When regulators show up at your door to conduct an inspection, as part of an industry sweep or a routine examination, will you be ready? As confirmed in its 2017 Agency Financial Report, the Securities and Exchange Commission examined more investment advisors than in the prior fiscal year — a 50% increase from just three years ago. With the agency planning to keep its examiners even busier in 2018, here are some practical pointers to prepare for and execute a successful SEC exam.
Getting Ready for Review
Typically, registrants are notified by phone a couple of weeks before the exam, followed by a formal written confirmation. This will allow time to brief and advise the firm’s staff on the examination process, interviews and expectations. The exam typically takes place over the course of weeks or months.
The firm will designate a qualified primary point of contact for the examiners, typically the chief compliance officer, and may assign other employees and hire consultants to be part of the response team. Whether on-staff or a compliance professional retained to lead the effort, the CCO must be ready to discuss and respond to questions regarding the compliance program, policies and procedures, risks, testing results, culture and have the knowledge and experience to organize the response effort and coordinate the examination. The response team should also include one or more members of senior management who are familiar with the compliance program and can field questions examiners might reasonably pose on behalf of key areas of the business.
In their initial communication(s), the examiners will provide an Information Request List of written materials and records for their inspection. These will need to be generated by the firm and then downloaded to an SEC portal. The CCO will initiate a meeting with key staff to prepare and organize the production of the records. These requested materials will be categorized and aligned with the SEC request list and will include records pertaining to portfolio management, trading, marketing, custody, client and financial records and other key areas of the firm.
As the time-consuming process of locating, drafting and producing potentially hundreds of documents and existing records within a short time frame unfolds, it may become apparent to both the firm and the examiners the degree to which the firm is prepared to respond to these requests.
At this stage the firm may want to consider the importance of protecting attorney-client privileged written communications and materials, and integrating the process required under the Freedom of Information Act when submitting the records to the SEC.