SEC Division of Examinations’ guidelines for 2021

Published on March 11, 2021 by Rekha Narasimhan and Sumana Das

While COVID-19 vaccines raise hope for a better tomorrow, the regulators continue to evaluate and enhance regulations to protect investors and uphold the integrity of financial markets.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) Division of Examinations announced 2021 examination priorities recently, with increased focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) and climate-related risks. For many, ESG brings to mind typical environmental issues; in a broad sense, ESG factors provide a holistic framework to understand an organisation’s environmental responsibilities, workforce practices, product sustainability, and governance matters that include compensation, ethics and compliance, and data security. Hence, an enhanced focus on ESG- and climate-related risks demonstrates a holistic approach to meeting the overall examination guidelines.

Statistics on the SEC’s enforcement actions highlight the need for every company to have a robust compliance programme in place. This was explicitly stated in the SEC’s Risk Alert in November 2020, where the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) indicated the need for sufficient compliance resources and annual internal reviews.


An overview of the 2021 examination priorities

Anti-money-laundering (AML) programmes:

Financial institutions, including broker-dealers are required to establish AML programmes, in line with Section 352 of the USA Patriot Act. The Division will examine whether the registered firms have sufficient AML policies in place and are adhering to them. This helps identify and control suspicious and illegal activities related to money laundering.

The London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) transition:

Registered firms using LIBOR will be in focus this year. The Division will assess these firms on their overall preparedness to adapt to using the alternative reference rate after the scheduled discontinuation of LIBOR due to rates decreasing significantly in recent years and interest rate manipulation.

Focus on investment advisers, broker-dealers and municipal advisers:

What should you do next?

The following is a list of activities that would prepare your organisation for an examination by the regulators:

Acuity Knowledge Partners’ perspective:

Acuity Knowledge Partners’ solution is to create an approach that cultivates an ecosystem of controls that are dynamic, robust and proficient. Through this, we aim to address risk at all levels of your company. We review and identify gaps in compliance programmes, address requirements of regulators and create unique solutions with our state-of-the-art technology teams. With our focused set of offerings in the areas of corporate compliance, forensic analysis, compliance testing, monitoring programmes, risk trend analysis and risk mitigation, we customise and design reviews dedicated to mitigating your company’s risks, keeping the latest regulatory expectations in mind. A well-thought-through approach — from initial analysis to end documentation and recommendation — will provide you with a holistic view of your business’s risks and build its resilience to any threat.

Originally published at

About the Authors

Rekha Narasimhan, Senior Associate, Compliance, has over 10 years of industry experience in the area of Risk and Compliance. Her expertise spans across Anti Money Laundering compliance and Electronic Communication Surveillance. She is associated with Acuity for the last two years. Prior to joining Acuity, she was associated with Goldman Sachs and HCL Capital Market Services. She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration, specializing in finance. At Acuity Knowledge Partners, she is part of Corporate and Forensic Compliance team and specializes in Electronic Communication Surveillance.

Sumana, Analyst, is a corporate compliance professional with 2+ years of experience in code of ethics, monitoring and surveillance, AML-KYC. She holds PGDM in Operation and Marketing from Ramaiah Institute of Management.



We write about financial industry trends, the impact of regulatory changes and opinions on industry inflection points.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Acuity Knowledge Partners

We write about financial industry trends, the impact of regulatory changes and opinions on industry inflection points.