Advisers must take closer look at continuity plans, SEC says

Financial firms asked to shorten the time it takes to recover from an emergency.

Aug 28, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

By Liz Skinner

The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a risk alert specific to investment advisers asking them to reconsider their business continuity plans to shorten the time it takes to recover from an emergency.

The alert, released Tuesday, is the result of 40 adviser examinations conducted by the SEC staff following Hurricane Sandy, said Andrew Bowden, director of the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations.

Those reviews found weaknesses in some advisers' communications with clients and employees, and found that some firms had failed to test their continuity plans fully before the emergency.

The SEC and other financial regulators issued four pages of guidance aimed at all financial firms Aug. 16, asking them to prepare more comprehensively for widespread disruption in services.

“We hope our observations in this risk alert — and those in the earlier joint advisory — will help industry participants better prepare for future events that threaten to disrupt market operations,” Mr. Bowden said.

Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey last October and closed markets for two days. Some advisory firms in the Northeast remained closed for up to a week because of power outages and other problems with power and telecommunications services.

In the alert, the commission said advisers should consider contacting clients before a major storm to ask if they would need funds transferred or other transactions if there were extended outages.

Ian Armstrong, chief operating officer of Clear Harbor Asset Management LLC, said one challenge his firm faced during the storm was that even though power was not disrupted in their New York offices, there was no Internet access.

Once they solved the Internet issue by using their cell phones as routers, Clear Harbor's executives had to face the traffic nightmares that blocked their Brooklyn and Connecticut-based employees from getting to the office.

“The best-laid plans go out the window in the real world,” Mr. Armstrong said. “Our continuity plan wasn't seamless, but it held up pretty well.”

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