Steve Cohen has a new mantra: better to be safe than sorry.
Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management is taking extra precautions to guard against wrongdoing after Cohen’s predecessor hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, was shut down for insider trading.
Vincent “Vinny” Tortorella, a cheery Italian-American and former federal prosecutor, is the man charged with the task, having taken over as head of Point72’s compliance and surveillance unit in 2014.
Cohen has given Tortorella a blank check to do whatever it takes to keep the firm straight, including an investigative team of more than 50 staffers, including ex-federal agents who track any potential rumors of wrongdoing – both at Point72 and at competitors.
It’s a proactive, rather than reactive, strategy, Tortorella told Business Insider in an interview over lunch in Manhattan. Tortorella was accompanied by two of Cohen’s in-house public relations pros, also another key to his firm’s makeover.
Before the insider trading investigation at Visium Asset Management became public earlier this year, for instance, Point72 put a ban on hiring those who’d recently worked there on the investment side, Business Insider previously reported.
Visium isn’t the only firm Point72 has banned, either. Tortorella declined to say who else made the list and when exactly the Visium ban came into effect.
Point72’s Visium ban contrasts with its hedge fund rivals. Ken Griffin’s Citadel, for instance, recently swooped up about 17 traders from one of Visium’s funds. Lombard Odier and Caxton Associates also hired Visium traders. The portfolio managers appear to have worked at Visium’s global fund, a multisector equity fund that wasn’t named in regulators’ charges.
Reps for Citadel declined to comment, and Lombard Odier and Caxton didn’t respond.
- Reuters/ Steve Marcus
Point72 has good reason to keep strict protocol. The Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013 shut down its $16 billion predecessor, SAC Capital, banning the hedge fund from managing outside money. Cohen’s hedge fund pleaded guilty to securities fraud and he subsequently launched Point72 as a family office to run his billions of wealth. A Cohen-led organization can accept outside investors’ money again in 2018.
Since then, Cohen’s firm has been beefing up its compliance.
“This can’t ever happen again,” Cohen told Tortorella when he hired him in 2014, Tortorella said.
The effort hasn’t come cheap.
Cohen gave Tortorella veto powers on any potential hire, and Tortorella has used it on potential staffers who would likely have made major money for Point72. The cost of running Tortorella’s team, which has grown by about 50% in the last two years, also comes to tens of millions of dollars a year, Tortorella said.
Point72’s in-house surveillance team has, on occasion, fired employees who fell out of line, too. For instance, Point72 has restrictions on trading in personal accounts, and requires disclosure. Point72 fired an employee who hid a secret account.
Many in the industry scorn personal trading for the conflicts of interest that arise when traders make investments for themselves rather than for the firm.
Coincidentally, this was also an issue at Visium, where the founder, Jake Gottlieb, made a lucrative bet for himself on a trade the flagship fund also made, Business Insider reported last month. It’s unclear if regulators are looking into that trade.
- Reuters/ Rick Wilking
Other measures narrow the flow of info that Tortorella and his team have to sort through in tracking its traders. Tortorella banned instant messaging for analysts and portfolio managers, for instance. Data spying software also helps his team pick through huge flows of information.
Tortorella’s team also watches how traders source their investments, such that a trader needs to back up how he or she got every piece of info leading up to a decision, Tortorella said.
Point72 isn’t the first hedge fund that Tortorella has been tasked with monitoring.
He spent three and a half years at New York hedge fund Coatue Management as head of proprietary research and general counsel. Before that, he was the chief operating officer and general counsel at Guidepoint, an expert network, and a federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice’s criminal division from 2004 to 2008.
The experience has given him a theory about who tends to commit insider trading.
It’s not the best investors who are cheating, he said. It’s those who are trying to keep their heads above water.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Point72 had banned trading in personal accounts. It has not. It has restrictions in place, and requires disclosure.