This is the second in a series of articles from Comada on the subject of custody risk.
The challenge for custodians in safekeeping alternative assets like hedge funds is that there is no Central Securities Depository they can rely on. For conventional securities, CSDs exist to help investors and custodians by providing an easily accessible record of securities owned. Historically, the CSD would take delivery of physical share certificates – today an electronic registry is maintained which allows investors and company registrars to keep track of who owns what.
For the vast bulk of hedge funds, which are not actively traded on stock exchanges, there is no CSD. Nor is there a broker to broker network like the Depository Trust Company’s National Securities Clearing Corporation. Custodians are therefore forced on a monthly basis to request statements of hedge fund holdings from the transfer agents who maintain funds’ registers of shareholders. The problem with this is that there is a large universe of TAs in the market, each acting for only a small portion of the total universe of hedge funds.