The SEC and a consortium of 32 states recently announced a $100 million settlement with BlockFi Lending LLC over its crypto lending product, BlockFi Interest Accounts. The SEC alleged BlockFi had violated the securities laws by failing to register its interest-bearing crypto lending product as a security, failing to register itself as an investment company,
On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”)—formerly the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations—released its 2021 Examination Priorities (“2021 Priorities”). The 2021 Priorities generally retain perennial risk areas as the Division’s core focus, but do include several new and emerging risk areas reflecting broader policy shifts under new SEC leadership.
The 2021 Priorities include: retail investors; information security and operational resilience; financial technology (“Fintech”), including digital assets; anti-money laundering; transition from the London Inter‑Bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”); several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies; market infrastructure; and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies. Although not formal priorities, the Division will also focus on climate-related risks and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters in light of recent market developments and broader attention in these areas.
Continue Reading Turning the Page: Highlights of the SEC’s Division of Examination’s 2021 Priorities
On January 27, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued examination observations related to cybersecurity and operational resiliency practices (“Examination Observations”). The observations highlight a set of best practices by market participants in the following areas: (1) governance and risk management, (2) access rights and controls, (3) data loss prevention, (4) mobile security, (5) incident response and resiliency, (6) vendor management and (7) training and awareness. Cybersecurity has been a key priority for OCIE since 2012. Since then, it has published eight cybersecurity-related risk alerts, including an April 2019 alert addressing mobile security. OCIE has perennially included cybersecurity practices as part of its examination priorities (“Examination Priorities”) and listed all but mobile security as “particular focus areas” in the “information security” priority for 2020. …
Continue Reading OCIE Cybersecurity and Resiliency Observations and Best Practices
On January 7, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released its 2020 Examination Priorities (“2020 Priorities”). While at first blush the themes appear consistent with and predictable from their 2019 priorities, on closer read OCIE has provided some new insights and some unexpected focus areas. The themes for the 2020 Priorities are: retail investors, information security, financial technology (“Fintech”) and innovation (including digital assets and electronic investment advice), several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies, anti-money laundering, market infrastructure (clearing agencies, national securities exchanges, alternative trading systems, transfer agents), and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies. OCIE also stressed the challenges it faced in light of last year’s government shutdown and resource constraints, as the Division of Enforcement did in its 2019 Annual Report (see our analysis here), and the challenges in examining non-U.S. advisers due to limits that foreign data protection and privacy laws may place on cross-border information transfers. In this post, we analyze the highlights in and our takeaways from the 2020 Priorities.
Continue Reading From the Expected to the Surprises: Highlights of SEC OCIE’s 2020 Priorities
On April 16, 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a Risk Alert addressing all registered broker-dealers and investment advisers’ (together, “Firms”) privacy-related obligations under Regulation S-P (“Reg S-P”). The Risk Alert set out the most frequent Reg S-P deficiencies OCIE identified during examinations over the past two years, and encouraged registrants to review their written privacy policies and procedures as well as the consistency with which these policies and procedures have been implemented. The Alert is the latest in a series of recent privacy and cybersecurity guidance documents issued by the SEC, including the February 2018 Commission Statement and Guidance on Public Company Cybersecurity Disclosures and October 2018 Report of Investigation on cyber-related frauds and public company accounting controls.
This Risk Alert is consistent with the SEC’s approach of seeking to influence the conduct of registrants by providing guidance on specific compliance issues, followed by Risk Alerts noting common exam deficiencies, prior to pursuing enforcement actions. Investment advisers and broker-dealers should take this as a prompt to review their relevant policies and procedures to ensure they are appropriate and being followed in practice.
Continue Reading SEC Privacy Risk Alert may Foreshadow Upcoming Reg S-P Enforcement Against Broker-Dealers, Investment Advisers
On December 20, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released its 2019 Examination Priorities. The six themes for this year’s priorities are: retail investors (including seniors and those saving for retirement), compliance and risk in registrants responsible for critical market infrastructure (clearing agencies, transfer agents, national securities exchanges and Regulation SCI entities), oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, digital assets, cybersecurity and anti-money laundering. The only new theme for 2019 compared to 2018 is digital assets, which we take to imply a plan to more closely—and substantively—regulate investment advisers and broker-dealers involved with this asset class. The 2019 priorities also more explicitly than the 2018 priorities describe specific practices that OCIE found concerning in examinations of those entities, many of which involved failure to adequately safeguard client assets and the adequacy of disclosures of conflicts of interest. We expect to see a corresponding focus in Enforcement Division investigations and cases on these issues as a result.
Continue Reading Lessons from the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations’ 2019 Priorities
On November 2, the SEC’s Enforcement Division released its annual report detailing the facts and figures of its enforcement efforts in fiscal year 2018. At first blush, this year’s report looks strikingly similar to those from recent years, as the headline numbers in most categories are nearly indistinguishable from 2015, 2016, and 2017. This consistency may be surprising given that 2018 is the first such report reflecting exclusively the enforcement priorities of the Commission since it was reconstituted under Chair Jay Clayton.
But a closer examination of the report, including the components feeding into the top-line facts and figures and commentary by Division co-directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, reveals a clear shift in priorities by the Division. These range from a philosophical shift in its mission to the reallocation of resources during a hiring freeze. We address here the most notable of these subtle but important changes. …
Continue Reading Retail, Remedies, Resources and Results: Observations From the SEC Enforcement Division 2018 Annual Report