Commissioner’s Concerns About Civil Penalties Temper SEC’s Release of FY14 Enforcement Results

On October 16, the SEC publicized its preliminary enforcement results for fiscal year 2014. In what it described as a “successful enforcement year,” the Commission brought a record 755 actions and obtained $4.16 billion in penalties and disgorgement. These 2014 figures translate to an average of $5.5 million per action, which is 11% higher than the penalties and disgorgement obtained per action in fiscal year 2013 and a whopping 30% upsurge from just two fiscal years ago. It is not a coincidence that these developments correspond neatly with the appointment of Mary Jo White as SEC Chair in 2013. In fact, Chair White has been candid from the outset of her tenure about the Commission’s intention, under her direction, to “make aggressive use of our existing penalty authority, recognizing that meaningful monetary penalties—whether against companies or individuals—play a very important role in a strong enforcement program.”

It would appear, however, that at least one high-ranking SEC official has become uneasy during this era of heightened civil penalties. Speaking at the Securities Enforcement Forum in Washington, D.C., just two days before these results were released, Commissioner Michael S. Piwowar openly questioned whether the manner in which the SEC now administers penalties might be encroaching upon due process protections. As Commissioner Piwower explained:

In recent months, I have become concerned by the increasing number of staff recommendations that have not been accompanied by analysis of the principal factors described in the 2006 penalty statement. If we were a publicly-traded company, then we would likely be subject to an investigation if we knowingly permitted a misleading statement to remain outstanding without corrective disclosure. More importantly, we will have not accorded appropriate due process if we fail to follow our own publicly-announced framework for monetary penalties.

. . .

Thus, for purposes of transparency, clarity, and, most importantly, due process, the Commission should be forthcoming as to the appropriate analytical framework for corporate penalties.

The “2006 penalty statement” referenced in Commissioner Piwowar’s speech represents the Commission’s most recent effort to provide the investing public with “the maximum possible degree of clarity, consistency, and predictability in explaining the way that its corporate penalty will be exercised.” While this pronouncement set forth nine factors that may be weighed, the appropriateness of a penalty reportedly hinges on two principal considerations: – (1) whether the company received a direct benefit as a result of the violation and (2) whether the penalty will recompense or further harm the injured shareholders. This latter consideration, in particular, is inherently controversial. As the SEC acknowledged in the 2006 Statement, the penalties it imposes on public companies are costs frequently endured by innocent shareholders who already have been harmed by the company’s purported misconduct. Hence, SEC penalties should not be perceived as adding further insult to the financially injured.

Based on Commissioner Piwowar’s comments, the SEC may be drifting away from these factors, even though it has published no further guidance explaining which factors might now be disfavored or what other considerations could apply. If so, these recent developments cast a renewed spotlight on comments that Chair White made regarding the SEC’s 2006 Statement during a September 2013 speech to the Council of Institutional Investors. Most notably, Chair White stated:

While it is not a binding policy, the 2006 press release in my view sets forth a useful, non-exclusive list of factors that may guide a Commissioner’s consideration of corporate penalties, such as the egregiousness of the misconduct, how widespread it was, and whether the company cooperated and had a strong compliance program. The enforcement staff still references these factors as well as other inputs when analyzing and proposing their own recommendations to the Commission.

Ultimately, however, each Commissioner has the discretion, within the limits of the Commission’s statutory authority, to reach his or her own judgment on whether a corporate penalty is appropriate and how high it should be.

Interestingly, Commissioner Piwowar’s comments seem to reflect a general apprehension, at least on his part, to exercising discretion that is limited only by statutory constraints when the factors and “other inputs” used to determine the appropriateness of such penalties have not been disclosed publicly. To remedy this perceived problem, Commissioner Piwowar advocated that any revision to the 2006 Statement should be made through an interpretative release that would be subject to a notice-and-comment process. In his view, “This approach will satisfy any due process concerns, allow all interested persons to express their comments on the proposed framework, and provide a stronger defense of our approach should it be challenged in the future.”

Absent such an administrative undertaking or an unexpected reversal of policy, it likely will be left to the judiciary whether to impose any additional limitations on future SEC penalties. If the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision in Collins v. SEC, No. 12-1241 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 26, 2013), provides any foresight, courts may be receptive to tethering future penalties so that they reasonably align with prior outcomes under similar circumstances. In Collins, the appellant challenged the SEC’s imposition of a penalty on grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Excessive Fines Clause under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at *6. While the penalty was upheld, the appellate court made clear that the Commission cannot be “oblivious to history and precedent” and that a penalty could be deemed “arbitrary and capricious” if “the sanction is out of line with the agency’s decisions in other cases.” Id. at *8 (quoting Friedman v. Sebelius, 686 F.3d 813, 827-28 (D.C. Cir. 2012)). It remains to be seen, of course, what circumstances could trigger such a decision, although additional appeals – and judicial insights – seem likely in fiscal year 2015, particularly if the financial stakes continue to rise. In the meantime, the SEC appears more focused on making history and precedent, in part through the imposition of larger civil penalties, than being closely guided by it.

SEC Announces Highest Whistleblower Award to Date

The SEC recently announced a record-breaking whistleblower award of $30-35 million, which shattered the previous high award of $14 million. See SEC Awards More Than $14 Million to Whistleblower. Not only is this award noteworthy for its size, but also because it was made to a foreign resident and it could have been even higher if the whistleblower did not unreasonably delay in reporting the violations.

This was not the first award made to foreign residents, but it was the first award made to a foreign resident since the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the anti-retaliation protections of Section 21F(h) of the Dodd-Frank Act do not apply to foreign whistleblowers who experience retaliation overseas from foreign employers. Liu v. Siemens, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014); see also Made for the U.S.A. Only: Second Circuit Holds That the Dodd-Frank Act’s Antiretaliation Provision Applies Only Domestically. In making this award, the SEC reiterated that any extraterritorial aspects of tips, such as a whistleblower’s foreign residency or alleged misconduct that occurs abroad, do not matter when there is a “sufficient U.S. territorial nexus”—i.e., “whenever a claimant’s information leads to a successful enforcement of a covered action brought in the United States, concerning violations of the U.S. securities laws, by the Commission, the U.S. regulatory agency with enforcement authority for such violations.” Order Determining Whistleblower Award Claim, Whistleblower Award Proceeding, File No. 2014-10 (Sept. 22, 2014). It found that the Second Court’s holding in Liu v. Siemens, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014), was not controlling and that “the whistleblower award provisions have a different Congressional focus than the anti-retaliation provisions, which are generally focused on preventing retaliatory employment actions and protecting the employment relationship.”

In announcing the award Sean McKessy, Chief of the Office of the Whistleblower, underscored the extraterritorial reach of the program: “This award of more than $30 million shows the international breadth of our whistleblower program as we effectively utilize valuable tips from anyone, anywhere to bring wrongdoers to justice. Whistleblowers from all over the world should feel similarly incentivized to come forward with credible information about potential violations of the U.S. securities laws.” See SEC Press Release: “SEC Announces Largest-Ever Whistleblower Award.”

Further, this already staggering award amount had the potential to be even higher if the whistleblower did not unreasonably delay in reporting to the SEC. The whistleblower delayed for an undisclosed period of time after first learning of the violations, which the SEC said caused investors to suffer significant losses that might have been avoided. The SEC found that the whistlblower’s delay was unreasonable under the circumstances and reduced the award from the maximum percentage allowed under the statute. It rejected the whistleblower’s argument that the percentage awarded was below the average percentage awarded to other whistleblowers as irrelevant. The SEC, however, did not apply the unreasonable delay consideration as severely as it otherwise might have done because a period of the delay occurred before the implementation of the whistleblower program established by the Dodd-Frank Act.

This latest award shows the SEC’s willingness to make awards to whistleblowers across the globe.

SEC’s Broken Window Enforcement Program Gets a Boost from “Quantitative Analytics” and “Algorithms”

The SEC announced last week that it had charged, in settled administrative proceedings, 28 individuals and investment firms that failed to “promptly report information about their holdings and transactions in company stock” and six public companies that contributed to “filing failures by insiders or fail[ed] to report their insiders’ filing delinquencies.” See SEC Press Release: “SEC Announces Charges Against Corporate Insiders for Violating Laws Requiring Prompt Reporting of Transactions and Holdings.” The SEC obtained a total of $2.6 million in civil monetary penalties as a result of the filed charges. The individual amounts ranged from $25,000 to $150,000. These cases are the latest example of the SEC’s focus on strict liability violations of the federal securities laws.

All of the charges arise under Sections 13(d), 13(g), and 16(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These sections require certain forms to be filed, irrespective of profits or the reasons for engaging in the stock transactions. Although the SEC does not need to establish that an individual or company engaged in insider trading (nor was there any finding that would suggest such) in order to prove any of the charged violations, legislative history indicates that Section 16(a) was motivated by a belief that “the most potent weapon against the abuse of inside information is full and prompt publicity” and by a desire “to give investors an idea of the purchases and sales by insiders[,] which may in turn indicate their private opinion as to prospects of the company.”

Pursuant to Section 16(a) and Rule 16a-3, company officers, directors, and certain beneficial owners of more than 10% of a registered class of a company’s stock (“insiders”) are required to file initial statements of holdings on Form 3 and to keep this information current by reporting transactions on Forms 4 and 5. Specifically, within 10 days after becoming an insider, the insider must file a Form 3 report disclosing his or her beneficial ownership of all securities of the issuer. To keep this information current, insiders must file Form 4 reports disclosing purchases and sales of securities, exercises and conversions of derivative securities, and grants or awards of securities from the issuer within two business days following the execution date of the transaction. In addition, insiders are required to file annual statements on Form 5 within 45 days after the issuer’s fiscal year-end to report any transactions or holdings that should have been, but were not, reported on Form 3 or 4 during the issuer’s most recent fiscal year and any transactions eligible for deferred reporting (unless the corporate insider has previously reported all such transactions).

Beneficial owners of more than 5% of a registered class of a company’s stock must use Schedule 13D and Schedule 13G to report holdings or intentions with respect to the respective company. According to legislative history, Section 13(d) is a key provision that allows shareholders and potential investors to evaluate changes in substantial shareholdings. The duty to file is not dependent on any intention by the stockholder to gain control of the company, but on a mechanical 5% ownership test. A Schedule 13D must be filed within ten days of the transaction, and a Schedule 13G must be filed within 10 to 45 days of the transaction, depending on the category of filer and the percentage of acquired ownership. Importantly, Section 16(a) also requires an investment adviser to file required reports of behalf of funds that it manages when the fund’s ownership or transactions in securities exceed the statutory thresholds.

Under Section 16(a), public companies are required to disclose in their annual meeting proxy statements or in their annual reports, “known” Section 16 reporting delinquencies by its insiders. This disclosure is commonly referred to as the Item 405 disclosure. The Item 405 disclosure of any late filings or known failures to file must (i) identify by name each insider who failed to file Forms 3, 4, or 5 on a timely basis during the most recent fiscal year or prior fiscal years and (ii) set forth the number of late reports, the number of late-reported transactions, and any known failure to file. An issuer does not have an obligation under Item 405 to research or make inquiry regarding delinquent Section 16(a) filings beyond the review specified in the item. Although insiders remain responsible for the timeliness and accuracy of their required Section 16(a) reports, the SEC has encouraged companies to assist their officers and directors to submit their filings, or even to submit the required form on the insiders’ behalf to ensure accurate and timely filing.

These actions make clear, however, that reliance on the company does not excuse violations as the insider retains ultimate responsibility for the filings. The majority of the charged individuals told the SEC that their delinquent filings resulted from the failure of the company to make timely filings on their behalf. In one case, disclosures in the company’s annual proxy statements relating to Section 16(a) compliance revealed that the filing of the insider reports was late because of “lack of staffing,” “late receipt of necessary information,” and “a change in the processing of these forms and delays caused by an email server malfunction.” The SEC still charged the insider because the insider took “ineffective steps to monitor whether timely and accurate filings were made” on his or her behalf by the company.

Without providing any details, the SEC claimed that it used “quantitative analytics” or algorithms to identifyindividuals and companies with especially high rates of filing deficiencies. The SEC’s filing of these actions underscores its willingness to devote resources to pursuing strict liability violations. It also demonstrates the SEC’s efforts to use quantitative analysis and algorithms to identify violations and to streamline the investigative process.

Commissioner’s Dissent May Signal Harsher Sanctions Against Accountants

Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar provided the most recent illustration of the SEC’s renewed emphasis on enforcement actions involving accounting and financial statement fraud when, on August 28, 2014, he issued a rare written dissent from the agreed-upon settlement in In the Matter of Lynn R. Blodgett and Kevin R. Kyser, CPA,File No. 3-16045 (Aug. 28, 2014). In Blodgett, the SEC charged the former chief executive officer and chief financial officer of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (“ACS”) with causing the company’s failure to comply with its reporting, record-keeping, and internal control obligations in violation of Sections 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A), and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, 13a-11, 13a-13, and 13a-14 thereunder. The two senior executives collectively paid nearly $675,000 in penalties, disgorgement and prejudgment interest to settle these cease-and-desist proceedings.

According to the SEC, ACS overstated revenue by $124.5 million in fiscal year 2009 by arranging for an equipment manufacturer to redirect through ACS certain preexisting orders that the manufacturer had already received from another company. These so-called “resale transactions” created the false appearance that ACS was involved in these transactions and, in violation of generally accepted accounting principles, generated revenue that allowed ACS to meet both company and analyst growth expectations. The SEC found that the senior executives, who certified the company’s Form 10-K and Forms 10-Q during this period, “understood the origination of these ‘resale transactions’ and their impact on ACS’s reported revenue growth,” but “did not ensure that ACS adequately described their significance in ACS’s public filings and on analyst calls.” Further, the SEC found that both senior executives personally benefitted from ACS’s overstated revenues because their bonuses were tied to the company’s financial performance.

In a Dissenting Statement published concurrent with the Order, Commissioner Aguilar singled out CFO Kyser’s “egregious conduct” and characterized the settlement with him as “a wrist slap at best.” Commissioner Aguilar expressed his belief that Kyser’s actions, “at a minimum,” also violated the nonscienter-based antifraud provisions under Sections 17(a)(2) and/or (3) of the Securities Act and warranted a suspension of Kyser’s ability to appear and practice before the Commission, pursuant to Rule 102(e) of the SEC’s Rules of Practice. As Commissioner Aguilar explained:

Accountants—especially CPAs—serve as gatekeepers in our securities markets. They play an important role in maintaining investor confidence and fostering fair and efficient markets. When they serve as officers of public companies, they take on an even greater responsibility by virtue of holding a position of public trust. To this end, when these accountants engage in fraudulent misconduct, the Commission must be willing to charge fraud and must not hesitate to suspend the accountant from appearing or practicing before the Commission. This is true regardless of whether the fraudulent misconduct involves scienter.

. . . .

I am concerned that this case is emblematic of a broader trend at the Commission where fraud charges—particularly non-scienter fraud charges—are warranted, but instead are downgraded to books and records and internal control charges. This practice often results in individuals who willingly engaged in fraudulent misconduct retaining their ability to appear and practice before the Commission.

While Commissioner Aguilar’s comments may have represented the minority position in Blodgett, this public airing of differences triggered a prompt response from within the Commission. SEC Director of Enforcement Andrew Ceresney issued a press release the following day underscoring that accounting and financial fraud cases remain a “high priority” and noting that “financial reporting cases for 2014 so far have surpassed last year’s total number of cases by 21 percent.” Director Chesney also referenced the recent increase in investigations being conducted by the Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force, which the SEC formed in July 2013.

This documented upsurge in enforcement actions and investigations is consistent with the SEC’s stated policy initiatives for 2014. SEC Chair Mary Jo White warned registrants in January that the Commission would prioritize financial fraud with a particularized focus on the actions of auditors and senior executives. In doing so, she explained, the SEC intended to convey the message “that critical accounting issues are the responsibility of all those involved in the preparation and review of financial disclosures.” Now, less than eight months later, Commissioner Aguilar has sought to further strengthen this message by imposing tougher sanctions on accountants deemed to be at the center of the misconduct. Future settlements will demonstrate to the accounting industry—and the securities profession as a whole—whether his publicized appeal prompted significant change at the Commission.

Made for the U.S.A Only: Second Circuit Holds That the Dodd-Frank Act’s Antiretaliation Provision Applies Only Domestically

According to the SEC, in fiscal year 2013, foreign whistleblowers accounted for 404 of the 3,238 whistleblower reports received by the SEC (nearly 12%). Recently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals may have significantly undermined incentives for foreign tipsters to report potential violations to the SEC.

On August 14, 2014, the Second Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower antiretaliation provision (15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)) does not apply “extraterritorially” and thus did not cover a foreign tipster’s allegation that he had been terminated for reporting potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations to his employer. Liu v. Siemens AG, Docket No. 13-cv-4385 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014). The antiretaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, which gives employees easy access to U.S. district courts, prohibits employers from retaliating against whistleblowers employees who make certain protected disclosures. The provision incentivizes reporting and facilitates the SEC’s enforcement of securities law violations.

The plaintiff Liu, a citizen and resident of Taiwan, alleged that he was fired from a Siemens Chinese subsidiary after he reported potential FCPA violations and other misconduct to his superiors. None of the alleged events related to Liu’s firing occurred in the United States. Nevertheless, Liu filed suit in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York claiming that Siemens had violated the antiretaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s order dismissing the complaint with prejudice and held that the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower antiretaliation provision does not apply “extraterritorially.” The Second Circuit reasoned that the Dodd-Frank Act, like any statute, is presumed, in the “absence of clear congressional intent to the contrary, to apply only domestically.” Id., slip op. at 2. And the Second Circuit found “absolutely nothing in the text of the [antiretaliation] provision … or in the legislative history of the Dodd-Frank Act, that suggests that Congress intended the antiretaliation provision to regulate relationships between foreign employers and their foreign employees working outside the United States.” Id. at 12.

Because the antiretaliation provision did not extent extraterritorially, the court found that it did not cover Liu’s allegations since all events related to his termination¾the alleged misconduct, Liu’s discovery of the misconduct, and Liu’s termination¾occurred outside the United States. As such, the District Court correctly dismissed Liu’s complaint. The Second Circuit’s decision will likely impact the willingness of potential whistleblowers outside the United States to report misconduct to the SEC. Moreover, the lack of protection afforded to foreign-based whistleblower may adversely effect on the SEC’s FCPA investigations which usually involve misconduct that occurs outside of the United States. There is nothing in the Second Circuit’s decision, however, to indicate that foreign-based whistleblowers are prohibited from receiving payment under the Dodd-Frank bounty program.

While the ruling clarifies the Dodd-Frank Act’s geographical reach, it did not resolve another outstanding issue, namely whether or not Dodd-Frank applies to reports made internally, as opposed to reports made directly to the SEC.

Quarterly Whistleblower Award Update

Since our last quarterly update, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”) has issued four denial orders and three award orders. Here are some lessons learned from this activity:

The SEC Will Not Award Whistleblowers Who Provide Frivolous Information. The SEC determined that a claimant (who submitted “tips” relating to almost every single Notice of Covered Action”) was ineligible for awards because he/she “has knowingly and willfully made false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements and representations to the Commission over a course of years and continues to do so.” Under Rule 21F-8, persons are not eligible for an award if they “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, or use any false writing or document knowing that it contains any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry with intent to mislead or otherwise hinder the Commission or another authority.” 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-8(c)(7). The OWB found that a number of passages submitted by the claimant were patently false or fictitious and that the person had the requisite intent because of the (1) incredible nature of the statements, (2) continued submissions that lack any factual nexus to the overall actions, and (3) refusal to withdraw unsupported claims at the request of the OWB. (May 12, 2104.)

The SEC Will Enforce the Time Frames Set Forth in the Statue. The OWB denied two awards because the claimants did not submit an award claim within the 90-day period established by Rule 21F-10(b). The claimants argued that OWB should waive the 90-day period due to extraordinary circumstances. See 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-8(a). The OWB determined that neither a lack of awareness that the information that the whistleblower had shared would lead to a successful enforcement action nor the lack of awareness that the Commission posted Notices of Covered Actions on its website constitutes an extraordinary circumstance to waive the timing requirement. See SEC Release No. 72178 (May 16, 2014) and SEC Release No. 72659 (July 23, 2014).

Whistleblowers are Not Eligible for an Award Unless the Information Leads to a Successful Enforcement Action. The OWB denied an award to a claimant because the provided information did not lead to a “successful enforcement by the Commission of a federal court or administrative action, as required by Rules 21F-3(a)(3) and 21F-4(c) of the Exchange Act.” OWB also noted that the claimant did not submit information in the form and manner required by Rules 21F-2(a)(2), 21F-8(a), and 21F-9(a) & (b) of the Exchange Act. See In the Matter of Harbinger Capital Partners, LLC, File No. 3-14928 (July 4, 2014).

The OWB Can Be Persuaded to Change Its Preliminary Determination. Although the OWB initially denied the whistleblower’s award claim on the basis that the information did not appear to have been voluntarily submitted within Rule 21F-4(a)(ii) because it was submitted in response to a prior inquiry conducted bya self-regulatory organization (“SRO”). In a Final Determination issued on July 31, 2014, however, the OWB determined that claimant was entitled to more than $400,000. OWB noted that a submission is voluntary if it is provided before a request, inquiry, or demand for information by the SEC in connection with an investigation by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, any self-regulatory organization, Congress, the federal government, or any state Attorney General.

On the basis of the unique circumstances of this case, the OWB decided to waive the voluntary requirement of Rule 21F-4(a) for this claimant. The SEC noted that the claimant “worked aggressively … to bring the securities law violations to the attention of appropriate personnel,” the SRO inquiry originated from information that in part described claimant’s role, claimant believed that the company had provided the SRO with all the materials that claimant developed during his/her own internal efforts, and claimant promptly reporting to the SEC that the company’s internal efforts as a result of the SRO inquiry would not protect investors from future harm. Sean McKessy, chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, remarked that “[t]he whistleblower did everything feasible to correct the issue internally. When it became apparent that the company would not address the issue, the whistleblower came to the SEC in a final effort to correct the fraud and prevent investors from being harmed. This award recognizes the significance of the information that the whistleblower provided us and the balanced efforts made by the whistleblower to protect investors and report the violation internally.” See SEC Release No. 72727 (July 31, 2014); SEC Press Release, “SEC Announces Award for Whistleblower Who Reported Fraud to SEC After Company Failed to Address Issue Internally,” (July 31, 2014).

SEC Continues to Make Awards to Qualified Claimants. On June 3, 2014, the SEC awarded two claimants 15% each for a total of 30% percent of the monetary sanctions collected in the covered action. See SEC Release No. 72301 (June 3, 2014). On July 22, 2014, the SEC awarded three claimants 15%, 10%, and 5% respectively (for a total of 30%) of the monetary sanctions collected in the Covered Action. See SEC Release No. 72652 (July 22, 2014).

Profits Do Not Always Equal Disgorgement

Judge Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York recently rejected the SEC’s attempt to seek disgorgement of almost $500,000,000 from Samuel Wyly and Donald R. Miller Jr., the Independent Executor of the Will and Estate of Charles J. Wyly Jr. (collectively, “defendants”). According to the SEC, this amount represented the total profit that the defendants gained from their illegal conduct, which included securities fraud in violation of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and failure to make certain disclosures in violation of Sections 13(d), 14(a), and 16(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

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Director of SEC’s Division of Investment Management Provides Insights into Agency’s View of Alternative Mutual Funds and Focus of Upcoming Sweep Exam

On June 30, 2014, in remarks to the Practising Law Institute’s Private Equity Forum, Norm Champ, Director of the SEC’s Division of Investment Management, addressed the increase in the number of mutual funds that use alternative investment strategies and the potential risks that the Division of Investment Management has identified with those strategies. See SEC Press Release. Champ’s observations are particularly relevant in light of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examination’s (“OCIE’s”) announcement that it will conduct a national sweep exam involving between fifteen and twenty alternative mutual funds beginning this summer and continuing into the fall. According to Champ, the exams are intended to produce valuable insight into how alternative mutual funds attempt to generate yield and how much risk they undertake, in addition to monitoring how boards are overseeing the funds’ operations. To that end, Champ said that the exams will focus on liquidity, leverage, and board oversight.

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