On April 20, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an order against an investment advisory firm and its former chief compliance officer, for violating Sections 206(2) and 206(4) and rule 206(4)-7 of the Investment Advisers Act and rule 38a-1 of the Investment Company Act. The SEC charged BlackRock Advisors LLC with breaching its fiduciary duty by failing to disclose a conflict of interest involving the outside business activity of one of its top-performing portfolio managers, Daniel J. Rice III. BlackRock agreed to be censured and to settle the charges by paying a $12 million penalty and engaging an independent compliance consultant to conduct an internal review.
During his tenure as an energy sector portfolio manager at BlackRock, Rice founded an oil and gas exploration and production company, formed a joint venture with a public company held in his managed funds, and acquired a second public company also held in BlackRock portfolios. BlackRock learned of Rice’s outside business activity, but allowed him to continue his involvement. The SEC found that BlackRock failed to report the conflicts of interest to the board of directors of the affected registered funds or advisory clients and failed to monitor and reassess Rice’s outside business activity after discovering the conflicts of interest. The SEC also censured BlackRock for failing to maintain and implement internal policies regarding the outside activities of employees. While Blackrock’s policies required employees to report potential conflicts and to seek pre-approval before serving on a board of directors, the firm failed to outline how employees’ outside activities would be assessed for conflicts purposes or to identify the individuals responsible for assessing outside activities.
Additionally, the SEC found BlackRock’s former chief compliance officer personally liable for causing the failure by BlackRock funds to report material compliance matters—namely Rice’s violation of BlackRock’s private investment policy—to their board of directors. The ex-officer agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty to settle the charge.