forming an SRO or allowing FINRA to serve as the SRO for investment advisers is the wrong approach.  According to Angel, “[An] SRO’s industry expertise makes it, in theory a better rule-setter,” but the SEC does not have an issue with serving as a rule-setter.  Therefore, Angel states that “[e]stablishing a new SRO with new rulemaking authority whose rules must be approved (and likely micromanaged) by the SEC merely adds another level of bureaucracy.”

Stayed tuned to RIA Compliance Consultants for further updates as we will continue to follow this story.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Investment Advisor Firms Registered with the SEC Required to Confirm Eligibility with First Quarter ADV Amendment Filing

Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted Rule 203A-5 to implement changes to SEC registration criteria, including increasing the assets under management threshold for SEC registration from $25 million to $100 million. In order to convert to the new standards for SEC registration, the SEC is requiring all investment advisor firms registered with the SEC on January 1, 2012, to file a Form ADV Part 1A amendment by no later than March 30, 2012. Each investment advisor firm will be required to report the market value of its assets under management (determined within 90 days of the filing of the amendment) and to specify if the investment advisor firm remains eligible for SEC registration. If it is determined that the investment advisor firm is not eligible to remain registered with the SEC, the investment advisor must withdraw from SEC registration by submitting a Form ADV-W by no later than June 28, 2012.  If the investment advisor firm intends to continue operations, then the investment advisor firm’s registration must be approved by state regulators before the firm withdraws its SEC registration.

For a complete release of the SEC’s final “Rules Implementing Amendments to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940,” click here.

For more information regarding regulatory changes made in 2011, register for our webinar, “2011 Review – Are You Aware of the Changes in 2011 and Is Your Investment Advisor on Track for 2012?,” hosted Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 12:00 Central. The cost for this webinar will be $59.95. To register, please click here.

RIA Compliance Consultants can help you with updating your compliance program to comply with the new regulatory requirements or can assist you with switching from SEC to state registration.  If you are an existing client of RIA Compliance Consultants interested in discussing how we can assist your investment advisor, please contact your consultant. If you are a new client that would like to speak with us regarding the services we can provide, please click here to schedule a time to speak with one of our consultants.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

IARD Renewal Reminder

The 2012 IARD renewal season is quickly approaching and investment advisor firms must plan accordingly.  As of October 24, 2011, investment advisor firms may submit certain post-dated filings. Post-dated Form U5 filings are used 1) to terminate an investment advisor representative from the investment advisor firm and 2) to terminate an investment advisor representative from registration in states where the investment advisor representative no longer needs to license. Post-dated Form BR amendments are used to close or withdraw a registered branch office.  Beginning November 1, 2011, investment advisor firms may submit a post-dated Form ADV-W, which is the filing used to withdraw a firm’s registration in one or more jurisdictions.

All post-dated forms must be dated 12/31/2011 and all forms must be submitted by 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET), December 23, 2011, in order for the firm to avoid paying 2012 registration renewals fees in jurisdictions where the firm or its investment advisor representatives need not renew. By filing a post-dated Form U5, an investment advisor representative can maintain registration(s) through the end of the calendar year. By filing a post-dated Form ADV-W, an investment advisor firm can maintain registration through the end of the calendar year.

Filing post-dated forms by November 11, 2011, will ensure that your investment advisor firm is not charged renewal fees on your firm’s Preliminary Renewal Statement for registrations that will be terminated at year-end. Firms that submit post-dated forms from November 14, 2011, through December 23, 2011, must pay the entire portion due on the Preliminary Renewal Statement, as the Preliminary Renewal Statement is calculated based upon the firm’s information available via IAPD as of November 11, 2011. However, those firms that have made filings between November 14, 2011, and December 23, 2011 to indicate any withdrawals of registration for the firm or its investment advisor representatives will be eligible to receive a refund of the fees paid for registration in jurisdictions which do not need to be renewed. The reconciled amount of renewal fees due will be reflected on the Final Renewal Statement that is available the first week of January 2012.

Please note that Form U5s, Form BR amendments, or Form ADV-W filings are processed by the IARD/Web CRD system upon submission and cannot be withdrawn once submitted.

About Form ADV-W

The Full Withdrawal Form ADV-W is used when an investment advisor firm is withdrawing registration with all regulators and indicates that the investment advisor firm is no longer operating as an investment advisor. State registered firms that must withdraw registration in one or more states, but will continue to operate in at least the firm’s home state, must file a Partial Withdrawal Form ADV-W. When switching from SEC to state registration (or state registration to SEC registration), a Partial Withdrawal Form ADV-W should also be used. After the Form ADV-W is submitted to withdraw SEC registration (including for the purpose of switching to state registration), the investment advisor firm’s notice filing status in any jurisdiction is automatically terminated. The IARD/Web CRD system will notify all applicable states that the investment advisor firm will no longer be making notice filings.

If you would like help filing any necessary forms to your firm’s IARD account or want to discuss how RIA Compliance Consultants can assist you with your IARD renewals, click here to schedule a time to speak to one of our consultants.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 Review – Are You Aware of the Regulatory Changes Made in 2011?

For registered investment advisors, 2011 gave way to many changes as various provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”) became effective. Understanding the changes made over this past year may help to confirm that your investment advisor is in compliance with the recent regulatory changes. Below is a brief overview of some of the regulatory changes that occurred during this past year.

The Implementation of the New Form ADV 2:

  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) registered investment advisors and most state registered investment advisors were required to prepare and electronically submit the new Form ADV Part 2 Brochure.  An SEC registered investment advisor was required to begin providing the new ADV Part 2A Brochure to all new and perspective clients upon submission of the revised document through the IARD system and was required to deliver a copy of the ADV Part 2A to existing clients within 60 days of filing it through the IARD system.  The SEC issued an extension for some SEC registered investment advisors regarding the delivery of the Form ADV Part 2B supplemental brochures.  An SEC investment advisor that was registered with the SEC as of 12/31/2010 and had a fiscal year end between 12/31/2010 and 4/30/2011 had until 7/31/2011, to prepare and begin delivering the new Brochure Supplements to new and prospective clients.  These SEC registered investment advisors had until 9/30/2011 to deliver the appropriate Brochure Supplements to all existing clients. Additionally, investment advisors that were newly registered with the SEC from 1/1/2011 through 4/30/2011 had until 5/1/2011 to prepare and begin delivering brochure supplements to new and prospective clients and had until July 1, 2011 to deliver the Brochures Supplements to existing clients.  All other investment advisors registered with the SEC were required to meet the delivery requirements specified in the initial adopting release. State registered investment advisors should review the state’s Form ADV delivery requirements to determine if any revisions were made and to ensure that they are complying. Investment Advisors must keep Form ADV Part 2 brochures current by updating them at least annually and promptly when any information in the brochure becomes materially inaccurate.

The “Switch” For Mid-Sized Investment Advisors:

  • On July 21, 2011 the adopted rules and form changes to implement the transition of mid-sized investment advisors (between $25 and $100 million in assets under management) from SEC to State regulation became effective. All investment advisors that are SEC registered as of 12/31/2011 must file a Form ADV Part 1 amendment (regardless of the investment advisor’s fiscal year end) by March 30, 2012 to confirm the investment advisor’s eligibility to remain SEC registered or to begin the transition to state registration.  Amendments will be made to the Form ADV to reflect the regulatory changes related to the transition of regulation for mid-sized investment advisors.  Additional revisions to the Form ADV will also be implemented.

Exemptions for Advisors to Venture Capital Funds, Private Fund Advisors With Less Than $150 Million in Assets Under Management, and Foreign Private Advisors:

  • On July 21, 2011, the SEC adopted rules to implement new exemptions from the investment advisor registration requirements for advisors to certain private funds.  The new rules defined a “venture capital fund,” provide an exemption from registration for advisors with less than $150 million in private fund assets under management in the United States, and clarifies the meaning of certain terms included in a new exemption from registration for “foreign private advisors.”

Whistleblower Provision:

  • A provision under the Dodd-Frank Act gives the SEC the authority to reward whistleblowers and enhances the retaliation penalties and procedures that protect whistleblowers.

Additional, noteworthy changes made include:

  • The dollar amount that must be met before performance fees can be charged by investment advisors was raised to adjust for inflation.
  • Adopted rules defining the term “family office” as it relates to investment advisors and those managing their own family’s financial portfolios.

For more information regarding regulatory changes made in 2011, register for our webinar, “2011 Review – Are You Aware of the Changes in 2011 and Is Your Investment Advisor on Track for 2012?,” hosted Thursday, November 10th at 12:00 Central. The cost for this webinar will be $59.95. To register, please click here.

RIA Compliance Consultants can help you with updating your compliance program to comply with the new regulatory requirements or can assist you with switching from SEC to state registration.  If you are an existing client of RIA Compliance Consultants interested in discussing how we can assist your investment advisor, please contact your consultant. If you are a new client that would like to speak with us regarding the services we can provide, please click here to schedule a time to speak with one of our consultants.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Preparing for IARD Renewals

As 2011 is quickly coming to an end, now is the time for each registered investment advisor to begin preparations for IARD renewals for the investment advisor firm and its investment advisor representatives. Registered investment advisors must make sure that they remain properly registered at all times.  If you are an SEC registered investment advisor, you must make sure that your investment advisor is notice filed in all required states.  If you are a state registered investment advisor, you must make sure your investment advisor is properly registered in all required states.  Generally, registration or notice filing is required at the firm level if an investment advisor has a place of business in the state or if it exceeds the state’s deminimus exemption.  However, investment advisors must review each state’s notice filing or registration requirements prior to conducting business in a particular state.  Investment advisor representative licensing is always handled at the state level.  Investment advisor firms must review and determine that all investment advisor representatives are properly licensed prior to conducting business in a state.

Although proper registration, notice filing, and licensing should be reviewed and monitored on an ongoing basis, during the annual renewal process all investment advisors are highly encouraged to review their existing registration or notice filing status and each investment advisor representative’s licensing status to determine if the investment advisor and its investment advisor representatives are properly registered, notice filed, or licensed (as applicable).  All registered investment advisors should also review the state requirements to see if branch office registration is required and, if it is, investment advisors should confirm that all branch office locations have been properly registered.  As of October 24, 2011, investment advisors may begin to submit Form U5s and Form BR Closing/Withdrawals via the IARD and/or Web CRD.  All post-dated forms must be dated 12/31/2011.

Here is a brief summary of some of the upcoming dates that your investment advisor should be aware of as it begins to prepare for the annual renewal process for your investment advisor firm and your investment advisor representatives:

  • 11/1/2011-Firms may begin to submit post-dated Forms ADV-W. All forms must be post-dated 12/31/2011.
  • 11/4/2011-All Transition Filing functionality for investment advisors is unavailable from 8 p.m. Eastern Time until 01/03/2012.
  • 11/12/2011-IARD and Web CRD are unavailable as Preliminary Renewals Statements are generating.
  • 11/14/2011-Preliminary Renewal Statements and reports are available for viewing and printing.

Click here for the full 2012 IARD Renewal Program Calendar.

Making necessary and early preparations for the annual renewal process can help streamline the event. Preliminary Renewal Statements must be paid, in full, by Monday, December 12, 2011. Because it takes approximately two days for payment to post to the IARD account, the funds should arrive no later than Thursday, December 08, 2011, to ensure the money is posted to your IARD account by December 12. If your investment advisor firm fails to pay its renewal fees in full, your investment advisor firm’s registration or notice filing status and investment advisor representatives’ licenses may be terminated effective December 31, 2011. An investment advisor that fails to properly renew its registration may face fines or further disciplinary actions for not being properly registered.

If your investment advisor needs assistance with the renewal process or determining if it is properly registered, RIA Compliance Consultants can assist you. Depending on your needs, RIA Compliance Consultants offers a variety of services to assist with the annual renewal process, preparing and filing the Form ADV Part 1 annual amendment, and switching from SEC to state registration (if applicable).  If you are an existing client of RIA Compliance Consultants interested in engaging us for assistance with these services, please contact your consultant to discuss the package options available. If you are a new client interested in these services, please click here to schedule a time to speak with one of our consultants.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coordinated Examinations Result in the Release of Recommended Best Practices for Investment Advisers

As the approaching deadline nears for mid-size investment advisers (those with assets under management between $25 and $99 million) to switch from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) registration to state registration, many state securities regulators are making preparations for increased regulatory oversight. As these efforts are taking place, the North American Securities Administrators Associations (“NASAA”) recently released “an updated series of recommended best practices that investment advisers should consider to minimize the risk of regulatory violations.” These best practices were developed after a series of coordinated examinations were conducted between January 1, 2011 and June 30, 2011. Examinations were conducted by 45 state and provincial securities examiners of 825 investment advisers. According to Jack Herstein, NASAA President and Assistant Director of the Nebraska Banking and Finance Department, Bureau of Securities, “Our goal in identifying deficiencies and recommending best practices is to help investment advisers strengthen their internal compliance programs and improve the services they provide to clients.”

On October 3, 2011, the “2011 Coordinated IA Examination Report” was released revealing 3,543 total deficiencies in 13 categories. Registration, books and records, unethical business practices, supervision and advertising had the greatest number of deficiencies.

The findings of the coordinated examination prompted NASAA to recommend the following best practices for investment advisers as a guide to assist advisers in developing compliance practices and procedures.

  • Review and revise Form ADV and disclosure brochure annually to reflect current and accurate information;
  • Review and update all contracts;
  • Prepare and maintain all required records, including financial records.  Back-up electronic data and protect records.  Document checks forwarded;
  • Prepare and maintain client profiles;
  • Prepare a written compliance and supervisory procedures manual relevant to the type of business to include business continuity plan;
  • Prepare and distribute a privacy policy initially and annually;
  • Keep accurate financials.  File timely with the jurisdiction.  Maintain surety bond if required;
  • Calculate and document fees correctly in accordance with contracts and ADV;
  • Review all advertisements, including website and performance advertising, for accuracy;
  • Implement appropriate custody safeguards, if applicable;
  • Review solicitor agreements, disclosure, and delivery procedures.

For more information on switching from SEC to state registration, click here to register for RIA Compliance Consultants’ free webinar, Understanding and Preparing for the ‘Switch’ for Mid-Sized Advisors,” hosted October 20, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. central.

RIA Compliance Consultants can assist you with the switch from SEC to state registration or with updating your firm’s policies and procedure to address areas referenced in NASAA’s best practice list.  To discuss our services and to see how we can help you with the registration transition, click here to speak to one of our Senior Compliance Consultants.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2012 IARD Renewal & Form ADV Annual Amendment Requirements

Beginning Monday, November 14, 2011, registered investment advisor firms can access their 2012 Preliminary Renewal Statements via their IARD account. The Preliminary Renewal Statement must be paid, in full, by Monday, December 12, 2011. Because it takes approximately two days for payment to post to the IARD account, the funds should arrive no later than Thursday, December 08, 2011, to ensure the money is posted to your IARD account by December 12. Click here for the full 2012 IARD Renewal Calendar.

RIA Compliance Consultants also wants to remind registered investment advisor firms of their obligation to update Form ADV on at least an annual basis in the form of an Annual Amendment. This is required under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Rule 204-1 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and similar rules of state securities regulators. The Form ADV Annual Amendment must be completed within 90 days after a registered investment advisor firm’s fiscal year end. This year, all SEC registered investment advisors must file an amendment by March 30, 2012 to indicate whether they are eligible to remain SEC registered. Since the majority of investment advisor firms coordinate their fiscal year end with the end of the calendar year, the Form ADV Annual Amendment has become a requirement that must be completed at the beginning of each year for most advisor firms. This will mean that the eligibility filing will be done with the fiscal year end filing for many firms but not all.

RIA Compliance Consultants can assist you with renewals and Form ADV amendment needs, which for many firms may include the switch from SEC to state registration this year. RIA Compliance Consultants will help your firm confirm its registration status in all necessary jurisdictions and confirm the registration status of all investment advisor representatives for 2012. We can also help you with any Form ADV amendment filings once we determine which type of filing is appropriate for your firm. If you are an existing client of RIA Compliance Consultants interested in engaging us for assistance with your renewals and Form ADV amendment filing, please contact your consultant to discuss the package options available. If you are a new client interested in these services, please click here to schedule a time to speak with one of our consultants.

Engagements for annual renewal services received by RIA Compliance Consultants after November 30 are subject to availability so contact us soon to discuss the available options!

*If you are an annual retainer client of RIA Compliance Consultants, renewal and Form ADV Annual Amendment Services are included in your retainer agreement. If you are required to switch from SEC to state registration you will need to contact your consultant to discuss service options. To learn more about our retainer services and fees, please contact your consultant or schedule a time to speak with one of our consultants via the link provided above.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Notice for Mid-Sized Investment Adviser Firms Transitioning to California State Registration

On October 7, 2011 the California Department of Corporations issued a notice to mid-sized investment adviser firms transitioning to California state registration. According the release, current investment adviser firms that are regulated under the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that are considered mid-sized investment adviser firms (with assets under management between $25 and $100 million), are highly encouraged to file as soon as possible the appropriate state application and paperwork to transition to regulation under the State of California. The California Department of Corporations is anticipating a “high volume of transition applications, which will be reviewed in the order received.” The release also advised investment adviser firms to respond promptly to any requests for additional information and/or application revisions. The release highlighted some important dates for investment advisers to note:

  • “All SEC Investment Advisers must file an annual updating amendment before March 30, 2012, whether you have a pending State Application or have not yet submitted a [California] application. Your firm can submit the CA Application at the same time the annual updating amendment is filed.”
  • “If your firm’s application is submitted and approved prior to January 1, 2012, you may elect to either have your firm’s CA registration approved for 2011 OR request that the [California Department of Corporations] hold the completed application and approve it effective January 1, 2012.” Those firms that receive approval prior to January 1, 2012 and wish to be approved for CA registration for 2011 would be required to pay two renewal fees, once in 2011 and again in 2012.”

For additional information regarding transitioning your investment adviser firm from SEC to California state registration, please click here to register for RIA Compliance Consultants free webinar, hosted October 20, 2011 at 12:00 Central.

 

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* RIA Compliance Consultants, Inc. ("RCC") is not a law firm and does not provide legal services. A compliance consulting relationship with RCC is not provided those legal and professional protections that normally exist under an attorney-client relationship. For more information, please visit our Disclosures webpage.

The determination to use a third-party compliance services provider is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements or self-proclaimed expertise. A description or indication of limitation of our compliance services does not mean that an agency or board has certified RCC as a specialist or expert in investment advisor compliance. All potential clients are urged to make their own independent investigation and evaluation of RCC.

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