The Securities and Exchange Commission loudened the drumbeat on the importance of conflict of interest and fee compliance at a meeting of financial advisory firm internal and external lawyers Friday in Washington, D.C.
Amplifying warnings regularly voiced for months, these two issues are what the SEC sees as the biggest problem areas for advisors, officials with the agency’s Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations and the Investment Management and Enforcement Division told the session.
In a rebuke to the industry, OCIE Chief Counsel and Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer Paula Drake said she could never understand the “paranoia” advisory firms have when Enforcement Division people are with OCIE staffers in on-site inspections.
“It is one SEC,” Drake said.
She noted 11 percent to 14 percent of OCIE exams find violations that are referred to Enforcement.
The OCIE executive said the unit is halfway through its plan to have specialized focus exams of 25 percent of the 1,600 private fund advisors who were required to register with the SEC for the first time by the Dodd-Frank Act.
While Dodd-Frank ordered the SEC’s Division of Investment Management to have its own exam staff, Investment Management Division Deputy Director David Grim said the chances of an advisor having an exam by Investment Management or seeing an IM staffer along with OCIE on an inspection are minimal. The primary reason, he noted, is that OCIE has 1,000 examiners while IM only has 10.
“You’re not going to get one of our examiners knocking on your door after [OCIE examiners] are there,” he told the investment advisor attorneys.
The SEC officials spoke during the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s annual fall conference in Washington, D.C.
During the meeting, new SEC Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein said the agency’s Dodd-Frank mandated Office of Investor Advocate is beginning to get established.
“It can be a powerful force for investors,” she said.
Stein said that while the JOBS Act rules have opened the door to mass advertising of hedge funds and other private offerings, it is important that those investment vehicles are only sold to accredited investors who can truly bear the risks.
Speaking to the technology glitches that have roiled the markets, the commissioner said investors need to know a computer error won’t wipe out their retirement accounts.
Recently departed SEC Republican Commissioner Troy Parades told the gathering that interpretive guidance by SEC divisions is not a perfect substitute for rule-making by commissioners because guidance doesn’t have the benefit of public comment before the directives are issued.