The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced the 2015 examination priorities for its Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE). Advisers to private funds should especially note that they are among the primary targets of OCIE’s 2015 examination program.
The OCIE’s exam priorities will reportedly focus on three primary areas: protecting retail investors (especially senior citizens), assessing market-wide risks, and using data analysis to locate signs of potential unlawful activity.
The list of priorities, according to the SEC, may be supplemented over the course of the year as determined necessary, and were compiled in collaboration with the SEC’s various divisions, regional offices, and other regulators.
With respect to the priority regarding the protection of retail investors, the OCIE examinations will focus on, among other things: “fee selection and reverse churning,” to determine if investors are being overcharged or are being placed in investments that serve the best interests of the broker or adviser, rather than the investor; “sales practices,” especially with respect to the recommendations by brokers or advisers to liquidate current holdings in retirement accounts to other investments that may not be suitable under the circumstances for the investor; “suitability,” when retirement assets are placed in investments that are too complex and/or afford excessive risk for the typical investor; and “alternative” investment companies, where investor funds are placed in non-registered investment companies, and the risks and lack of disclosure are an issue for investors.
Among the priority targets for OCIE’s examinations during the year will be registered municipal advisers, registered investment companies that have never been examined by the SEC, and advisers of private equity funds, primarily to determine the fees and expenses of such funds, and how they are allocated and disclosed to investors.