Whether you’re a federal (SEC) or state registered investment adviser, its good to know (and avoid) some of the common types of deficiencies affecting advisory firms based on examination findings. Here is a list of the common types of deficiencies often found during regulatory examinations of investment adviser firms:
Failing to keep accurate records of client billing. All client-billing invoices must be maintained. All billing invoices should show how fees are calculated and indicate which specific periods bill cover. If the fee is deducted directly from the client's account, the adviser must follow procedures regarding custody established under federal securities laws.
Lack of or missing client contracts. All clients should have an executed contract on file with the adviser for review. The contract should have a description of the services offered, a fee schedule, and a non-assignment clause. If the adviser has a contract that contains a "hedge" clause, which tries to limit the adviser's liability if the adviser has acted in good faith or with no negligence, the adviser should be aware that it may still be held liable. Advisory contracts should not contain hedge clauses since they attempt to limit a client's rights under federal securities laws.
Misleading business cards and letterhead. The use of certain professional designations (e.g., CLU, CFP, CIC can be confusing to the public. The use of the designation "RIA" is improper since it is not a designation approved by any professional organization. Also, affiliations with broker-dealer firms must properly be disclosed on the adviser's business cards and letterhead.
Advertising file deficiencies. Investment advisers are prohibited from using testimonials. Further, advisers should not make reference to a past, specific, profitable recommendation without the advertisement setting out a list of all recommendations made by the adviser within the preceding period of not less than one year, and the advertisement must comply with other specific conditions.
Inadequate financial records. All advisers are required to maintain financial records for their business which includes journals for cash receipts, and disbursements, ledgers reflecting asset, liability, reserve, capital, income and expense accounts. These records should be maintained in a manner that can be produced in a written form for an examiner to review. All records should be kept in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.
Inadequate documentation of supervision. If the adviser has employees, the manager/principal will have supervisory duties over those individuals. These duties and responsibilities should be documented in a written compliance/supervision manual. The manual should encompass all aspects of the business such as the review of incoming and outgoing correspondence, the review of customer financial plans, the review of new account documentation, the disclosure of any conflicts of interest, the review of personal securities transactions, and any other items that are necessary to have procedures that ensure compliance with the various securities laws.
Inadequate or outdated client information. The adviser should maintain a client information document that contains the client's age, annual income, net worth (exclusive of home, furnishings and automobiles), the client's investment objective, the name of the person that solicited the account, and the prior investment activity of the client. It is suggested that the above information be supplemented by other information such as client liabilities, expenses, financial goals, risk tolerance, marital status, number of dependents, and insurance coverage. All of this information should be kept current.
Consistency of records. Examiners will compare the customer new account information, client contract, and customer information document with the services or advice actually provided to its clients. An adviser must maintain adequate information on its customers to document the suitability of the recommendations made. Examiners will also look thoroughly at the recommendations made where the client has granted discretionary authority to the investment adviser.
Agent Not Registered. Registration is generally required for any person that receives any compensation or other remuneration, directly or indirectly, from the investment adviser in connection with the solicitation or referral of a client for the adviser and/or prepares or offers investment advice to a client.