SEC Exams of Hedge Fund Advisers: Focus Areas and Common Deficiencies in Compliance Policies and Procedures

It is a well-known fact that the SEC has significantly fewer examiners than it has registrants to examine.  Nowhere is the SEC more outnumbered than in the investment adviser arena, with approximately 435 examiners compared to more than 11,000 registered investment advisers.  In the first quarter of 2012, advisers with less than $100 million in assets under management will generally transition from SEC registration to state registration.  However, the mandatory registration of private fund advisers with more than $150 million in assets will continue to pose significant resource challenges to SEC examiners.  What’s more, the newly registered private fund advisers will likely be higher risk and more complex firms, which will require more examination resources than those firms moving off the SEC’s rosters.  To help manage this resource imbalance, SEC examinations are becoming much more focused and targeted on high-risk firms and the highest risk activities and practices within those firms; and as a result of various factors discussed in this article, SEC examiners are much better prepared than in the past to scrutinize hedge fund business practices and they have an eager group of well-equipped enforcement staff ready to bring cases – often a series of cases – on the issues where examiners are focusing.  In a guest article, Kimberly Garber – a Founding Principal of boutique compliance firm CORE-CCO, LLC, and former Associate Regional Director in charge of the Examination Program in the Fort Worth Regional Office of the SEC – discusses five risk areas where SEC examiners commonly focus in hedge fund examinations and where compliance policies and procedures are often lacking.  In each area, how comprehensive a firm’s procedures need to be will depend on the risks presented by the firm’s business practices, affiliates and client relationships, and how actively the firm and its personnel engage in each type of activity.  If a firm does not purport to engage in or chooses to prohibit certain activities, its policies and procedures should specify such prohibited practices but also contemplate controls to ensure that employees do not inadvertently or purposefully engage in prohibited activities.

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