The Danger of Overstating Assets Under Management

Form ADV requires a registered investment adviser to state the firm’s assets under management. The new form changed the calculation and the term to “regulated assets under management”. At the same time, the threshold between state and federal registration has been increased from $25 million to $100 million.

I thought it would be useful to look back to 1997 when the regulation of investment advisers was first split at the $25 million level. Warwick Capital Management wanted to stay registered with the SEC and was accused of inflating its assets under management to maintain SEC registration. The main charge was a violation of Section 203A of the Investment Advisers Act. But the firm was also found to have violated section 207 by making an untrue statement of material fact in an SEC filing. Fraudulent intent is not required under Section 207. Even more, violations of Sections 206(1) and 206(2), by falsely representing Warwick’s assets under management and 2003 total performance returns to database services that published the misrepresentations to subscribers in the securities industry. Section 206 prohibits actions would operate as a fraud or deceit on a client.

In 1996 Warwick’s Form ADV listed $5 million of assets under management on a discretionary basis. In 1997 when the registration threshold increased, Warwick inflated assets under management to $26.55 million. That kept the firm under SEC registration and examination, instead of state-level.

Warwick also used inflated numbers in database services that acted as referral sources for Warwick. The amounts differed from those used in Form ADV and even differed from service to service.

Of course, you probably realize the importance of keeping the records that prove performance. Warwick did also. But they were destroyed in a fire, or a smoking chimney, or a flood. When asked by the SEC to make the records available, the firm used those series of excuses. The Administrative judge took the position that records never existed.

It probably comes as no surprise that in addition to inflating assets under management, Warwick inflated performance returns.


Inflating the Balloon by Terry Feuerborn

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