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Here Are the Big Fee Violations the SEC Has Found Advisors Make

By Alex Padalka April 13, 2018

The SEC is urging financial advisors to review their policies and procedures on disclosure of fees they charge their clients, according to a risk alert published on the website of the regulator’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations.

The commission is warning advisors that they could be in violation of the Investment Advisers Act if they inappropriately bill for services or don’t stick to the agreements and disclosures as described in their Form ADV submissions and documents sent to clients.

The risk alert also includes some of the more frequent irregularities the SEC’s investigators have found surrounding fees. These include billing based on valuations of certain assets that’s different from that described in the client’s agreement, such as taking an asset’s original cost rather than its current value to calculate asset-based fees, using an asset’s value at the end of a billing cycle, instead of an average daily balance as described in an agreement, to calculate the fee, or including certain assets that were said to be excluded in the agreement, such as cash, annuities or alternative investments, the SEC says.

The OCIE also found instances of advisors charging fees monthly instead of quarterly as stated in contracts with their clients or in Form ADV, billing fees in advance instead of in arrears as previously specified, or failing to pro-rate fees when services begin or end mid-billing cycle, according to the risk alert.

Some advice practices also allegedly apply a rate higher than the one stated in documents, double-bill clients or charge non-qualified client performance fees on a portion of their capital gains in violation of the Advisers Act, the SEC says.

The regulator says it has also found advice practices that fail to apply rebates or discounts or do so incorrectly, such as by not aggregating household accounts in a way that would qualify them for discounts, failing to go to a lower fee when a client’s account balance reaches a prearranged level, or charging brokerage fees to clients in a wrap fee program, according to the risk alert.

SEC’s examiners have also found examples of advisors whose Form ADV disclosures varied from their actual practices and advice practices that failed to disclose additional fees or markups, such as what they collect from clients for third-party services or earn in additional compensation as a result of fee sharing agreements with third parties, the regulator says.

Some advice practices also allegedly misallocated expenses, such as regulatory filing fees and travel expenses, in a way that contravened agreements or disclosures, according to the risk alert.

In February the SEC extended an amnesty to financial advisors who self-report fee violations and repay harmed investors before June 12.

The regulator said it would not recommend financial penalties on advisors who self-report before the deadline.