The Alabama Legislature passed a crowdfunding exemption bill this April, but the bill is still awaiting the Governor’s signature to become effective. Alabama is the eleventh state to enact legislation or develop regulations on this topic. Other states that have adopted crowdfunding exemption bills include, Washington, Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Maryland, and Maine.

Similar to the approach taken by other states, Alabama’s new legislation is intended to unlock capital and increase access to it for local small businesses and entrepreneurs. While it is still uncertain how successful state measures such as these will be in achieving the goal of increased capital access, the ability of small business owners to raise capital should be enhanced through the relaxation of some of the previous constraints. It is important to note, however, that regulatory agencies will require strict adherence to the new standards in return for less-regulated access to capital. Businesses using the Alabama crowdfunding exemption, and other, similar state exemptions, bear the burden of ensuring its sale of unregistered securities does not run afoul of restrictions governing them.
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Earlier this month, the SEC approved FINRA’s rule change addressing the limitation and monitoring of self-trading in SEC Release No. 34-72067. FINRA Rule 5210 will put restrictions on self-trading activity that occurs as a result from one or related algorithms or that originate in one or related trading desks. Self-trading, as used by FINRA, does not result in a change in beneficial ownership and may or may not be a bona fide trade. The agency believes that self-trading, even conducted without fraudulent or manipulative intent, may be disruptive to the marketplace and distort information on a given security. The agency points to data it has collected that show self-trading of this kind may account for five percent or more of a security’s daily trading volume.

The rule, in its amended form, is designed to provide FINRA with increased ability to monitor and limit the “unintentional” interaction of orders that come from the same firm. This issue is apart from any self-trading that are the products of fraudulent or manipulative design. Rather, FINRA’s rule will attempt to limit the misleading impact that this unintentional self-trading has on marketplace data and trade volume of a security.
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On April 3, 2014, the SEC asked for comments on proposed Rule 33-9570, titled “Investment Company Advertising: Target Date Retirement Fund Names and Marketing.” The SEC had originally proposed and accepted comments on this rule in 2010, but it never took action on the proposal. “Target date funds” are a hybrid of stocks, bonds and cash, designed for a specified time-frame which is dependent on the particular investor. For example, someone planning for retirement in 2030 might have a target date fund set for that date.

The Dodd-Frank act, passed by Congress in 2012, created an Investor Advisory Committee within the SEC to offer recommendations to the SEC on various issues such as regulation of securities products, regulatory priorities, fee structures, and other initiatives to protect investor interests. The committee is authorized to submit their findings to the SEC for review and consideration. On April 11, 2013 the Committee issued recommendations regarding target date funds.

The recommendations suggested by the Committee include:

i) alterations to the fund’s “glide path illustration;”
ii) adoption of a standard methodology for designing these illustrations;
iii) increased prospectus disclosures;
iv) marketing materials requirements; and
v) expanded fee disclosures.
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On January 30, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission hosted a compliance outreach program for investment companies and investment advisors. The national seminar, which was jointly sponsored by the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations and the Asset Management Unit of the Division of Enforcement, was held at the SEC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The seminar outlined the priorities of SEC Divisions or Programs as well as general regulatory priorities of the SEC in the coming years. These priorities included the Wrap-Fee Programs, General Solicitation under the JOBS Act, Cybersecurity, and IABD Harmonization. One program of note that will be taking on more importance over the next two years is the Examination Initiative. The National Examination Program intends to review a substantial percentage of registrants that have not had an examination in the last three years. These examinations will take the shape of either a Risk Assessment Exam or a Presence Exam.
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