Earlier this month, FINRA issued a regulatory notice advising that it has proposed various changes to the rules relating to gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation.  If adopted, the proposal would amend FINRA Rule 3220 (the “Gifts Rule”) and would create two new rules, Rule 3221 (“Non-Cash Compensation”) and Rule 3222 (“Business Entertainment”).

The current Gifts Rule prohibits any FINRA member or associated person from giving anything of value in excess of $100.00 per year to any person, if such payment is connected with the business of the recipient’s employer.  Under the proposed revised Gifts Rule, the $100.00 limit would be increased to $175.00 per recipient per year.  The proposed increase is designed to account for the rate of inflation since the adoption of the original Gifts Rule.  The current requirements that all associated persons’ gifts must be consolidated with those of the member firm and that records be maintained with respect to all such gifts, will be continued in the new rule.  Continue reading

Pursuant to an order entered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) on June 14, 2016, the exemption contained under Rule 205-3 of the Investment Advisers Act (“Advisers Act”), which allows registered investment advisers to charge performance-based compensation to clients notwithstanding the general prohibition against same contained in Section 205(a)(1) of the Advisers Act, will be slightly modified.  This modification is the result of a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act (“Dodd Frank”) implementing a provision of that act under Rule 205-3, which requires the SEC to adjust the dollar amounts contained in the exemption for inflation and to round the adjustment to the nearest $100,000.00.  This adjustment must occur every five years.

Continue reading

 

Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) sanctioned a registered investment adviser and its managing member for violating the Investment Adviser’s Act of 1940 (“Adviser’s Act”) and for acting as an unregistered broker-dealer in connection with the services the adviser provided to a private fund that it managed and the fees charged for those services.

Blackstreet Capital Management, LLC (“Blackstreet”) serves as the manager of two private equity funds (the “Funds”).  In the Funds’ governing documents, Blackstreet disclosed to the Funds’ investors that it would charge fees for brokerage services rendered in connection with acquiring portfolio companies.  Blackstreet did, in fact, perform brokerage services including soliciting transactions, identifying buyers and sellers, negotiating and structuring transactions, arranging for financing, and executing transactions. In exchange for those services it received over $1.8 million.

Continue reading

Increased focus on cybersecurity by the Security Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) continues as it recently issued charges against Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (“Morgan Stanley”) for failing to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect confidential client information. These charges stemmed from a cybersecurity breach which began in 2011 and continued until 2014, resulting in the misappropriation of confidential client information in over 730,000 client accounts.

Broker-dealers and investment advisers are required pursuant to Regulation S-P and comparable regulation of the Federal Trade Commission to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect client records and information. These policies and procedures must address the administrative, technical, and physical safeguards in place, and must be reasonably designed to insure the security and confidentiality of client records and information, protect against unanticipated threats, and prevent unauthorized access.

Continue reading

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has frequently said that an investment adviser’s fiduciary duty requires an adviser to plan for unexpected disruptions in business. Consequently, advisers have developed business continuity plans as a “best practice” without necessarily being required to do so by rule.  Recently, however, the SEC proposed a rule that would require all SEC-Registered investment advisers to adopt and implement written business continuity and transition plans and to review them no less often than once per year.  The SEC also issued guidance for the baseline requirements that such plans should contain.

Continue reading

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently settled charges against a New Jersey private fund administrator, Apex Fund Services (“Apex”), for failing to notice or correct what it contended were clear indications of fraud by two of its clients, ClearPath Wealth Management (“ClearPath”) and EquityStar Capital Management (“EquityStar”). The SEC’s Division of Enforcement noted that Apex failed to “live up to its gatekeeper responsibility” and thereby enabled the fraudulent activities of these two investment advisers.

Apex provided accounting and administrative services to various private funds, including several managed by ClearPath and EquityStar. Its duties as fund administrator included keeping records, preparing financial statements, and preparing investor account statements. The SEC charged both ClearPath and EquityStar with securities fraud in enforcement actions, finding that ClearPath had allegedly misappropriated fund assets and used fund assets for unauthorized investments, and that EquityStar had allegedly made materially false and misleading statements to investors and prospective investors of its funds regarding undisclosed withdrawals of fund assets.

Continue reading

The Massachusetts Securities Division (the “Division”) recently issued a policy statement in which it stated, “It is the position of the Division that fully automated robo-advisers, as currently structured, may be inherently unable to carry out the fiduciary obligations of a state-registered investment adviser.”  According to the Division, robo-advisers are generally incapable of fulfilling their fiduciary obligations, principally because they do not meet with clients, gather sufficient information on which investment advice can be rendered, nor provide highly personalized advice tailored to the information gathered.  Continue reading

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently filed suit against a North Carolina investment adviser for allegedly defrauding investors in the sale of certain real estate-related investments in unregistered pooled investment vehicles. The adviser, Richard W. Davis Jr., solicited investors primarily from the Charlotte, North Carolina region and was able to raise approximately $11.5 million from 85 investors, the majority of which were individuals with retirement accounts. However, he allegedly failed to disclose to clients that the money in the funds was being steered towards several other entities beneficially owned by himself.

Davis allegedly told investors in one of his funds that the fund’s capital would be invested in short term fully secured loans to real estate developers. He allegedly failed to mention, however, that many of the real estate developers receiving these loans were companies owned and operated by himself, creating an inherent conflict of interest. Furthermore, the companies never repaid the loans in full and Davis allegedly failed to inform his investors of this or reappraise the value of the fund’s investment. Instead, Davis allegedly misrepresented the value of the pooled fund by repeatedly stating that it had not lost any value.

Continue reading

Last month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) suspended an Ameriprise registered representative for one year and fined him $50,000 for altering a record in the client relationship management (“CRM”) software that the adviser used in his Ameriprise office.  This enforcement case points to the dangers for broker-dealer representatives and registered investment adviser representatives alike, in editing or altering records relating to interactions with clients.

Continue reading

Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”), the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) must review the definition of “accredited investor” every four years to determine whether it needs to be modified or adjusted. The SEC staff recently conducted its first review and issued a Report on the Review of the Definition of “Accredited Investor.”

The report provides an in-depth examination of the history of the “accredited investor” definition and discusses possible alternative approaches. The report also responds to comments on the existing definition received from various financial services industry participants, including the Investor Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies. Lastly, the report provides recommendations for potential updates and/or modifications to the existing definition.

Continue reading