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U.S. SEC Says Shift From Examining Brokers to Investment Advisers Necessary

February 20, 2016, 6:10 PM UTC
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The U.S. government began its first partial shutdown in 17 years, idling as many as 800,000 federal employees, closing national parks and halting some services after Congress failed to break a partisan deadlock by a midnight deadline. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Joshua Roberts — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The major U.S. securities regulator’s recent decision to scale back on examining brokers so it can boost oversight of investment advisers was borne of necessity, officials said on Saturday, calling the transition a “positive experience.”

Reuters reported last month about the shift to address what some see as a major gap in the Security and Exchange Commission’s routine monitoring of investment advisory firms. But the regulator did not publicly confirm the decision until asked at a meeting of securities lawyers in Washington on Saturday.

“We continue to work closely with the regions, the staff and our stakeholders to try and reach our goal of transitioning some of the BD staff over to the IAIC [investment adviser] program,” said Marc Wyatt, director of the examinations office.

“It’s been a very positive experience for stakeholders in terms of trying to get this done as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

The SEC’s 2015 annual report shows the agency examined only 10% of all investment advisers registered with it. But the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-funded regulator, combined were able to examine 51% of all registered brokerages. SEC exams of advisers have become more complex since Congress in 2010 gave the agency new powers to oversee hedge funds and private equity funds.

“The number of advisers registering is increasing,” said Jane Jarocho, the associate director in the office overseeing investment adviser exams. “If your denominator is increasing by over 500 new registrants each year, it’s very difficult to increase coverage.”

That increase meant the regulator was on a “hamster track,” if it did not dedicate more staff to examining advisers, she added.

The SEC will continue to conduct broker-dealer exams, but is looking to FINRA for help, said John Polise, and associate director focused on market oversight, adding that the commission will need to ensure FINRA has “dedicated and non-conflicted oversight.”

He added the decision was made after taking “a look at reality.”

On Friday SEC Chair Mary Jo White told the meeting she was continuing to take steps toward “a workable program for third-party reviews to enhance the compliance of registered investment advisers.”

Currently, commission staff are drafting a proposal that would cut costs and that takes into consideration some congressional concerns about relying on third-parties to conduct reviews, said Diane Blizzard, associate director of the SEC’s investment management office on Saturday.