fined a large broker-dealer $2 Million for under-resourcing its compliance
function, thereby allowing unlawful short-selling. As the firm’s trading activity increased, the
firm continued to rely on a primarily manual system to monitor compliance with
Regulation SHO’s requirements. The
handful of employees tasked with monitoring trading requested more resources as
their 12-hour workdays could not adequately surveil the activity of 700 registered
representatives. FINRA alleges that the
firm routinely violated Regulation SHO by failing to timely close-out
positions, illegally routing orders, and failing to issue required
notices. As part of the settlement, the broker-dealer
also agreed to hire an independent compliance consultant.
TAKE: Firms need to track business activity to ensure that compliance and operations
infrastructure keep up with the business.
A good metric is whether the firm spends at least 5% of revenues on compliance
infrastructure including people and technology.
Broker-Dealers and advisers must abandon the dual-hat compliance model, the practice of naming a non-regulatory professional with multiple executive roles. Firms must retain a competent and dedicated Chief Compliance Officer either by hiring a full-time employee or by retaining the services of an industry-recognized outsourcing firm.
A large mutual fund company agreed to pay a $1 Million fine and reimburse clients another $1.095 Million for failing to stop a portfolio manager from engaging in unlawful cross-trades. The SEC also fined and barred the portfolio manager. The SEC alleges that the portfolio manager interpositioned a friendly broker to execute cross-trades between clients in a scheme that benefited buying clients over selling clients. Such cross-trades – which were not conducted at the bid-ask spread and which paid commissions – violated the Investment Company Act’s affiliated transactions rules and did not comply with the Rule 17a-7 safe harbor. The SEC faults the firm and its compliance function for failing to further investigate responses from the portfolio management team that uniformly contended that the questioned trades were not prearranged. The SEC also criticizes the compliance function for failing to properly monitor trading practices and for neglecting to train employees.
OUR TAKE: Compliance testing and monitoring does not stop when a questioned employee (with an incentive to engage in violative transactions) denies wrongdoing. While this may avoid personal responsibility in the corporate blame game, it will not satisfy the regulators or fulfill a compli-pro’s obligations to implement reasonable policies and procedures.
OUR TAKE: Failure to prevent wrongdoing creates a burden and inference that your compliance policies and procedures do not measure up. In this case, the SEC did not offer insight into how the firm should conduct allocation testing or whether such testing would have stopped the misconduct. Instead, the SEC argues that the cherry-picking itself proves that the firm failed to implement reasonable policies and procedures. This is why firms need to implement testing and monitoring and not just write a nice policy.
OUR TAKE: Having a valuation control function is not the same as having an effective valuation control function. Global firms must consider metrics before gutting compliance and supervisory functions that could ultimately allow bad actors to put the firm at risk. Firm leaders should think of compliance and supervision as the defense to protect assets and the firm’s reputation. And, defense wins championships.
OUR TAKE: Having policies and procedures, but taking no significant action against those who violate them, eviscerates their purpose. This compliance voodoo – the mere appearance of a compliance program – will draw the ire of the regulators.
A portfolio manager of an activist investment firm failed to disclose a $3 Million personal loan to the CEO of a company in which he invested. The portfolio manager made the loan, according to the SEC, to secure the CEO’s support for his election to the Board as part of a broader initiative to exert control over the company. The SEC asserts that the portfolio manager violated his fiduciary duty to his clients by concealing his personal interest and that the investment manager failed to file a Schedule 13D (indicating more than passive investment). Also, the SEC faults the adviser for failing to implement a reasonable compliance program because the policies and procedures “did not discuss conflicts of interest more broadly in sufficient depth so as to capture and train employees to recognize other violative conduct not specifically identified.”
OUR TAKE: Because portfolio managers are often treated like the rock stars of investment management, compli-pros must implement heightened supervision to protect against reckless actions that will ultimately hurt the firm. Procedures should include reviews of investment decisions, due diligence about personal dealings, reviews of transactions outside the ordinary course, and training all employees how to identify unlawful activity.
OUR TAKE: Investment firms and supervisors cannot turn a blind eye to questionable valuations and performance. According to the SEC, the respondent collected over $3 Million in unearned performance and management fees, making the firm ultimately responsible for its employees’ wrongdoing.