Poll: Is the SEC’s plain language requirement for Form ADV Part 2 a good idea?

SEC-registered advisors must rewrite Part 2 of their Form ADV using plain language. The requirement takes effect in 2011.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I favor plain language, but I’m curious to know what you think of the new requirement.

Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of my blog, asking  “What do you think of the plain language requirement for Form ADV Part 2?”

  • Bad idea
  • Okay, but will cost too much time and money
  • Good idea, but I’m not sure if it’ll be implemented effectively
  • Great idea, I’m looking forward to it
  • None of the above (please leave a comment)

By the way, the SEC’s plain English handbook is a great resource for your Form ADV rewrite, as Deborah Bosley and Libby Dubick point out in “Lemonade from legislative lemons: New ‘plain language’ rules for Form ADV give advisors a chance to stand out.” Investment News (Oct. 4, 2010, registration required).

Harry Markopolos on "next Ponzi scheme"

“Where do you think the next big Ponzi scheme will occur?” That’s what I asked Harry Markopolos, author of No One Would Listen, during the Q&A following his March 30 talk to Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS).

Markopolos isn’t too worried about seeing another big Ponzi scheme soon. He gave two reasons.

  1. Markets are down. That’s what triggered the redemptions that brought down Madoff and others.
  2. The SEC is now making Ponzi schemes a high priority.

However, most Ponzi schemers don’t register with the SEC, said Markopolos. That helps them to stay hidden from the SEC. Markopolos said the SEC typically finds out about Ponzi schemes through tips. The many poor-quality tips submitted to the SEC make it hard to sort out the good from the bad. 

If you’d like to learn more about Markopolos’ perspective, check out his book. Many BSAS members lined up after the talk to have him sign their books. He’s a hometown favorite and past president of the BSAS.

Related post
* Tweets on talk by Harry Markopolos, Madoff whistleblower

The next session of “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A Five-Week Teleclass for Financial Advisors will start in April. If you can’t attend this session, sign up to receive “Information on upcoming classes, workshops, and other events” as well as my free monthly newsletter.
Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

What does GIPS verification mean?

I’m an amateur when it comes to understanding investment performance standards. So I was surprised when a speaker at the CFA Institute’s GIPS (global investment performance standards) conference speaker said verification does NOT verify that firm’s composite numbers are correct or that firm is compliant. Huh?

As I understand it, verification simply means the firm has the right processes to be compliant and to calculate performance accurately.

If you’ve got questions about this topic, I suggest you mosey on over to the Investment Performance Guy’s blog, which includes a post on “Verification verifies compliance…not!” Blogger David Spaulding, president of The Spaulding Group, Inc., looks like a valuable resource for your GIPS and performance questions. Back in March 2009, I enjoyed writing “Fixed income attribution falls short” about his talk to the Boston Security Analysts Society.

Related posts:
SEC’s update to CFA Institute’s GIPS conference
A quant’s guide to detecting a future “Madoff”
Top 5 tips for investment performance advertising

Top 5 tips for investment performance advertising

Knowing the rules for advertising your investment performance is your key to staying out of trouble with the regulators.

Here are some of the tips I gathered from “Performance Advertising 101: Regulatory Do’s and Don’ts” presented on Sept. 23 at the CFA Institute’s GIPS conference by Rajan Chari of Deloitte & Touche, who focused on GIPS issues, and Steven W. Stone of Morgan, Lewis Bockius, who focused on SEC issues. 

1. Don’t think that you’re not subject to advertising rules because you’re not buying a newspaper or magazine ad. Advertising is broadly defined. It’s “basically, any written communication addressed to more than one person (or used more than once) that offers investment advisory services with regard to securities,” according to the speakers’ slides. Advertising includes client materials. It may also refer to anything that you distribute in unchanged form to 10 or more people. 

2. Make the necessary disclosures about performance. Consult with experts who are knowledgeable about your disclosure requirements. 

3. Tread carefully in performance advertising areas of particular concern to the SEC. For example, projecting returns may be viewed as promissory. Back testing is easily manipulated. To avoid the appearance of cherry picking, top stock picks must be balanced with worst stock picks. 

4. Keep a log of the people to whom you send advertising materials. I’ll bet that many people aren’t doing this. But it’s essential for making things right if you discover that inappropriate materials have been distributed. 

5. Take your audience’s sophistication into account when you choose the materials you send them. The regulators give you more leeway in materials aimed at sophisticated investors.

Despite the fact that “Performance Advertising 101: Regulatory Do’s and Don’ts” was presented at the CFA Institute’s GIPS conference, GIPS didn’t get much attention compared to the SEC.  That’s because investment managers always have to pay attention to SEC rules, whereas “GIPS advertising rules are only applicable if you choose to claim [GIPS] compliance in an advertisement.” You can read the GIPS Advertising Guidelines, on pages 33-37 of the Global Investment Performance Standards.

Happy advertising!

Sept. 27 addition from Rajan Chari
Thanks to the generosity of Rajan Chari, here are two links to give you more information on advertising standards.

SEC’s update to CFA Institute’s GIPS conference

One of the SEC latest initiatives resonates with the experience of Lucile Corkery, Associate Regional Director for Examinations, Boston Regional Office, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That’s enhancing the licensing, education, and oversight of back office personnel. Corkery and her colleague, Melissa Clough, senior staff accountant, discussed a list of SEC initiatives on the first day of the CFA Institute’s GIPS (Global Investment Performance Standards) two-day conference in Boston on September 22. Both speakers gave the standard SEC disclaimer that their statements were strictly their personal opinions. 

Lesson from the back office 
Prior to joining the SEC, Corkery worked in an industry back office where she knew an aggressive registered rep who made her suspicious.

One day the rep came in with his cousin the lawyer and conservatorship papers for aunt, who had to be alive for the this purpose. Just one week later, the rep came in a death certificate for the aunt dated prior to his coming in with the conservatorship papers.

When Corkery challenged the rep, he said “I’ll give you whatever you want. What does it take?”

It’s no wonder that Corkery believes the licensing, education, and oversight initiative for back office personnel is “long overdue.” 

SEC initiatives 
Other SEC initiatives discussed by Corkery and Clough included:

  • Investor Advisory Committee
  • Proposed amendments to custody rules, including annual surprise exam and added controls when custody is provided by a related person
  • Revamping handling of complaints and tips
  • Advocating for a whistle blowing program
  • Conducting risk-based examinations of financial services firms
  • Establishing a new division of Risk Strategy and Financial Innovation, announced on Sept. 16
  • Enhancing examiners’ knowledge of fraud detection techniques and recruiting staff with specialized skills
  • Seeking resources to hire more examiners
  • Integrating broker-dealer and investment advisor examinations  

Job opening in Boston–posting closes this ThursdayThere’s an opening in the SEC’s Boston office for a senior specialized examiner, according to Corkery.

Act fast, if you’re interested. The posting closes on Thursday, Sept. 24. I think that means that Thursday is the last day you can apply. 

Posts from last year’s GIPS conference: