May 21, 2024

Books and Records: Trade Affirmation, Allocations, and Confirmations


Books and Records: Trade Affirmation, Allocations, and Confirmations 

Contributed By - Thomas Yates
Managing Partner and Director
The U.S Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) amendments to the record-keeping requirements, Rule 275.206(4)-2, for registered investment advisors, focuses on maintaining accurate and up-to-date records of allocations, confirmations, and affirmations related to securities transactions subject to Rule 15c6-2(a) as described in our initial AdvisorAssist Blog post. AdvisorAssist has been evaluating and monitoring industry guidance and best practices, regarding the amendment, since May 2023. During our evaluation, AdvisorAssist held discussions with each custodian and/or executing broker-dealer (herein “Custodian(s)”) to understand each Custodian’s process to assist RIAs in complying with this new rule, At this time, here is a summary of what RIAs are required to do: 

Books and Records Requirement 
Advisors are required to archive:
  • Date and time stamp indicating when the trade allocation and trade affirmation occurred.
  • Details, sent or received, about each:
    • confirmation received,
    • any allocation made, and
    • each affirmation. 
The intention is to have accurate and current records for trades for securities transactions subject to Rule 15c6-2(a), as defined below. RIAs should validate and confirm that all email communications, platform instructions, or any other mode of communication related to client transactions is archived, and that RIAs are able to produce evidence of the communications and/or instructions upon request.

Transactions under Rule 15c6-2(a) are “All Securities”, with certain exemptions, as follows:
  • Exempted Securities (e.g. Private Funds)
  • Government Securities
  • Municipal Securities
  • Commercial Paper
  • Bankers’ Acceptances
  • Commercial Bills
  • Security Based-Swaps
Settlement Cycle’s Impact on Process
The settlement cycle for transactions will now be reduced to one business day (T+1), which means all Custodians should be updating their process to adhere to the new settlement cycle requirement. Separately, a Custodian is mandated to maintain timestamped records of trade allocations, confirmations and affirmations, as described above. Due to this requirement placed on your Custodian, the information required for RIAs to archive should already be maintained on their respective platforms.
Furthermore, the SEC has provided commentary that RIAs may rely on third parties, e.g. Portfolio Management platforms, to maintain records on this. However, these third parties are not responsible for RIAs books and records, and while the data may exist, they can not assume responsibility on the RIA’s behalf for maintaining records. In addition, depending on the third party, data may only be readily available for a period of time that could impact the RIA’s ability to retrieve the requested data in a timely manner and may not allow for RIAs to comply with this rule.

How To Comply: Variations in Process Among Custodians
While AdvisorAssist remains in discussions with each Custodian, we also suggest that RIAs take the following steps to comply with this new rule:
  • Reach out to their Custodians and ask them the following question: Can you provide instructions on how I can download a report, at least annually, date and time stamp of all trade allocations, confirmations and affirmations?
    • Are bulk downloads available, and for what time period?
    • Is batch reporting available?
    • Is any level of automation available to our Firm for generating these items?
  • Once these reports are received, save them into a dedicated folder where all books and records are kept, and ensure that this data is backed up!
  • Use this opportunity to perform forensic testing for trade accuracy purposes, making sure trades were executed and/or allocated as intended.
  • If any transaction activity is conducted via email, make sure that emails are archived and that email communications include any confirmations or additional transaction details sent by or received from custodians and/or broker-dealers. RIAs should separately log these communications so that they can ensure timely retrieval of these records upon request from a regulator.
As we continue discussions with Custodians, and have further guidance from the SEC, we will communicate this information out. Should you have any current questions or concerns, please reach out to your Consultant.

May 20, 2024

SEC Adopts Important Rule Amendments to Regulation S-P


SEC Adopts Important Rule Amendments to Regulation S-P

Contributed By - Thomas Yates: Managing Partner and Director, AdvisorAssist, LLC
On May 15th, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted amendments to Regulation S-P, which requires registered investment Advisors (RIAs) to adopt written policies and procedures to safeguard customer records and information (the “safeguards rule”). These amendments aim to enhance the policies and procedures of RIA’s regarding the protection of client sensitive information, especially policies on incident response, client notification, disposal of client sensitive information, and service provider due diligence.

“Over the last 24 years, the nature, scale, and impact of data breaches has transformed substantially,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “These amendments to Regulation S-P will make critical updates to a rule first adopted in 2000 and help protect the privacy of customers’ financial data. The basic idea for covered firms is if you’ve got a breach, then you’ve got to notify. That’s good for investors.”
While AdvisorAssist, LLC and AdvisorDefense, LLC are closely monitoring how this rule will be further interpreted, we anticipate more clarity from the SEC. As feedback comes in, we will continue to analyze and formulate guidance to help ensure adherence to amendments to the Safeguards Rule. That said, here is our current synopsis:

Compliance Date 

Mandatory compliance, 60 days after posting on the federal registrar, Advisors have the following timeline to comply with the amendment:
  • Advisors with at least $1.5 billion or more in assets under management (AUM): 18 Months
  • Advisors with less than $1.5 billion in AUM: 24 Months
Enhancements to Regulation S-P

Incident Response Program - The amendment requires that Advisors adopt policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to detect, respond to, and recover from unauthorized access to, or use of, client data. Further, these policies must include the following:
  • Assessment: Advisors will evaluate the nature and scope of the breach and/or incident;
  • Containment: Implement remedial measures to prevent further incidents and/or unauthorized access; and
  • Notification: Policies must be in place to notify affected clients as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after detection of the incident and/or breach, and ensure proper information is disclosed to the client.
Service Provider Oversight - As a component of the Incident Response Program, RIAs must implement policies and procedures designed to oversee Service Providers, through due diligence on and ongoing monitoring. The amendment defines “Service Provider” as any person or entity that receives, maintains, processes, or otherwise is permitted access to customer information through its provision of services directly to a covered institution. RIAs must ensure that Service Providers have controls in place to protect against unauthorized access to, or use of, client information. Service Providers must provide notification to Advisors regarding unauthorized access to client information, as soon as possible, but no later than 72 hours after becoming aware of the breach. Customer Notification Requirement - RIAs must notify affected individuals promptly when sensitive customer information was, or is reasonably likely to have been, accessed or used without authorization. Notices must include:
  • Comprehensive details about the incident.
  • Specifics on the type of data that was breached.
  • Instructions for affected individuals on how to address the breach and protect themselves.
An exception to the customer notification requirements exists when an RIA can evidence that sensitive customer information has not been, and is not reasonably likely to be, used in a manner that would result in substantial harm or inconvenience.

Privacy Policy Delivery Requirements - RIAs are no longer required to deliver an annual privacy policy to clients, provided:
  • The RIA does not share nonpublic personal information with non-affiliated third parties (other than as permitted under certain enumerated exceptions, e.g., to service providers who perform services on behalf of the RIA, or as necessary to administer a transaction requested or authorized by an individual).
  • The RIA has not changed its privacy policies and practices from the policies and practices that were disclosed in the most recent privacy notice sent to individuals.
Books and Records - Maintenance of written records documenting compliance with the requirements of the Safeguards Rule and Disposal Rule.
  • Safeguards Rule: Policies and procedures to safeguard client records and information
  • Disposal Rule: Policies and procedures for the proper disposal of consumer report information in a manner that protects against unauthorized access to or use of such information
How AdvisorDefense, LLC Can Help! AdvisorDefense’s service is to provide Cybersecurity Consulting and managed security services, specifically for Registered Investment Advisors. AdvisorDefense’s CEO, Philip Coniglio, is an experienced in-house Chief Information Security Officer for multiple RIAs, and led security at one of the largest RIAs in the nation. Driven to provide cybersecurity guidance to RIAs of all sizes, AdvisorDefense can assist in the readiness for compliance with these amendments. We are currently working to further our guidance and communications on Regulation S-P and its impact on RIAs, which will include a full breakdown of requirements and guidance to adhere to the regulation, but should you have any questions, please reach out to your Consultant!

May 13, 2024

Proposed Rule: Customer Identification Program Requirements for Registered Investment Advisers and Exempt Reporting Advisers


Proposed Rule: Customer Identification Program Requirements for Registered Investment Advisers and Exempt Reporting Advisers

Contributed By: Gabrielle Magdziarz
                           Senior Compliance Consultant
                             AdvisorAssist, LLC

On May 13, 2024 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) jointly proposed customer identification program (CIP) requirements for RIAs and ERAs on the tailwind of the February 2024 proposal to designate RIAs and ERAs as “financial institutions” under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). If adopted, the rule will require RIAs and ERAs to implement a CIP that includes procedures for verifying the identity of each customer to the extent reasonable and practicable, and maintaining records of the information used to verify a customer’s identity. The below list is the proposed required minimum amount of client information that would be required to be collected per a CIP, however, verification methodologies may require additional documentation and data:
  1. Name – referring to the client’s full legal name, but aliases or DBAs may be required to be obtained.
  2. Date of birth for an individual or the date of formation for any person other than an Individual.
  3. Residential or business address, unless other stipulations apply as proposed.
  4. Identification number (SSN, TIN, legal identifiers) dependent upon whether the individual is domestic or foreign.
Clients will be informed of the Firm’s identity verification policies through a CIP customer notice, which may be presented on websites, in account applications, agreements, or through other written or verbal communications. The Firm must establish a reasonable belief in the true identity of its clients using either documentary or non-documentary verification methods, or a combination of both, as outlined in their risk-based procedures. Documentary methods include government-issued IDs for individuals and entity-proofing documents like certified articles of incorporation for businesses. Non-documentary methods involve checking financial statements, comparing client information against fraud databases, verifying information through third-party sources like credit reports, and checking references with other financial institutions. The Firm's verification policies must address situations where typical ID verification is challenged, such as when:
  • An individual cannot present a valid government-issued photo ID.
  • The investment advisor is unfamiliar with the presented documents.
  • The advisor does not obtain documents for verification.
  • There is no face-to-face meeting with a customer.
  • Circumstances suggest an increased risk of identity verification failure.
In such cases, the Firm's CIP (Customer Identification Program) must include procedures for handling these situations, potentially escalating to filing a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) if a reasonable belief in the customer’s identity cannot be established. Under this proposed provision, an investment advisor would be required to retain the information obtained about a customer while the account remains open and for five years after the date the account is closed. Although there are provisions for reliance on another financial institution for all, or some, of its requirements under the regulation, the investment advisor would remain responsible for ensuring compliance and an agreement would need to be in place stating as such. FinCEN and SEC anticipate that the effective date of the proposed rule will be 60 days after adoption, and is currently in its comment period. Specifically, under this proposed rule, an investment advisor would be required to develop and implement a CIP that complies with the requirements of this section on or before six months from the effective date of the regulation, but no sooner than the compliance date of the AML/CFT Program and SAR Proposed Rule, if adopted. AdvisorAssist will continue to monitor both proposals, with the expectation that another joint effort between the SEC and FinCEN is on the way. Should you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your Consultant.

April 30, 2024

Risk Alert: Initial Observations Regarding Marketing Rule Compliance


Risk Alert: Initial Observations Regarding Marketing Rule Compliance

Contributed By: Samuel Guy, Compliance Consultant
Thomas Yates, Managing Director & Partner
                            AdvisorAssist, LLC

On April 17, 2024 the Division of Exams (“EXAMS” or “the staff”) released a Risk Alert: Initial Observations Regarding Advisers Act Marketing Rule Compliance. This Risk Alert highlights areas of focus for Advisors to stay in compliance with the Rule 206(4)-1 (the “Marketing Rule”) as discovered through the staff’s preliminary assessments and findings concerning the updated rule.

Observations Regarding the Compliance Rule, Books and Records Rule, and Form ADV
The staff's review of whether Advisors adopted and implemented written policies and procedures reasonably designed to prevent violations produced the following findings, including deficiencies:

Policies and Procedures The staff generally observed that compliance policies and procedures were updated to comply with the Marketing Rule. It was also observed that further steps were often taken; Advisors typically held training on the Marketing Rule’s requirements, Advisors implemented policies and procedures for reviewing marketing materials, and Advisors required pre-approval of marketing materials before dissemination. However, the staff also observed some common deficiencies concerning policies and procedures and the Marketing Rule, which are as follows:
  • Policies and Procedures were general, informal, or not fully updated to cover all applicable marketing topics, or not properly implemented in the Advisor’s marketing materials.
  • Policies and Procedures cover the General Prohibitions of the Marketing Rule, but do not cover the specific types of marketing materials utilized by the Advisor, such as testimonials or third-party ratings.
Books and Records The staff observed that Advisors updated their practices to reflect the Marketing Rule’s books and records maintenance and preservation requirements, however, some common deficiencies were also observed:
  • Questionnaires or surveys used in preparation for a third-party rating were not archived.
  • Social Media posts were not archived.
  • Documentation to support performance claims were not maintained.
Form ADV The staff observed that Advisors updated their ADV documents in response to the Marketing Rule. However, the Staff did observe misreporting in ADV1 Item 5.L, where the Advisor utilized a certain type of marketing (i.e. Performance results, Third-party rating) that was not disclosed. Further, some Advisors had inaccuracies in ADV2 Item 14 as they were not properly disclosing their referral arrangements.

Observations Regarding Compliance with the Marketing Rule’s General Prohibitions
The staff’s review of the Marketing Rule assessed whether the Advisor’s marketing materials violated any of the General Prohibitions. Common deficiencies of these are organized by the prohibition, and are as follows:

Untrue statements of material fact and unsubstantiated statements of material fact.
The following are some instances of untrue statements in advertising materials observed by the staff during their preliminary assessment:
  • Advertisements stated the Advisor was free of all conflicts of interest when conflicts did exist.
  • Advertisements that misrepresent the Advisors’ business, such as misreporting the individuals performing advisory services, the qualifications of individuals employed by the Advisor, or awards granted to the Advisor.
  • Advertisements that misrepresent facts about the Advisors’ investment processes, such as claiming these processes were validated by professional institutions or followed certain mandates, such as ESG, when this could not be substantiated by the Advisor.
  • Advertisements in which Advisors could not substantiate investment practices, such as stating the client’s risk tolerance were considered, referencing security screening processes that did not exist, or referencing a list of approved securities that did not exist.
Omission of material facts or misleading inference.
The following are the primary instances of omission of material facts or misleading inference in advertising materials observed by the staff:
  • Advisors attempted to differentiate themselves by stating they “acted in the best interest of clients” without disclosing that all Advisors have a fiduciary duty to act in the client's best interest.
  • Advisors recommended certain investments in advertising materials without disclosing the compensation received by the Advisor for the recommendation.
  • Advisors misrepresented the requirements of being SEC-registered. For example, Advisors implied that SEC registration represented a particular level of skill, or that the SEC had approved the firm's business practices, sometimes by including the SEC logo on their website or marketing materials.
  • Advertisements containing third-party rankings did not disclose that other Advisors received the award and implied they were the sole recipient, or did not include the necessary disclosures explaining the methodology behind the ranking.
  • Advertisements containing testimonials did not include context around what the testimonial was endorsing. In one instance, the Advisor included testimonials for a third-party product but represented the testimonial as being about the Advisors’ services.
Omission of material facts or misleading inference related to performance.
The following are the primary instances of omission of material facts or misleading inference related to performance advertisements observed by the staff:
  • Facts included in performance marketing materials included outdated market data information or investment products and fees that are no longer available to clients.
  • Marketing materials that omitted necessary context around performance results. For instance, omitting context around fees and expenses when calculating returns, or omitting context around general market performance.
  • Misrepresenting performance track record, such as stating securities were bought in client accounts when they were not, or not disclosing that the Advisor did not have clients in the model of the performance report.
  • The Advisor used a benchmark index but did not properly define the index or include enough context.
  • Advertisements did not disclose the time period or whether the returns were calculated from the time period defined in the material.
  • Some performance results were included or excluded in an unfair or unbalanced manner. For example, an Advisor only included the performance of realized investment information in total net return and excluded unrealized investments.
Other Deficiencies
The staff observed several deficiencies related to the fair and balanced presentation of marketing materials by advisors. Notably, many advertisements failed to disclose the material risks and limitations associated with the services offered. Additionally, references to specific investment advice often lacked balance, particularly with omissions in disclosures concerning the exclusion of certain investments. The staff also noted that advisors lacked adequate policies and procedures to ensure that such information was presented fairly. Furthermore, some advertisements contained materially misleading disclosures, including some that were unreadable, compromising the clarity and integrity of the information presented to clients.

In light of these deficiencies, advisors are urged to review and enhance their compliance practices. This should include updating and strictly implementing policies and procedures, ensuring comprehensive and accurate maintenance of books and records, maintaining accurate and reflective policies to the advisor’s marketing practices and reviewing marketing materials to eliminate misleading information. By taking these steps, advisors can seek to ensure transparency, accuracy, and adherence to Marketing Rule.

AdvisorAssist has published multiple resources for Advisors as they strive to enhance their policies and procedures surrounding the Marketing Rule. Targeted Mock Examinations through AdvisorAssist are available to those who wish to test the effectiveness of their current process. We urge you to review any of the following resources, or reach out to your Compliance Consultant for further assistance:


April 29, 2024

Adopted Amendment: 203A-2(e) & Internet Only Investment Advisers


Adopted Amendment: 203A-2(e) & Internet Only Investment Advisers

The SEC recently delivered a communication regarding their revisions to the registration of internet-only investment advisers (“IO RIAs”) under rule 203A-2(e) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Here are some important points:
Audience: This rule ONLY applies to SEC Registrants that rely on the Internet Only exemption.
Timing Details for IO RIAs: The amendments will become effective on July 8, 2024. An adviser relying on the internet adviser exemption must comply with the rule by March 31, 2025.
Withdrawal: IO RIAs no longer eligible under the amended exemption must deregister with the SEC and, if applicable, register with state authorities by June 29, 2025.
Key Points
  • Operational Interactive Website: IO RIAs using the internet adviser exemption must now offer services on an ongoing basis to more than one client exclusively through a website or mobile application ("operational interactive website”). This means the website must be actively functioning and capable of providing advisory services without interruption, except during minimal, unavoidable outages.
  • Elimination of the De Minimis Exception: The updated rule removes the allowance for IO RIAs to have up to 15 non-internet clients within a 12-month period. Going forward, all client advisement must occur via the operational interactive website without exception.
  • Form ADV Part 1 Update: IO RIAs must affirm on Schedule D of Form ADV that they maintain an operational interactive website as part of their compliance with the internet adviser exemption.
 For Advisers who rely on this exemption, further updates will be communicated moving forward regarding policy updates and best practices, but please reach out to your Consultant should you have any additional comments or concerns.


Adopted Amendment - DOL Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (PTE 2020-02)


Adopted Amendment: Department of Labor's Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (PTE 2020-02)

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced significant amendments to Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02, which affects Registered Investment Advisors (“RIA”). As we continue through our research on these amendments we are learning that nothing has changed from our guidance since the DOL released its initial communication on PTE-2020-02, and that our guidance still aligns with the amendments, as all RIA’s are subject to a fiduciary standard. That said, here’s what you need to know about the amendment to PTE-2020-02: Effective Date - The amended rule takes effect on September 23, 2024. The DOL is granting this practical buffer through a designated phase-in period, to give RIAs the appropriate amount of time to make adjustments in order to adhere to the amended rule. There are two (2) material changes we wanted to highlight as it relates to this amendment: Inclusion of the Fiduciary Standard: The amendment to PTE 2020-02 allows investment advice fiduciaries to receive compensation that would otherwise be prohibited under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. The amendment provides a further definition of what is constituted as “Fiduciary Advice” based on the following five-part test:
  • they provide investment advice for a fee,
  • on a regular basis,
  • pursuant to a mutual understanding,
  • that the advice will serve as a primary basis for investment decisions, and
  • that the advice is individualized.
Based on the above, this applies to the majority of RIA’s, registered with the SEC and/or various state regulators, who provide ongoing investment advice to clients. The following are key features to meet the Fiduciary Standard:
  • Fiduciary Acknowledgment: RIAs must formally acknowledge their fiduciary status in writing to retirement investors. This declaration is crucial as it reaffirms the advisor’s role and the associated responsibilities.
  • Conflict Disclosure: Advisors must fully disclose the services provided and any material conflicts of interest to their clients. Transparency is key to maintaining trust and adherence to fiduciary duties.
  • Impartial Conduct Standards:
    1. Care Obligation - Advisors must provide advice that reflects the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under prevailing circumstances that a prudent person would exercise.
    2. Loyalty Obligation: The interests of the retirement investor must always be placed ahead of the advisor’s or the firm’s interests.
    3. Reasonable Compensation: The compensation for advice must not exceed what is considered reasonable within the industry.
    4. No Misleading Statements: Advisors must avoid making statements that could mislead retirement investors about investment transactions and other relevant matters.
Clarity Related to Retirement Investors The amendments now clarifies that this exemption applies to investment recommendations to “Retirement Investors”, which is inclusive of plans, plan participants, beneficiaries, IRAs, IRA owners and beneficiaries, and plan fiduciaries with discretionary authority. Although implied, this was not clear in the earlier release of the exemption. Now this answers a lot of questions on whether or not IRAs are subject to the rule. AdvisorAssist is closely monitoring industry best practices, interpretations, and any additional guidance the DOL may provide. We anticipate more clarity from the DOL as feedback comes in, and have begun the process to fully analyze and formulate guidance to help ensure adherence to amendments to PTE 2020-02. Please contact your Consultant for further questions regarding this amendment.