Articles Tagged with Chief Compliance Officer

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(This article was published in the first February 2016 issue of “The Review of Securities and Commodities Regulation” and is reprinted here with permission.)

The last half of 2015 has been characterized by a lot of debate and press attention on the role of the Chief Compliance Officer (“CCO”) at investment advisers. It has attracted attention within the highest levels at the SEC as reflected in a series of public statements and speeches, including the public disagreement of two Commissioners on whether or not there is a new trend targeting CCOs. While this debate has been unusual, it has led to a healthy and productive discussion about the CCO’s role. Below, we will discuss in turn: (a) recent statements over the past six months by SEC leaders about CCOs and whether or not there is a new trend targeting them, (b) what qualities are essential to an effective CCO and whether or not the job should be outsourced, and (c) how an effective compliance leader can prevent and detect any problems and be truly effective in preparing the firm for SEC examinations.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released a “Risk Alert” on November 9, 2015, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of compliance issues observed in connection with the examination of registered investment advisers and investment companies that outsource their Chief Compliance Officers (“CCO”) to unaffiliated third parties.

We encourage our registered investment adviser clients, including hedge fund and private equity managers, that have outsourced their firm’s CCO function to compliance service providers or other third parties to carefully review the following SEC risk alert summary and review their outsourcing arrangement in view of the SEC’s observations.

Outsourced CCO Initiative

The OCIE staff (the “staff”) conducted 20 examinations as part of an Outsourced CCO Initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of compliance programs and outsourced CCOs by considering a number of factors such as:

  • Whether the CCOs appropriately identified, mitigated, and managed compliance risk;
  • Whether the compliance program was designed to reasonably prevent, detect and remedy violations of federal securities laws;
  • Whether there was open communication between those with compliance responsibilities and service providers;
  • Whether the CCOs have authority to influence compliance policies and procedures of the registrants and had sufficient resources to carry out their responsibilities; and
  • Whether compliance was an important part of the registrants’ culture.

Observations of successfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance strength in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • Regular and often in-person communication between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Strong relationships between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Registrants’ support of the CCOs;
  • CCOs having independent access to documents and information; and
  • CCOs having knowledge of the registrants’ business and regulatory requirements.

Observations of unsuccessfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance weakness in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • CCOs providing compliance manuals based on templates not tailored to the registrants’ businesses and containing inappropriate policies and procedures;
  • CCOs visiting registrants’ offices infrequently, conducting limited annual reviews of documents or insufficient evaluation and assessment of training pertaining to compliance matters;
  • CCOs not performing critical control testing procedures and lacking documentation to evidence testing of control procedures;
  • Critical areas of the registrants’ operations were not identified by CCOs resulting in certain compliance policies and procedures not being adopted, including those necessary to address conflicts of interest;
  • CCOs using generic checklists to gather pertinent information regarding the registrants;
  • Registrants providing incorrect or inconsistent information to the CCOs about firm business practices;
  • Lack of follow-up by CCOs with registrants to resolve discrepancies; and
  • CCOs having limited authority within the registrants’ organizations to improve adherence to compliance policies and procedures and implement necessary changes in disclosure practices, such as fees, expenses and other areas of client interest.

Conclusion

The staff reminds registrants that CCOs, whether direct employees, contractors or consultants, must have sufficient knowledge and authority to fulfill their role. In addition, each registrant is responsible for the adoption and implementation of its compliance program and accountable for any deficiencies.

Finally, the staff emphasizes that all registrants, and especially those that use outsourced CCOs, may find the issues identified in the Risk Alert useful to evaluate whether (i) their business and compliance risks have been appropriately identified (ii) policies and procedures are tailored to the specific risks their businesses encounter and (iii) their respective CCOs have the necessary power to effectively perform their responsibilities. Registrants and their funds are advised to review their business practices regularly to determine whether the practices are consistent with compliance obligations under Rule 206(4)-7 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 38a-1 under the Investment Company Act of 1940.

Please contact the Investment Funds and Investment Management Group if you would like to discuss the SEC alert or need help reviewing your outsourcing arrangement.

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Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is pleased to present an exclusive client discount for the upcoming:

 Hedge Fund General Counsel and Compliance Officer Summit
October 19, starting at 8:00 a.m. through October 20, ending at 4:30 p.m. ET.
The University Club, New York, NY

Use Promotion Code HFPWSP for a 35% discount when registering.
Click Here to Register

Join us for our session:
“2015 Exam Priorities: Tips for Handling SEC Exams and Investigations”
taking place Tuesday, October 20, 2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

 Discussion Leader:

Ildiko Duckor
Partner and Co-head, Investment Funds & Investment Management Practice,
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP

 Speakers to Include:

 David Charnin, Managing Director, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer,
Strategic Value Partners, LLC

Sarah A. Good, Partner and Co-leader, Securities Litigation & Enforcement Team,
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP

William H. Woolverton, Senior Managing Director and General Counsel,
Gottex Funds Management

Steven A. Yadegari, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel,
Cramer Rosenthal McGlynn, LLC

   For more information Click Here

or contact Deborah Bernbaum at (212) 457-7918 or DBernbaum@alm.com
For registration inquiries, contact Frank Wolson at (212) 457-9510 or FWolson@alm.com

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On April 20, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an order against an investment advisory firm and its former chief compliance officer, for violating Sections 206(2) and 206(4) and rule 206(4)-7 of the Investment Advisers Act and rule 38a-1 of the Investment Company Act. The SEC charged BlackRock Advisors LLC with breaching its fiduciary duty by failing to disclose a conflict of interest involving the outside business activity of one of its top-performing portfolio managers, Daniel J. Rice III. BlackRock agreed to be censured and to settle the charges by paying a $12 million penalty and engaging an independent compliance consultant to conduct an internal review.

During his tenure as an energy sector portfolio manager at BlackRock, Rice founded an oil and gas exploration and production company, formed a joint venture with a public company held in his managed funds, and acquired a second public company also held in BlackRock portfolios. BlackRock learned of Rice’s outside business activity, but allowed him to continue his involvement. The SEC found that BlackRock failed to report the conflicts of interest to the board of directors of the affected registered funds or advisory clients and failed to monitor and reassess Rice’s outside business activity after discovering the conflicts of interest. The SEC also censured BlackRock for failing to maintain and implement internal policies regarding the outside activities of employees. While Blackrock’s policies required employees to report potential conflicts and to seek pre-approval before serving on a board of directors, the firm failed to outline how employees’ outside activities would be assessed for conflicts purposes or to identify the individuals responsible for assessing outside activities.

Additionally, the SEC found BlackRock’s former chief compliance officer personally liable for causing the failure by BlackRock funds to report material compliance matters—namely Rice’s violation of BlackRock’s private investment policy—to their board of directors. The ex-officer agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty to settle the charge.

If you have question concerning your firm’s internal policies on the outside business activities of employees, please reach out to your Pillsbury attorney contact.