The CFTC’s regulatory sphere has greatly expanded with the emergence of swaps, derivatives, cryptocurrencies, and alternative hedge funds. The CFTC, like the SEC, has ramped up its enforcement activities to historic levels.
The SEC Enforcement Division filed 32% more standalone enforcement cases against investment advisers and investment companies in fiscal 2018 (through September 30), as compared to 2017. Cases against investment advisers and investment companies (the second largest category) and broker-dealers (fourth largest) represented 35% of all standalone actions filed. Overall, the SEC Enforcement Division brought 490 standalone cases in fiscal 2018, a 10% increase over 2017. Excluding the municipal disclosure initiative, the Enforcement Division filed more cases than it did in 2016 and 2015, the last two years under the prior administration. The Enforcement Division obtained $3.9 Billion in penalties and disgorgement, which is consistent with amounts obtained during the prior several years. The Enforcement Division outlined five core principles, including a focus on individual accountability because “holding culpable individuals responsible for wrongdoing is essential to achieving our goals of general and specific deterrence and protecting investors by removing bad actors from our markets.”
The Enforcement Division continues to pursue its active litigation agenda, especially against the investment industry. Apparently, the Jay Clayton SEC is not much different from the Mary Jo White SEC when it comes to enforcement cases against adviser, funds, and broker-dealers.
OUR TAKE: Unlike the SEC, the state securities regulators have the power to pursue criminal penalties including prison time. Regardless of what happens at the federal level, the states appear ready to flex their enforcement muscles.
The SEC fined a deregistered investment adviser and barred its former principal for multiple compliance failures involving double dipping, Form ADV disclosures, fee rebates, and misrepresentations. The respondents recommended that clients invest in private funds in which the principal held ownership and managerial interests. Although the SEC acknowledges that clients knew about the conflict, the firm failed to list and describe the conflicts on Form ADV. The SEC also charges the firm with multiple compliance program failures including inadequate policies and procedures and failing to conduct annual testing of the compliance program.
OUR TAKE: There is no such thing as declaring regulatory bankruptcy: the SEC’s long arm won’t let a firm engage in wrongdoing and then simply de-register to avoid consequences. Compli-pros should also note that disclosure alone will not always cure significant conflicts of interest, such as fee double dipping for advisory services along with underlying products.
In its 2017 fiscal report, the SEC’s Enforcement Division cites individual accountability as one of its core enforcement principles. The report expresses the Enforcement Division’s view that “individual accountability more effectively deters wrongdoing.” Since Chairman Clayton took office, the SEC has charged an individual in more than 80% of standalone enforcement actions. The report notes that it can be more expensive to pursue individuals, but “that price is worth paying.” The report notes a modest decrease in filed enforcement actions and recoveries since 2016: 754 vs. 784 cases (excluding municipal cases) and $3.8 Billion vs. $4 Billion in total money ordered.
OUR TAKE: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” (Joseph Heller) The data and the explanation imply that the SEC will prioritize prosecuting individuals, even if the money ordered is smaller than in institutional actions, because of the fear and deterrent effect. If financial executives need another reason to engage a best-in-class compliance program, how about protecting yourselves from a career-ending enforcement action?
OUR TAKE: Just because you are not eligible (or fail) to register as an investment adviser, does not mean that the Advisers Act does not apply. In fact, most of the antifraud provisions apply to unregistered and state-registered advisers, thereby allowing the SEC to assert its enforcement jurisdiction.
OUR TAKE: Over the last several years, the state securities regulators have expanded examinations and enforcement along with the SEC and FINRA, making it much more difficult for any adviser or broker-dealer to avoid regulatory scrutiny. It’s worth noting that many state securities regulators have criminal enforcement authority.