Is there SIPC Insurance for Futures Accounts?

SIPC Does Not Cover Futures Accounts at MF Global

The MF Global bankruptcy is creating a number of problems for managers with accounts at the firm. One question we have received from some managers is whether their client accounts are insured either through the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”) or through some sort of similar company.  Unfortunately there is no SIPC coverage for futures accounts and it is currently unclear how and when clients will find out whether they wil be made whole.  It is curious that there is no insurance for futures accounts given the Refco collapse in 2005, but with this bankruptcy, we are probably more likely to see calls for the creation some sort of SIPC-like insurance.

SIPC & What Losses are Insured

The following is a description of the SIPC from FINRA:

SIPC is a non-profit organization created in 1970 under the Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA) that provides limited coverage to investors on their brokerage accounts if their brokerage firm becomes insolvent. All brokerage firms that do business with the investing public are required to be members of SIPC. SIPC protection is limited. It covers the replacement of missing stocks and other securities up to $500,000, including $250,000 in cash claims. However, it does so only when a firm shuts down due to financial circumstances in which customer assets are missing—because of theft, conversion, or unauthorized trading—or are otherwise at risk because of the firm’s failure.

SIPC does not cover the following:

  • Ordinary market loss;
  • Investments in commodity futures, fixed annuities, currency, hedge funds or investment contracts (such as limited partnerships) that are not registered with the SEC; and
  • Accounts of partners, directors, officers or anyone with a significant beneficial ownership in the failed firm.

SIPC Moves Quickly & Makes Statement

The following was posted on the SIPC website on Monday:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 31, 2011 – The Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which maintains a special reserve fund authorized by Congress to help investors at failed brokerage firms, announced today that it is initiating the liquidation of MF Global Inc., under the Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA).

SIPC today filed an application with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for a declaration that the customers of MF Global Inc. are in need of the protections available under the SIPA.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the application and appointed James W. Giddens as trustee for the liquidation, and further appointed the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed as counsel to Mr. Giddens.

Orlan Johnson, board chairman of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), said: “When the customers of a failed SIPC member brokerage firm have left their securities in the custody of that firm, SIPC acts as quickly as possible to protect those customers. In this case, SIPC initiated the liquidation proceeding within hours of being notified by the SEC that a SIPC case was necessary to protect the investing public.”

While the SIPC is not insuring the accounts, they are involved with helping investors.  The following press release discusses the SIPC’s involvement in helping investors to transfer accounts:

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn approved a request to allow the transfer of certain segregated customer commodity positions from MF Global Inc. to one or more futures commission merchants (FCMs). The request was made by the trustee appointed by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation and oversee- ing the liquidation of MF Global Inc.

This action will allow for the transfer of approximately 50,000 client accounts, the substantial majority of which were cleared through the Chicago Mercantile Ex- change (CME). These transfers will unfreeze commodity positions with a notional value of $100 billion and represent a substantial position of all existing commod- ity accounts at MF Global Inc.

The notice above can be found on MF Global’s regulatory notices webpage.

Next Moves & Conclusion

Commodity pool operators who advise funds with accounts at MF Global should have already alerted investors in such funds.  For more information on this please see our post on the NFA Guidance re: MF Global.

Other persons who are interested in receiving more information about the liquidation and account transfer process should find the following websites helpful:

We will continue to provide updates on MF Global which we think will be helpful to our readers.  If you have specific questions, please feel free to send us questions and we will do our best to provide appropriate information through the blog.  As we mentioned above, we think that there is likely to some sort of regulatory fall-out from this and we believe that law makers will call for insurance for customer accounts.


Cole-Frieman & Mallon provides legal advice to FCMs, IBs, CTAs and CPOs.  Bart Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

2 thoughts on “Is there SIPC Insurance for Futures Accounts?

  1. robert eisenberg

    Hair-splitting Department question: Clearly, as you demonstrate, the SIPC does not cover “investments in commodity futures”. But is cash surplus in these futures accounts which–this sort of cash in particular–is a surplus, that is, not used for margins–Is that cash covered by the SIPC (to a given monetary limit)?

    1. Hedge Fund Lawyer Post author


      It is my understanding that it depends on where it is – if it is part of a firm’s brokerage arm then yes. If not, then no. This is why some in the futures industry are talking about sweeping unused margin into the brokerage arm overnight so that SIPC insurance would then apply. Cash would be then generally be swept back to the futures/margin account in the morning. It will be interesting to see how this ends up working out.


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