On July 14, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced an enforcement action against RiverFront Investment Group, LLC, a registered investment adviser serving as sub-adviser to clients in wrap fee programs established by various sponsors (“RiverFront”). The enforcement action resulted from RiverFront’s materially inadequate disclosure about changes in its trading practices and attendant transaction costs which exceeded wrap fees and caused millions of dollars in extra transaction costs for its clients.

In its role as sub-adviser, RiverFront had discretion to determine whether to send trades to sponsor-designated broker-dealers (whose costs were covered under the wrap fee program) or to other brokers in which case the clients would pay additional transaction costs. Wrap fee programs enable clients to pay one fee to cover a bundle of services, including, for example, trading, investment management and custody. From 2008 to 2011, RiverFront disclosed on its Form ADV that trades were “generally” executed through designated broker-dealers. It also disclosed that it may trade away in an effort to obtain best execution on behalf of its clients. A “trade away” is the practice of sending trades to a broker-dealer that has not previously been designated. In 2009, RiverFront started trading away significantly more transactions and charging clients fees that were not included in the annual wrap fee. However, in its annual Form ADV amendment filings from 2009 to 2011, RiverFront did not change its disclosures to reflect the frequency of its trade aways.

It was RiverFront’s failure to accurately and timely disclose on its Form ADV its trading practices and the potential for additional transaction costs that resulted in the SEC sanctions. The SEC held that RiverFront willfully violated Sections 207 and 204(a) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 204-1(a) thereunder.

The SEC imposed sanctions against RiverFront, namely:

  • censorship; and
  • a $300,000 fine.

RiverFront also undertook to disclose quarterly on its website the volume of trades executed with non-designated brokers and the costs to be passed onto clients.

The RiverFront enforcement action serves as a reminder to investment advisers to review their Forms ADV to ensure that trading practices, costs and other material information regarding their advisory businesses are adequately and accurately disclosed. Please contact an Investment Funds and Investment Management Group attorney for assistance with issues pertaining to Form ADV disclosure and related matters.

The SEC Press Release can be found here.

The full text of the SEC order can be found here.