The Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, or OCIE, administers the SEC’s nationwide examination and inspection program. The National Examination Program, or NEP, has published its examination priorities to communicate with investors and registrants about areas that are perceived by the staff to have heightened risk. The examination priorities call out hedge funds and private equity groups in the following areas (materials are verbatim extracts from the priorities list):
- Conflicts of Interest Related to Allocation of Investment Opportunities. Advisers managing accounts that do not pay performance fees (e.g., most mutual funds) side-by-side with accounts that pay performance-based fees (e.g., most hedge funds) face unique conflicts of interest. While reviewing portfolio management practices, the staff will confirm that the registrant has controls in place to monitor the side-by-side management of its performance-based fee accounts, such as certain private investment vehicles, and registered investment companies, or other non-incentive fee-based accounts, with similar investment objectives, especially if the same portfolio manager is responsible for making investment decisions for both kinds of client accounts or fund.
- New Registrants. Since the effective date in early 2012 of Section 402 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, approximately 2,000 investment advisers have registered with the SEC for the first time. The vast majority of these new registrants are advisers to hedge funds and private equity funds that have never been registered, regulated, or examined by the SEC. The IA-IC Program therefore intends to launch a coordinated national examination initiative designed to establish a meaningful presence with these newly registered advisers. The initiative is expected to run for approximately two years and consists of four phases: (i) engage with the new registrants; (ii) examine a substantial percentage of the new registrants; (iii) analyze our examination findings; and (iv) report to the industry on our observations. In addition to the new registrant initiative, the IA-IC Program will also prioritize examinations of private fund advisers where the staff’s analytics indicate higher risks to investors relative to the rest of the registrant population, or there are indicia of fraud or other serious wrongdoing.
- “Alternative” Investment Companies. The IA-IC Program is focusing on the growing use of alternative and hedge fund investment strategies in open-end funds, exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), and variable annuity structures. More specifically, the staff will assess whether: (i) leverage, liquidity and valuation policies and practices comply with regulations; (ii) boards, compliance personnel, and back-offices are staffed, funded, and empowered to handle the new strategies; and (iii) the funds are being marketed to investors in compliance with regulations.