The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday announced the adoption of rule amendments to "substantially increase the protections" for investors that trust their assets with SEC-registered investment advisers. Depending on the investment adviser's custody arrangement, the rules would require (i) advisers to engage independent public accountants to conduct annual surprise exams to verify that client assets exist; and (ii) a written custody control review that "describes the controls in place at the custodian, tests the operating effectiveness of those controls and provides the results of those tests" when the adviser or affiliate acts as custodian of client assets. The amended rules would also impose new controls on advisers to hedge funds and other private funds that comply with the custody rule. Such advisers would have to obtain an audit of the fund and deliver the fund's financial statements to fund investors, while the auditor would have to be registered with and subject to inspection by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

According to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, "[t]hese new rules will apply additional safeguards where the safeguards are needed most - that is, where the risk of fraud is heightened by the degree of control the adviser has over the client’s assets."