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SEC Issues Risk Alerts on Compliance with Reg BI and Form CRS

Business Continuity & Operating Appropriately Throughout The Coronavirus Pandemic
March 30, 2020
sec ALERT

On April 7, 2020, the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued two new alerts to broker-dealers and investment advisers about the “expected scope and content” of its compliance examinations for Regulation Best Interest (“Reg BI”) and the Client Relationship Summary (“Form CRS”). Previously, SEC Chair Jay Clayton announced that the June 30, 2020 compliance deadline for Reg BI will not be delayed due to the impact of  COVID-19. These alerts, therefore, underscore the need for firms to be prepared and compliant by the deadline.

The first alertExaminations that Focus on Compliance with Regulation Best Interest, emphasizes the OCIE’s determination to evaluate whether firms have established policies and procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with Reg BI, and whether firms have made reasonable progress in implementing those policies and procedures. OCIE said the examinations will focus on the four component obligations of “best interest” recommendations: those of disclosure, care, conflict of interest, and compliance.

Regarding the disclosure obligation, the OCIE said it would review all disclosures and documents that bear on the “material facts relating to the scope and terms of the relationship with the retail customer,” and “relating to conflicts of interest that are associated with recommendations.” Specifically, OCIE said it may assess the “capacity in which the recommendation is being made,” fees and costs of transactions, holdings and accounts, and material limitations on the securities or investment strategies involving securities that may be recommended to the retail customer.” To assess compliance with the obligation of care, OCIE relayed it would review the information that a firm collects from retail customers to develop investment profiles, as well as a broker-dealer’s process for having a reasonable basis to believe they are acting in the best interest of the client (i.e. factors considered when assessing the “risks, rewards, and costs of the recommendations in light of the retail customer’s investment profile”). To assess compliance with the conflict of interest obligation, OCIE stated that it would assess policies and procedures that identify potential conflicts, existing conflicts, evolving conflicts, disclosures of conflicts and mitigation of conflicts. To assess Reg BI’s compliance obligation, OCIE stated that part of its review of a firm’s written policies and procedures will focus on “controls, remediation of noncompliance, training, and periodic review and testing.”

The second alertExaminations that Focus on Compliance with Form CRS, emphasizes that the OCIE will evaluate whether firms have made a good faith effort to implement the new customer relationship summary requirements. After the deadline, firms must deliver these forms to their retail customers, post them on their website, and file them with the Commission (at the Central Registration Depository or Investment Adviser Registration Depository, as required).

The OCIE stated that it will review delivery considerations on Form CRS as to existing retail investors (particularly, in light of certain types of recommendations, e.g. rollovers or new services) and new retail investors (that may involve accounts involving investment strategy, order placement, or the opening of a brokerage account). OCIE also noted it will assess whether the content in the summary is adequate and accurate and that it does “not omit material facts necessary in order to make the required disclosures.” Finally, OCIE stated that it will consider certain technical compliance, e.g. that the form complies with proper formatting, that there are policies and procedures in place for updating the form, and that the firm has the attendant record-making and recordkeeping procedures.

These two alerts show that the scope of the anticipated review of compliance with Reg. BI and the CRS will be broad. SEC Chair Clayton emphasized, however, that the agency is looking to see a firm’s “good faith” compliance effort and that it understands the stresses that COVID-19 may be causing during this time.