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Practical Tips for Compliance Professionals for Dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hardin Compliance Consulting remains up and running, and we do not anticipate any disruptions in client service. In response to the request from Allegheny County Officials and other governmental organizations, Hardin employees are working from home. To avoid any undue exposure for our employees and clients, we have canceled all non-essential travel and will conduct meetings involving clients and external contacts via audio or videoconferencing.

Working remotely is standard operating procedure for us and we are committed to providing the same high level of service that we normally offer.  All our employees have the tools and resources to work remotely and without interruption, using laptops, email, conference calls, and video conferencing.  We hope that you remain healthy during this period, and we want to let you know that we are here to support our clients with any compliance concerns they may have.

We will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate our measures to support our clients and firm colleagues as necessary.  We also have some advice from a compliance perspective:

  1. SEC Exemptive Relief for Form ADV and Form PF

The SEC has issued exemptive relief for filing obligations for the Form ADV and Form PF, permitting firms to delay their Form ADV and Form PF filings by up to 45 days.  However, absent extreme circumstances, we do not recommend that our clients take advantage of this relief.  We believe that not filing these forms on time indicates a failure in a firm’s business continuity plan.

  1. Other Regulatory Relief & Guidance

In addition to the exemptive relief for filing Form ADV and Form PF, the SEC, FINRA, and NFA/CFTC have been coordinating closely to monitor the recent market volatility and the spread of COVID-19.  The SEC has also announced relief permitting fund boards to conduct meetings via teleconference and video until at least June 15th, subject to certain conditions, as well as relief to issuers in the form of guidance on conducting virtual annual shareholder meetings.  Here is a link to the SEC’s COVID-19 Resource webpage.  FINRA has also issued guidance to its member firms and is providing updates via its dedicated COVID-19/Coronavirus page.  Finally, NFA guidance is available at the NFA’s regular “Notices to Members” webpage.

  1. Business Continuity

Review the applicable portions of your business continuity or pandemic illness plans and consider whether additional procedures are needed to address the present situation.  For example, if your BCP requires employees to work from home, will they need other resources to do their jobs if this situation continues for weeks or months?  You should also consider whether some employees will need to periodically go into the office for routine maintenance, checking mail, depositing checks, or other activity that requires a physical presence.   Additionally, depending on your business, consider restricting non-essential trips and instituting an enhanced approval process for essential travel for the near term.

Most importantly, remain calm.  If you do need to activate your BCP or pandemic illness plan, don’t panic.  You’ve done the work to plan and test your business continuity strategy, so now it is time to execute each step along the way.  Be ready for unanticipated curve-balls and to make some “game time” decisions when they occur.  You’ll learn from them, and your firm will be stronger for it in the future.

  1. Cybersecurity

Expect coronavirus phishing scams and be extra vigilant.  There are some fake CDC updates, IT alerts, and software notices attempting to obtain user credentials or install malware, so be extra careful.  Be wary of emails that appear to be legitimate internal COVID-19 updates, since fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s desire to stay informed and external emails that appear to be news but are instead phishing scams.  Do not click on links in emails that pertain to COVID-19; go directly to the site instead.

  1. Other Compliance Considerations

While business continuity and cybersecurity are receiving much of the attention during this pandemic, compliance professionals need to keep their eyes on the ball.  For example, during this time of heightened market volatility, the risk related to insider trading can increase, as information that might not have been viewed as material may now take on new significance.  The current market volatility may affect mutual fund liquidity, requiring increased monitoring.  Operationally, each firm’s pain points will differ, but firms using hard copy records may struggle in a remote work scenario.  For example, as the first quarter ends, compliance teams rolling out Code of Ethics quarterly transaction reports for firms that rely on employees completing forms manually or receiving hard copies of brokerage statements will be challenged by this new work-from-home reality.  Finally, firms should ask their vendors, service providers, and sub-advisers (where applicable) about their plans to deal with COVID-19 with the understanding that engaging back-up providers may be necessary.

  1. Communication

Below are some tips specific to communicating with your firm’s employees, which is critically important, especially given the fluid nature of this issue.

  • Remind employees who your firm’s primary emergency response leader is, who they can contact with questions about the BCP, and how they will be notified if the plan is activated.
  • Make sure employees know how to access the BCP and the contact information for all employees, clients, and critical service providers.
  • If your firm has not yet activated its BCP, tell employees to be ready and bring their laptops home nightly.
  • Employees should also check whether they have access to secure, remote access while working from home.
  • Warn employees to be wary of coronavirus phishing scams. Remind them not to click on links in emails on coronavirus; instead, go directly to sites.
  • Comply with the most recent guidelines issued by management on dealing with the fall-out from the virus.

Finally, remember to connect frequently with your co-workers.  This is a stressful time and we will all struggle to handle the challenges of living in lockdown.  So please take care of yourselves and your loved ones and stay healthy!

Helpful resources:

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Partner with Hardin Compliance

Have a compliance question or want an independent review of your compliance program?  Hardin Compliance can help!  Call us today at 1.724.935.6770, or shoot us an email at contact@hardincompliance.com so we can set up a time for one of our consultants to discuss your needs and how we can help.  Hardin is always in your corner.

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Hardin Compliance Consulting provides links to other publicly-available legal and compliance websites for your convenience. These links have been selected because we believe they provide valuable information and guidance.  The information in this e-newsletter is for general guidance only.  It does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, or professional consulting of any kind.

Image by Selena Gallagher from Pixabay.