Firms May Have Difficult Time Complying With SEC Marketing Rules, Consultant Says

Many financial advisory firms are pushing the deadline to comply with some sections of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s marketing rule changes that go into effect in November, according to consulting firms.

One of the changes that advisors need to comply with by Nov. 4 is that advertisements and marketing materials that firms use to show the returns they can earn for clients have to be based on averages of all related returns, not just on examples of a few high returns, said Jonathan A. Boersma, senior manager of Meradia , an investment operations and technology consulting firm founded in 1997 based in Charlottesville, Va.

Under the SEC Marketing Compliance Rule, firms that want to promote their investment performance will have to do so through the use of composites, and those that are not already using composites will find the change to be a significant undertaking to meet compliance requirements over the next several months, Boersma said in an interview.

The vast majority of SEC-registered RIAs are not yet operating under the new rule, according to Brian Thorp, founder and CEO of Wealthtender, a consulting firm and advisor search engine for advisors and individuals. For months, advisors have expressed concern about compliance with the new rules.

Complicating the efforts to comply with the SEC’s comprehensive marketing rule changes is the fact that only a few state regulators have announced guidelines for compliance, and in some states changes will need to be made, Thorp said in an email.

“Firms should be well underway in making the record keeping changes that will be needed, but a majority have not even started, according to informal surveys of advisors,” Boersma said. The SEC rule specifies that returns have to be reported after the firms’ fees have been deducted. “Firms can do this on their own if they have the resources” but compliance could be time consuming and take resources away from the firms’ core work of helping clients.

“Compliance will require work from the firms to prove that what they are presenting is a true composite of their return performance,” he said, adding that the SEC is trying to help investors see a true picture of a firm’s performance record by instituting the requirement ,

The Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS) have similar requirements. GIPS are voluntary standards used by investment managers to ensure the full disclosure and fair representation of their investment performance and to allow potential clients to compare one firm’s performance against that of another firm, according to the CFA Institute, which created the standards.

Firms that already adhere to the GIPS guidelines will have a much easier time meeting the new SEC regulations, Boersma said. The SEC regulation included numerous references to the GIPS rules as background information for advisory firms.

For firms not compliant with the GIPS guidelines, “it would be silly not to take the extra steps needed to comply with GIPS as they are making changes to comply with the SEC rules,” Boersma said. The fact that a firm complies with both can be used as a marketing tool for how they achieve results for clients, he said.

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