SEC urges firms impacted by Covid-19 to review supervisory and compliance policies
On August 12, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations issued a risk alert to broker-dealers and investment advisers (firms) impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic addressing observations and recommendations related to several categories, including investor asset protection; personnel supervision; practices related to fees, expenses, and financial transactions; investment fraud; business continuity; and protecting sensitive information. The alert recommends firms review—and where appropriate—modify supervisory and compliance policies and procedures as they deal with market volatility and technological challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The alert notes that firms may need to update their practices to address, among other things, (i) unusual or unscheduled investor withdrawals; (ii) staffers communicating or executing transactions off-site or on personal devices, or making securities recommendations tied to market sectors experiencing high volatility or fraud; and (iii) supervisors having less oversight and interaction with staff in remote environments, leading to difficulties in maintaining effective due diligence, conducting background checks when hiring, or overseeing requisite examinations. Additionally, firms are instructed to monitor potential conflicts of interest and fee errors when informing investors about the costs of services, investment products, and related compensation, while also ensuring recommendations are made in the “best interest of investors.” The alert also recognizes that “times of crisis or uncertainty can create a heightened risk of investment fraud through fraudulent offerings,” and advises firms to “be cognizant of these risks when conducting due diligence on investments and in determining that the investments are in the best interest of investors.” Firms and investors who suspect fraud are advised to contact the SEC and report the potential fraud.