On April 20, OFAC issued COVID-related guidance indicating that it encourages those subject to its jurisdiction to contact the OFAC staff if they believe they will have difficulty meeting OFAC deadlines (whether reporting deadlines, responses to administrative subpoenas, or other matters).  OFAC also encouraged electronic submission of any communications.  In our experience, OFAC is still functioning at a relatively high level, remote operations notwithstanding, but the staff has also been flexible in responding to the challenges all institutions face.  As OFAC’s guidance and our own experience underline, open communication with the staff is very important.
Continue Reading OFAC Issues Guidance on COVID’s Impact on Compliance and Enforcement

On April 3, 2020, the SEC’s Chief Accountant, Sagar Teotia, issued a Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (the “OCA Statement”).  The OCA Statement emphasizes that while the SEC Office of the Chief Accountant (“OCA”) appreciates the challenging environment that companies and their auditors face in attempting to comply with their financial reporting obligations due to COVID-19[1], and will not second-guess their reasonable judgments, OCA expects financial reporting to continue to “provide investors with high-quality financial information.”  The OCA Statement also reaffirms OCA’s views on the importance of gatekeepers by pointing out the critical need for auditor independence in this uncertain economic environment.  In addition to this general theme, the OCA Statement contains several notable points that will have implications for companies in the current situation, both in preparing their financial statements, and in taking steps to mitigate litigation and enforcement risk.
Continue Reading SEC Chief Accountant Weighs in on Accounting Issues During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly unfold, with breathtaking effects on everyday life barely imaginable just weeks ago, enforcement agencies have responded with pronouncements prioritizing investigations into COVID-19-related frauds and have proceeded with some significant non-COVID-19 law enforcement actions likely planned before the full impact of the pandemic could have been predicted.  At the same time, enforcement agencies are having to respond to the same practical challenges and constraints that the rest of society and other large organizations around the world face.  They, like the rest of us, are facing severe travel restrictions, learning to work remotely, and dealing with colleagues and family members who are sick from the virus.  Over the coming weeks and months, enforcement agencies will be managing the COVID-19-focused enforcement priorities and moving forward with their existing matters, while they deal with the practical realities and uncertainties presented by the pandemic.
Continue Reading Law Enforcement Priorities and Practicalities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 20, 2020, news outlets reported that four U.S. Senators sold millions of dollars in stock following classified briefings to the Senate on the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.  Three days later, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Division of Enforcement, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, issued a statement reminding market participants of their obligations with respect to material non-public information (“MNPI”) and of the SEC’s commitment to protecting investors from fraud and ensuring market integrity.[1]
Continue Reading Insider Trading Risk During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Update:  On March 25, the SEC issued a new order that supersedes the original order discussed below. The new order (1) extends the time period for the relief from April 30 to June 30 and implies that future extensions may be possible, and (2) removes the conditions that an adviser provide a brief description of why it could not meet the deadline and the estimated date by which it expects to file the relevant Form or deliver its Brochure.  Our blog post regarding the original order is below.
Continue Reading SEC Provides Relief to Investment Advisers From Form ADV and Form PF Obligations due to Coronavirus

On March 9, 2020, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) updated its guidance for broker-dealers’ pandemic-related business continuity plans (BCPs) and issued regulatory guidance and relief from some of their obligations in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.  FINRA made clear that Regulatory Notice 20-08 imposes no new rules or obligations on members and applies only to members’ obligations under FINRA’s rules and regulations and not those of other securities regulators.  Acknowledging the evolving nature of the crisis, FINRA also invited members to consult with the organization to address additional compliance challenges as they arise, noting that additional regulatory guidance and relief may be provided at a later date.  Finally, FINRA indicated that Regulatory Notice 20-08 will remain effective until a subsequent notice of cessation is published.
Continue Reading FINRA Issues Regulatory Notice 20-08 Providing Guidance and Regulatory Relief to Members Addressing COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Health Organization has now declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and as more businesses begin to face the impacts of quarantines and travel restrictions, they may find themselves managing unexpected legal risks.  Among those are risks related to communications with customers by sales and marketing functions.

Those businesses hardest hit in the initial stages of the crisis — e.g., cruise lines, airlines and hotels —  quickly face pressures that raise the risks of private litigation and government enforcement in connection with sales and marketing efforts.  For example, what assurances should sales representatives give in response to inquiries about the chances of contracting the virus in connection with the use of a product or service?  What information should be provided about safety measures being taken?  Do sales commission and incentive programs exacerbate the risks of non-compliant responses, and should they be suspended?
Continue Reading COVID-19 and the Compliance Risks Related to Sales and Marketing Practices