(i) Possession of client funds or securities, (but not of checks drawn by clients and made payable to third parties,) unless you receive them inadvertently and you return them to the sender promptly but in any case within three business days of receiving them;
(ii) Any arrangement (including a general power of attorney) under which you are authorized or permitted to withdraw client funds or securities maintained with a custodian upon your instruction to the custodian; and
(iii) Any capacity (such as general partner of a limited partnership, managing member of a limited liability company or a comparable position for another type of pooled investment vehicle, or trustee of a trust) that gives you or your supervised person legal ownership of or access to client funds or securities.
The SEC’s proposed changes to Rule 206(4)-2 do not change the definition of custody or change what is considered custody, but impose additional requirements such as hiring a public accounting firm to perform an annual surprise examination for purpose of verifying client assets. Not surprisingly the proposed rule changes prompted significant discussion and resistance. Most of the investment advisory industry’s resistance has been aimed at the applicability of the audit requirements for the most common form of custody, automatic fee deductions from client accounts. It is estimated by the SEC that a large majority of SEC registered investment advisors automatically deduct their advisory fees from client accounts. The SEC considers this practice to be a type of custody covered under item (ii) above.
Many within the investment advisory industry believe automatic fee deductions pose lower risk than other forms of custody. While this may be true, there are significant risks and potential conflicts associated with automatically deducting advisory fees from client accounts. The fact of the matter is that the SEC and state securities regulators have brought several enforcement actions alleging fraudulent conduct involving the misappropriation and/or misuse of client funds directly related to automatic fee deductions. Fee deduction activities continue to be a focal point during regulatory examinations. Investment advisor firms need to have strong checks and balances to ensure their fee deduction policies and procedures are sufficient. Testing mechanisms need to be reasonably designed and then implemented to prevent, detect and correct errors from occurring during the fee calculation and deduction process. More importantly, supervisory procedures need to protect against fraudulent activity. All registered investment advisor firms need to make sure their compliance procedures go beyond the minimum regulatory requirements of having written client authorization to deduct fees from accounts and ensuring fee calculations appear on client account statements. Procedures need to include ongoing monitoring and auditing of the process.
Some of the more common deficiencies we often note when conducting mock regulatory reviews and annual assessments for our clients include (1) investment advisory fees being deducting from the wrong account; (2) miscalculation of quarterly or monthly investment advisory fees; (3) the agreed upon investment advisory fee between the client and advisor incorrectly entered into the investment advisor’s client database system; (4) the misconception that the client’s qualified custodian is auditing the accuracy of the investment advisor’s investment advisory fee calculations; (5) the investment advisor intentionally or unintentionally overcharging client accounts; and (6) the investment advisor failing to develop procedures to supervise and monitor the investment advisory fee calculation and deduction process.
Does your registered investment advisor firm adequately monitor its fee deduction process? Do you have questions about this important compliance function? If so, join us on Thursday, October 8 at 12:00 p.m. CST for a live webcast titled “Auditing Investment Advisory Fee Calculations, Deductions & Refunds”. During this informative one-hour online event, we will discuss the implications of proposed changes to SEC Rule 206(4)-2, recent regulatory enforcement actions, and best practices with respect to fee calculations, deductions and refunds. The fee to sign up for the webcast is $59.95. You can register now by clicking the link below.