As the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations closes in on series trusts as an examination priority this year, now is the time for series trust investment advisors to circle the wagons to fortify their compliance programs.
Weak board oversight and cellophane compliance have tarnished the reputations of several series trust and fund managers. The SEC has focused on risk controls, disclosures and process when scrutinizing firms for potential wrongdoing.
Series trust sponsors should take a moment to consider not just how to attract new managers but how to protect their current clients and their brands with an active board and an independent compliance program.
A series trust is a rent-a-trust for advisors who want to start a registered fund but don’t want to do all the back office.
Generally, the series trusts are sponsored by fund administrators that offer a packaged group of services including the Board, fund accounting, distribution, compliance, and transfer agency. They are very popular with advisers testing the waters with their first fund product.
In its administrative proceedings relating to series trusts, the SEC has focused on the board oversight process. On Jan. 27, the SEC fined Catalyst Capital Advisors over $10 million to settle charges that it failed to run a mutual fund according to the risk disclosures in the fund’s prospectus and marketing materials.
While the fund’s registration statement disclosure and marketing materials disclosed strict risk management procedures to mitigate downside risk, the fund exposed investors to a high risk of loss of capital through large option contracts that operated to short the S&P 500 Index. The SEC alleged that the respondent lied to the board about how it would implement risk controls.
Subsequently, the fund’s investors suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses directly stemming from the undisclosed risks, with the value of fund assets plummeting over $1 billion in the first few months of 2017. Although the SEC did not charge the board members, the Catalyst case raises the bar for independent directors to not just get assurances but to also ensure promises are kept.
Large investor losses prompted an earlier SEC administrative action relating to a series trust in the Team Financial case. Rather than an error of commission, the SEC alleges an error of omission by the investment advisor that failed to inform the board that certain derivative investments would constitute part of the fund’s principal investment strategy.