On April 23, 2024, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued a final rule that drastically changes the employment landscape by banning most types of noncompete provisions nationwide and rendering some existing ones unenforceable. The rule was adopted following a review of the non-competition landscape by the FTC. That review of noncompetes and their impact on the employment market and US economy was extensive. The FTC estimated that 1 in 5 Americans are subject to noncompetes as part of their employment.[i] In total, the FTC received over 26,000 comments regarding the proposed ban on noncompetes, over 25,000 commentors supported the proposed ban on noncompetes.[ii] Continue reading ›

On April 12, 2024, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced they had settled charges against 5 registered investment advisers for violations of the SEC’s Marketing Rule. The announcement follows prior enforcement actions for similar violations, which we have previously addressed: SEC Fines 9 RIAs for Marketing Rule Violations, SEC Fines Adviser Under New Marketing Rule, and SEC Announces Examinations Under New Marketing Rule.

Collectively, the 5 investment advisers, GeaSphere LLC; Bradesco Global Advisors Inc.; Credicorp Capital Advisors LLC; InSight Securities Inc., and Monex Asset Management Inc., were censured, ordered to cease and desist from further violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and pay civil penalties ranging from $20,000 to $100,000.

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Last month, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released notice of a proposed rule that would impose new requirements on certain investment advisers under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Specifically, the new rule would include some advisers within the rule’s definition of “financial institution,” thereby bringing those new advisers within the scope of the rule, which sets out requirements for complying with the US Treasury Department’s counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering (collectively, “AML”) program.  FinCen proposed a similar rule in 2015, but that rule never became effective.

This proposed rule is another step in a larger effort by FinCen to collect more relevant information that would allow for better AML enforcement and follows on the heels of the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), which became effective on January 1, 2024. The CTA requires most US companies to submit reports relating to the beneficial ownership of the company. The impetus for the new rule proposal, according to a statement issued by FinCEN’s director, is the concern that foreign adversaries may be taking advantage of vulnerabilities within the US financial system, and a recognition that, collectively, US advisers manage many trillions of dollars. Continue reading ›

In connection with its recently proposed amendment to the definition of investment advice fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) also released a proposed amendment to PTE 2020-02: Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees.

Under PTE 2020-02 Financial Institutions and Investment Professionals, which includes investment advisers and their representatives, can receive compensation for recommending certain transactions to Retirement Investors (i.e., a plan, plan fiduciary, plan participant or beneficiary, IRA, IRA owner or beneficiary or IRA fiduciary) which would otherwise violate the prohibited transaction rules under ERISA and the Code.

Requirements include complying with certain Impartial Conduct Standards (i.e., providing advice that is in the best interest of the Retirement Investor, receiving only reasonable compensation, and avoiding materially misleading statements), providing certain disclosures, adopting policies and procedures, conducting an annual retrospective review, and maintaining records of compliance for six years. Continue reading ›

This past October the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed amendment to the definition of investment advice fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Investment advice fiduciaries must generally avoid engaging in certain prohibited transactions absent an exemption. In connection with this proposed amendment, the DOL also released proposed amendments to class prohibited transaction exemptions (PTEs) available to investment advice fiduciaries, including PTE 2020-02 and PTE 84-24.

Whether an individual is providing fiduciary investment advice under ERISA and the Code is currently determined by the DOL’s five-part test set forth in its 1975 regulation. Generally, a person will be deemed to be rendering fiduciary investment advice if: 1) the person renders advice to a  plan or IRA (including plan participants or beneficiaries) as to the value of, or advisability of investing in, securities or other property; 2) on a regular basis; 3) pursuant to a mutual agreement with the plan or IRA; 4) that the advice will serve as a primary basis for investment decisions with respect to plan or IRA assets; and 5) that the advice will be individualized based on the particular needs of the plan or IRA.[1] Section 3(21)(A)(ii) of ERISA and section 4975(e)(3)(B) of the Code further provide that this investment advice must be “for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect.” Continue reading ›

With the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) once again recently released results from the enforcement program, covering November 2022 through October 2023. The release included cumulative totals and highlighted individual cases and enforcement areas of concentration. The annual release serves as a roadmap for where the SEC is spending its resources, and what conduct will likely lead to enforcement actions.

During fiscal year 2023, the SEC’s Enforcement Division filed 3% more total enforcement actions than during 2022. This included an 8% increase in “stand-alone,” or original actions, along with increases in the number of “follow-on” administrative proceedings. These “follow-on” actions are typically filed after an associated criminal, civil, or other regulatory action, and look to impact an individual’s ability to conduct business in the securities industry.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently released the 2024 Examination Priorities from the Division of Examinations, formerly known as the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. This annual release provides insight into the areas that the SEC plans to highlight when examining investment advisers, investment companies, and broker-dealers during the coming year.

As more advisers have returned to the office, the SEC has ramped up its in-person examinations while also leveraging technologies and virtual options to increase the efficiency of the examination program. Going forward, many advisers may experience a blend of in-person and virtual portions of an examination.

For FY24 examinations, the SEC will place a significant focus on how advisers abide by their duty of care and duty of loyalty under their fiduciary standard. Under this focus, the SEC will place an emphasis on (1) the advice provided to clients for complex or illiquid products, (2) the adviser’s process for ensuring that advice is provided in the client’s best interest, (3) how the adviser addresses conflicts of interests, including economic incentives, and (4) how disclosures are made to clients and prospective clients regarding all materials facts necessary for the clients to make informed decisions. Continue reading ›

Last week, the SEC brought and simultaneously settled nine (9) administrative enforcement actions against separate RIAs for violating Rule 206(4)-1, the “Marketing Rule,” and specifically the restrictions relating to the use of hypothetical performance. The firms were Artemis Wealth Advisors, LLC; Trowbridge Capital Partners, LLC; MRA Advisory Group; McElhenny Sheffield Capital Management, LLC; Macroclimate, LLC; Linden Thomas Advisory Services, LLC; Hansen & Associates Financial Group, Inc.; Elm Partners Management, LLC; BTS Asset Management Inc. and Banorte Asset Management, Inc.

The sanctioned advisory firms all continued to advertise the returns of model portfolios beyond the November 2022 mandatory compliance date without implementing procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the new rule. For instance, the firms failed to implement policies and procedures designed to ensure that the performance was relevant to the likely financial situation and investment objectives of the intended audience. Continue reading ›

The SEC’s Division of Examinations recently released general guidance, in the form of a Risk Alert, for how the registered investment adviser examination program operates, how examination targets are selected, and how the scope of examinations is determined.

With over 15,000 investment advisers registered with the SEC, the SEC has developed a risk-based approach for determining what investment advisers are selected for examination and the depth of the subsequent exam. This risk-based process has allowed the SEC to examine approximately 15% of the registered investment adviser population over the last few years, even as the population of SEC registered has increased by 13% over the last three years.[1]

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On August 21, 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an order imposing civil monetary penalties against Titan Global Capital Management USA LLC (“Titan”) for violations of the new investment adviser Marketing Rule, Rule 206(4)-1. The new rule had a mandatory compliance date of November 4, 2022, but advisers could voluntarily adopt the rule sooner. 

Titan elected to comply with the new rule in June 2021; however, the firm did not adopt new policies and procedures or adapt its practices as required by the new rule. Between August 2021 and October 2022, Titan violated the new Marketing Rule by advertising hypothetical performance without adopting policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure the hypothetical performance was relevant to client’s or prospective client’s financial situation and investment objectives and also by failing to provide information underlying the hypothetical performance as required by the new rule.  Continue reading ›

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