On October 16, 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Examinations released its 2024 examination priorities to inform investors and registrants of the key risks, examination topics, and priorities that the Division plans to focus on in the upcoming year. This year’s examinations will prioritize areas that pose emerging risks to investors or the markets in addition to core and perennial risk areas.
“The Division of Examinations plays a critical role in protecting investors and facilitating capital formation,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “In examining for compliance with our time-tested rules, the Division helps registrants understand the rules as well as ensures that markets work for investors and issuers alike. The Division’s efforts, as laid out in the 2024 priorities, enhance trust in our ever-evolving markets.”
“Continuing to make our examination priorities public increases transparency into the examination program and encourages firms to focus their compliance and surveillance efforts on areas of potentially heightened risk to retail investors,” said Division of Examinations’ Director Richard R. Best. “We hope that aligning the publication of our examination priorities with the beginning of the SEC’s fiscal year will provide earlier insight to registrants, investors, and the marketplace of adjustments in our areas of focus year to year.”
The Division conducts examinations and inspections of SEC-registered investment advisers, investment companies, broker-dealers, transfer agents, municipal advisors, securities-based swap dealers, clearing agencies, and other self-regulatory organizations. The Division prioritizes examinations of certain practices, products, and services that it believes present potentially heightened risks to investors or the integrity of the U.S. capital markets. It uses a risk-based approach to fulfill its mission to improve compliance, prevent fraud, monitor risk, and inform policy.
The published priorities are not exhaustive of the focus areas of the Division in its examinations, risk alerts, and outreach. The scope of any examination includes analysis of an entity’s history, operations, services, products offered, and other risk factors.
As it relates to broker-dealers, the Division of Examinations will focus on:
- Regulation Best Interest, with an emphasis on (1) recommendations with regard to products, investment strategies, and account types; (2) disclosures made to investors regarding conflicts of interest; (3) conflict mitigation practices; (4) processes for reviewing reasonably available alternatives; and (5) factors considered in light of the investor’s investment profile, including investment goals and account characteristics. Examinations will focus on products s that are: (1) complex, such as derivatives and leveraged ETFs; (2) high cost, such as variable annuities; (3) illiquid, such as nontraded REITs and private placements; (4) proprietary; and (5) microcap securities. Examinations may also focus on recommendations to certain types of investors, such as older investors and those saving for retirement or college.
- Form CRS, including how broker-dealers describe (1) the relationships and services that it offers to retail customers; (2) its fees and costs; and (3) its conflicts of interest, and whether the broker-dealer discloses any disciplinary history.
- Financial Responsibility Rules, including the Net Capital Rule and the Customer Protection Rule.
- Trading Practices, with an emphasis on : (1) Regulation SHO, including the rules regarding aggregation units and locate requirements; (2) Regulation ATS, and whether the operations of alternative trading systems are consistent with the disclosures provided in Forms ATS and ATS-N; and (3) Exchange Act Rule 15c2-11.
The collaborative effort to formulate the annual examination priorities starts with feedback from examination staff who are uniquely positioned to identify the practices, products, services, and other factors that may pose risk to investors or the financial markets. The Division also gathers input and advice from the Chair and other Commissioners, staff from other SEC divisions and offices, other federal financial regulators, investors, and industry groups.
Herskovits PLLC represents broker-dealers, investment advisors, and registered individuals in SEC and FINRA examinations. Feel free to contact us for a consultation (212) 897-5410.