SEC Division of Examinations

On March 15, 2023 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released its proposal to amend Regulation S-P: Privacy of Consumer Financial Information and Safeguarding Customer Information, while simultaneously issuing two additional cybersecurity-related rule proposals[1] and re-opening the comment period for its previously-proposed cybersecurity risk management rule released in February 2022.[2] This set of sweeping reforms makes it clear, if not already, that the SEC is serious about implementing comprehensive cybersecurity and privacy standards across its regulated entity population—including investment advisers.   

On February 7, 2023, the Division of Examinations of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission released its 2023 Examination Priorities (“Annual Priorities”). Released at the beginning of each calendar year, the priorities tend to repeat the previous year’s priorities, and consumers of these regulatory tea leaves need to search closely

Last month, we predicted that a renewed focus by the SEC on insider trading, MNPI and related internal controls would be one of the Top Ten Regulatory and Litigation Risks for Private Funds in 2022. Last week, the SEC’s Division of Examinations (“EXAMS”) issued a timely risk alert relating to Investment Adviser Material Non-Public Information (MNPI) Compliance Issues.

The SEC’s EXAMS risk alert specifically highlighted a handful of common deficiencies noted under Section 204A of the Advisers Act and Rule 204A-1 under the Advisers Act (the “Code of Ethics Rule”).

The SEC last month proposed rules under the Advisers Act indicating a dramatic shift in how the SEC intends to reduce conflicts of interest involving private fund managers and their investors. As we previously noted in the context of increased disclosure obligations, the SEC’s recent approach previews a sea change redefining the relationship between private fund managers and their investors. For decades, the SEC has sought to address potential conflicts through a combination of disclosure and informed consent, in light of the sophisticated nature of private fund limited partners. However, the SEC’s proposal now pivots from that approach, concluding that certain fund manager practices are inherently conflicted and therefore in some cases necessitate that the fund manager undertake specific actions, or in other cases must be flatly prohibited. As the SEC put it in their Proposing Release, “We have observed certain industry practices over the past decade that have persisted despite our enforcement actions and that disclosure alone will not adequately address.”

Last month, the SEC proposed new rules under the Advisers Act that, if implemented, would be the most significant enhancement of disclosure obligations for private fund managers since the Dodd-Frank Act.  Citing investor protection and transparency concerns for limited partners as investors, these proposals signal the Commission’s intent to add additional tools to the fund manager enforcement and examination toolbox.

In 2020, we saw an increased regulatory focus on cybersecurity. Though former SEC Chairman Clayton largely took the view that existing statutes and regulations were sufficient, the Division of Examinations increased exam activities in the space while agencies like FinCEN increased enforcement against violators. We can expect to see a continued focus on cybersecurity going forward as a persistent long-term trend, but it is unclear whether it will remain among the top priorities of the SEC this year. As discussed in Risk #1, we believe that the Chairman, Gary Gensler, will take a more active approach generally and, as part of that, we expect a heightened focus on cybersecurity. Sponsors are a theoretically high value target for attack because even relatively small sponsors often control billions of dollars (whether directly or indirectly) and have highly confidential information concerning their investors and partners. It is important that sponsors’ commitment to, and investment in, cybersecurity systems, policies, and procedures is commensurate with their risks and profile in fact.

Valuation practices will continue to be the subject of disputes. Particularly in times of economic disruption and market volatility, buyers and sellers are more likely to have substantial differences of opinions on valuation, which often lead to the use of earn-outs and resulting post-closing disputes. Use of a cost basis