With our ever-increasing dependency on the internet to do business, the SEC issued an “OCIE Risk Alert” pertaining to the various forms of electronic messaging. These can include social media sites, YouTube, Yelp, blogs, articles, websites, and more, used by advisers for business-related communications. These activities require supervision which are often time consuming, and often done as manual internet searches. These electronic messages present added challenges for supervisors in complying with certain provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
The OCIE specifically mentioned three main areas for supervisors to address and encouraged firms and advisers to review their risks, practices, policies, and procedures regarding electronic messaging and to consider any improvements to their compliance programs that would help them comply with applicable regulatory requirements.
“Running regular Internet searches or setting up automated alerts to notify the adviser when an employee’s name or the adviser’s name appears on a website to identify potentially unauthorized advisory business being conducted online.”
With countless pages on the internet, where do you find the time to search and find your advisors online presence? Are you are utilizing a manual “Google” internet search? Do you get automatically notified when an advisor’s name appears on a website? Our Eagle Eye application is the leading-edge solution to help you find your advisors’ online footprint. Designed with built-in intelligence that searches the internet and sifts through the clutter bringing only the most relevant results to your attention.
With our “Risk-Based Review Process”, one reviewer can supervise hundreds to thousands of advisors in very little time. Learn More
“Regularly reviewing popular social media sites to identify if employees are using the media in a way not permitted by the adviser’s policies. Such policies included prohibitions on using personal social media for business purposes or using it outside of the vendor services the adviser uses for monitoring and record retention.”
Currently most social media monitoring systems rely on the honor system. Firms depend on their advisors to tell them about their use of social media. How do you protect your firm if your advisors are not so forthcoming? With billions of active users on social media daily, how do you find that Twitter handle, YouTube Channel, or that Yelp listing, that is going unsupervised?
Our Eagle Eye’s multi-query processes and dynamically designed algorithms can help you find this social media presence. Our risk-based approach to the workflow process has added system intelligence, enhanced lexicon capabilities, system learning, allowing Eagle Eye to automatically discover your riskiest advisors and alert your attention to where it’s needed. With Eagle Eye’s automated documentation, you will have everything you need including when a result was found, who reviewed it, comments that were made, and timestamps on every action taken on the account. Learn More
“For advisers that permit use of … personal websites for business purposes, contracting with software vendors to (i) monitor the social media posts, emails, or websites, (ii) archive such business communications to ensure compliance with record retention rules, and (iii) ensure that they have the capability to identify any changes to content and compare postings to a lexicon of key words and phrases.”
Our SQWatcher application is a web-based solution that automatically tracks, monitors, and archives your firms’ and advisors’ websites keeping you compliant. SQWatcher will identify and notify you of changes to website content and it has lexicon capabilities. This industry leading application brings you years of experience when it comes to web crawling, archiving and website analysis. Learn More
The OCIE encouraged firms to “consider any improvements to their compliance programs that would help them comply with applicable regulatory requirements.” The innovative applications from SiteQuest Technologies bring great improvements to any firm’s compliance program.
OCIE also encouraged advisers to stay abreast of evolving technology and how they are meeting their regulatory requirements while utilizing new technology. With the ever changing online platforms, trust a company with over 15 years of experience in providing leading-edge compliance and supervision applications, and website solutions for the financial industry. Over 40,000 advisors online presence is being tracked with Eagle Eye today. Contact us today to discuss the compliance issues you are facing when it comes to internet searches, the SEC, and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
Source: OCIE Risk Alert (reference page 4)
Trends When it Come to Supervising the Web
High Risk Brokers; What Are You Doing About Them?
Known Compliance Gaps
Are Yours? Do You Even Know It is Happening?
One website that is growing in popularity for advisors is Yelp.com. The ability to list your business and have people leave reviews is very tempting for advisors to use in hopes of gaining new clients. Unfortunately the use of Yelp is in direct violation of the SEC’s “Testimonial Rule” under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged three advisers and a marketing firm for violating the testimonial rule by promoting their business on Yelp. These three advisors worked with a marketing company to solicit testimonials from clients asking them to post their reviews on the investment adviser's behalf to Yelp and other social media websites. Each of these advisors were fined $10,000. The marketing firm received cease-and-desist orders and were required to pay civil penalties of $35,000.
YouTube is another platform that is rising in usage by advisors resulting in violations and fines. An Illinois-based RIA, was fined $15,000 for creating a 31-minute-long YouTube video that featured testimonials from multiple clients. The video was published on their public website and YouTube.com, and was shown to guests at a party celebrating the firm's 50th anniversary. This YouTube video was also in direct violation with the SEC’s “Testimonial Rule”.
Are you actively monitoring Yelp and YouTube for these type of SEC infractions from your registered advisors?
It can be difficult even knowing where to start. Over 4.6 million businesses are using Yelp. With an ever increasing 163 million Yelp reviews how are you to know if your advisors are actively soliciting testimonials from their clients?
Adding to your monitoring struggle is YouTube. It is estimated that over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! With over 1 billion daily users how are you to find videos uploaded to YouTube by your registered advisors if they don’t send you the direct links?
Eagle Eye is a solution. With Eagle Eye precision our application will help you quickly identify any social media accounts including Yelp and YouTube that your registered advisors own. Allowing your firm to take action and comply with the SEC’s requirements. Eagle Eye’s automated documentation and screenshots of your findings will help you respond to a regulator.
We’d love to show you more. Contact SiteQuest Technologies today to see how our application can aid in your supervision responsibilities, saving you time and lowering your risk.
Related Article: Trends when it comes to supervising the web.
Related Article: Known Compliance Gaps
Sources: SEC.gov | Investment News
This summer the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted five separate settled fines against two SEC-registered investment advisers, three investment adviser representatives, and a marketing consultant who committed and/or caused violations of the Testimonial Rule under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 through their use of social media and the internet. (read the entire article)
Several testimonial ads about registered representatives were created and published on social media outlets. Additionally, two videos were created and published online containing client testimonials on its public website and on YouTube.com. The SEC’s regulators found that these firms (and their ads) were in violation of Section 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-1(a)(1).
As a compliance supervisor are you aware of what ads your registered advisors are putting online? Are they creating and publishing videos without sending them first to compliance for approval? With all of your responsibilities how do you find the time to continually monitor your advisor’s online presence? Without action, this could leave your firm vulnerable to fines from the SEC or FINRA because of online content you are unaware of.
SiteQuest Technologies’ Eagle Eye application contains industry-leading technology that will help you monitor and discover your advisors’ online presence. Eagle Eye is designed with built-in intelligence that searches and sifts through the web’s billions of pages of clutter bringing only the most relevant results to your attention. Our multi-query processes and dynamically designed algorithms provide more accurate search results for you to quickly review. Our application is loaded with features that automate your monitoring and documentation processes. Our clients have found that Eagle Eye cuts their workload by as much as 80%.
Each of these afore mentioned firms were fined between $35,000 and $10,000 from the SEC. That fine just the tip of the iceberg. There are lawyer fees, employee time spent and resources dealing with the issue, proving to the regulatory agency that the fine has been fixed and that you are now in compliance. There is also the unknown cost to your firm’s reputation.
Eagle Eye is a first of its kind application that is designed specifically to help the financial industry easily and effectively supervise the web. Contact us today to discuss your supervision concerns. We will be able to match our products to your needs.
In January of this year FINRA release it “2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter”. High-risk firms and rogue brokers were one of the top concerns cited by President and CEO, Robert Cook.
Then on April 30, 2018, FINRA released it Regulatory Notice 18-15 regarding Heightened Supervision. FINRA noted that there are times where heightened supervision of an advisor may be appropriate. This notice stated that “FINRA requires member firms to establish and maintain supervisory systems for each of their associated persons and to test and verify annually that they have established reasonable procedures, including procedures for heightened supervision of associated persons, where necessary.”
In May at FINRA’s Annual Conference there was a discussion regarding the criteria FINRA uses to identify high-risk activity. This discussion noted that FINRA is looking for:
Several times this year FINRA has stressed the importance of “heightened supervision for high-risk brokers”. This should be one of the top priorities for your firm.
Do you have WSPs addressing these issues?
Are they causing you additional time, work, documentation, strain, and monitoring for your supervision department?
Our Eagle Eye application has an innovative “Heighten Supervision Mode”. The flexibility of this application empowers you to monitor your advisors at a variety of levels. For those that push the envelope a heightened level of supervision may be required. Eagle Eye will dig deep and with “Eagle Eye” precision discover and notify you of your advisors’ online presence.
Eagle Eye allows you to customize your supervisory approach without worry, and without additional charges or fees. Contact us today for your personalized demo and we will show you how our “Heightened Supervision Mode” will benefit your firm.
Did you read FINRA’s news release on October 1, 2018, entitled “FINRA Announces Plan to Consolidate Examination and Risk Monitoring Programs”? (Read the full-text news release)
FINRA President and CEO Robert W. Cook said, “By directing our expertise and resources in a more tailored way, we will become more effective at examining for compliance.”
Bari Havlik, who is overseeing this new program said, “Implementing a unified program structure will help make us a more agile and risk-focused regulator.”
So what does this mean for you as a supervisor?
This is a potentially massive shift in focus when it comes to FINRA exams and while it’s early, it appears that exams will now be more comprehensive with a wider area of focus than has been done in the past. Instead of focusing on only trading compliance or financial compliance, exams will likely be broader in nature. This new program is likely to zero-in on the supervision processes your firm has in place beyond the focused scope you’ve been used to.
This consolidation will force firms to dig a deeper into their WSPs and supervision processes including an examination of how they supervise the web.
We have over 15 years of experience in providing leading-edge compliance and web supervision software applications and website monitoring and archiving solutions for the financial industry.
Contact us today. Tell us your concerns when it comes to your “Risk Monitoring Programs” and we will share with you the solutions SiteQuest Technologies has developed for the financial industry.
About James Cella
James Cella is the President of a growing and innovative compliance technology provider called SiteQuest Technologies. James is a customer-centric individual and focuses on building and sustaining positive and lasting relationship with his clients and partners. James and his family are "super fans" of Utah Football and have attended nearly every home game since 2002. Go Utes!