Speaking at MarketCounsel's Member Summit in Coral Gables, Fla., this morning TD Ameritrade Institutional's CEO Tom Bradley threw out a stunning statistic. After oversight of RIAs with less than $100 million in assets under management is transferred to the states, the SEC will have 18 to 20 examiners for every RIA firm with over $100 million in AUM.
So how can the SEC claim it has insufficient resources to examine RIAs? "What am I missing?" Bradley told me right after he spoke.
Statistics show that the average RIA gets examined once every 11 years. Including RIAs with currently regulated by the SEC but scheduled to be transferred to the states, Bradley estimates that there are 40 to 50 examiners per RIA.
If they get examined once every 11 years, that means the average examiner inspects five RIAs a year. Most RIAs tell me that the average inspection takes one to three weeks.
Do the math. That means the SEC examiners are working, on average, 15 to 20 weeks a year. What am I missing? Maybe after an examination they to spend two to three weeks writing a term paper and share the experience with their fellow examiners.
Still, an RIA here just told me she had been in business since 2004 and had yet to be examined.
Shortly after Bradley and I talked, MarketCounsel founder Brian Hamburger told me what I was missing. The figure cited was the total number of employees in the SEC's Office of Compliance, not the number of examiners. Moreover, one-third of the employees and examiners in the Office of Compliance spend their time inspecting broker-dealers, not RIAs.
Which raises another question. Broker-dealers' primary regulator is Finra, not the SEC. So if the SEC is convinced it must allocate that big a share of its resources essentially overseeing Finra's work, that is hardly a vote of confidence in Finra. So why is Finra getting additional responsibilities? A good question.
Hamburger agrees, however, that the SEC probably has sufficient resources to continue regulating RIAs, if only they could allocate their human capital intelligently.