Custody Reform

Making full use of powers granted in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC is proposing a wholesale rewrite of the rules dictating how investment advisers must place assets in custody and which institutions are considered qualified for this purpose. Although the proposal was sparked first by controversies surrounding custody for cryptoassets and then by significant investment losses, the NPR reaches most assets held in the direct or indirect possession of investment advisers or to which the adviser may gain possession, also redefining qualified custodians to exclude not only most crypto platforms, but also foreign firms and other entities the Commission believes do not ensure sufficient safeguards protecting investor assets in the event of the adviser’s malfeasance, insolvency, or operational failure. Many of the proposal’s new requirements – e.g., control over beneficial-ownership changes, strict segregation – are already followed by those bank custodians with fiduciary obligations due to their own protocols and regulatory requirements, perhaps giving banks a head-up complying with new standards. However, the new standards may be problematic for at least some custody banks – the SEC wants them to resume fiduciary obligations and does not appear wholly satisfied with bank rules governing qualified custodians.