…not the biological kind that infest beds, but listening devices.
According to the Financial Times, security firms in the New York City area are experiencing a surge in requests by hedge funds to have their offices and, in some cases, the homes of key firm members, swept for hidden surveillance devices. This is apparently the hedge fund response to the continuing stream of arrests of industry employees on charges of insider trading. In many cases, the SEC and FBI have cited, as justifications for the arrests, recordings of telephone calls they have made, in which the arrested parties either receive or solicit inside information that they subsequently trade on.
not so smart
This security sweep activity is more than a little crazy. But it does illustrate two things, I think:
–the fact that the SEC/FBI tactic of making fresh arrests every few days instead of doing everything at once is having its desired effect of instilling fear into the hedge fund community, and
–it gives us some insight into the character of the management of at least some hedge funds–not that we necessarily needed this confirmation.
Why is it crazy?
First of all, the cases I’ve read about have involved a cooperating individual telephoning into hedge fund offices from, say, his home or the local FBI office and trying to get the recipient of the call to make incriminating statements. In all these cases, the recording is done at the caller’s location. A sweep for hidden spying devices, like in movies about the Cold War, would find nothing.
Second, legal wiretapping would be done from the telephone company premises, not from the hedge fund offices. Same result–a sweep finds nothing.
Finally, the people who run security agencies are mostly former police officers, or FBI or Secret Service agents. Part of their stock in trade is the cordial relations they maintain with their former colleagues. It would be hard to believe that the FBI doesn’t have a complete list of the hedge funds who have called to have their offices swept (talk about dumb).
says something about the industry, though
At least part of this panicked reaction is hedge fund managers seeing what happens to assets under management when someone in a firm is accused of insider trading–the assets are immediately yanked by clients. But it also shows the lack of organization, or the immaturity, of the firms in question.
what to do?
What should hedge funds be doing? I have two observations–really three:
top management sets the tone
In any firm, all employees look to the top management for cues on what acceptable performance is. If the boss signals that it’s ok to lie, cheat and steal to get performance, regular employees will likely respond by doing so. Academic research suggests that a significant proportion of hedge funds do this–that they’re are willing to exaggerate their education, experience and performance to try to attract clients (look under my “hedge fund” tag for evidence). In my mind, such firms are lost causes.
compliance training is key
In the SEC-regulated world, all investment professionals are required to have periodic training in compliance, that is, on the ins and outs of securities laws and the standards of conduct they require. The fact of this training, and the care management takes in organizing and conducting it, goes a long way to set the ethical tone of a firm. In fact, to my mind this is the fastest way for a top management to set standards for behavior.
bug sweeps send a bad message
What message does sweeping the office for bugs send to employees? I don’t know exactly, but it certainly isn’t that the firm is highly ethical and has nothing to hide.