Independent Consultants are frequently mandated as part of the remedy in securities enforcement actions. The SEC and SRO’s like FINRA and MSRB recognize the value of having an independent compliance consultant monitor or perform specific tasks related to a case and ensure corrective action is being applied appropriately. The tasks are generally outlined in the settlement agreement and can include a number of months or years a Broker-dealer or RIA may be required to retain services. In such cases, regulators describe the independent consultant as a; compliance consultant, disbursement consultant, or monitor depending on their prescribed use.
For the most part regulators are relying more and more on the resources of consultants for obvious reasons. Leveraging consultants reduces reliance on limited regulatory resources and frees up staff for new cases. Consultants are also able to handle tasks more efficiently where regulators are not designed to, such as cash disbursements or re-writing policies and procedures. Regulators may even request a detailed analysis of a firms’ compliance program by an outside consultant as requisite to completing remediation.
Respondents (defendants) in a regulatory case are naturally concerned about the cost of consultants, as the expense is out of pocket, but many firms agree independent consultants are generally less expensive and easier to work with than regulatory examiners. For this reason, often a BD or RIA will request review of their records prior to being fully investigated by Regulators. This allows the firm an opportunity to discover and remedy risks outside of the public eye, and may hopefully improve a firms’ chance of satisfying a regulator earlier and for less of an expense.
If a Regulator requires an independent consultant as part of a settlement, respondents should take care to have the terms and work to be performed by the consultant clearly defined. An overly broad mandate by a Regulator can have a serious consequence on an unsuspecting firm. Given the consultant is independent, they are barred from exhibiting a conflict of interest between the firm and regulator, and are often given leverage to pursue whatever remedy deemed appropriate in absence of clear instructions. With that in mind, the use of a third party consultant can be a very positive remedy to improving the relationship between firms and regulators. Often regulators value the expertise of consultants and their ability to monitor a firm after a regulatory issue has been discovered.
Firms which are proactive about a regulatory inquiry leading to enforcement may be able to bypass the request for an independent consultant by taking steps on their own to remedy risks before a formal resolution is handed over. Early efforts by respondents demonstrate to a Regulator that the firm understands the depth of the problem and takes remediation seriously. Some steps a firm may take include; investigating and reporting problems whether they’ve been identified by the Regulator or not, and demonstrating remediation by making a voluntary restitution or adopting new policies to prevent future occurrences. These steps can also provide a basis for reduced fines, sanctions, or suspensions.
Firms faced with a regulatory inquiry should understand that Regulators can impose “any equitable relief deemed appropriate or necessary”. This may include; providing restitution to persons harmed, revising procedures, ceasing certain business activities, and more. Requiring the resources of an independent consultant is frequently considered an appropriate course of action to ensure a complete remedy. Thus, while independent consultants are not explicitly authorized by regulators at this time under specific licensing, they are a frequent sought for their expertise and ability to develop sensible solutions in remedy enforcement cases.
Is there a regulatory inquiry or issue you are concerned about? Our staff has helped numerous firms subject to inquiry and examination. We’ve assisted law offices across the US working with Broker-dealer, RIA clients, and other financial service businesses. Our services include providing expert testimony, analysis of records and remediation; as well as outsourced compliance and principal support on an interim or month-to-month basis. We’re happy to work directly with financial service firms, their attorneys, CPAs, investors, shareholders, and liaison with Regulators. Visit our services menu for more information.
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