Articles Posted in Investment Adviser

The State of Wyoming recently enacted a statute that requires most investment advisers doing business in the state, and investment adviser representatives of those advisers, to register.  The law subjects the state law registrants to examination in Wyoming by the Secretary of State. Investment advisers who do not have a place of business in Wyoming but have had more than five Wyoming clients during the preceding twelve months are also required to register.  Solicitors for state-registered advisers will be required to register but are exempt from the examination requirements.

As a result of this new statute, investment advisers who are eligible for registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) because they manage more than $25 million in assets are now prohibited from registering with the SEC unless they also manage in excess of $100 million. The result is that “mid-sized advisers,” or advisers that register between $25 million and $100 million, are no longer required to register with the SEC. Continue reading

On June 2, 2017, Brian Sandoval, the Governor of Nevada, approved proposed amendments to a Nevada statute that regulates so-called “financial planners.”  According to the statute in question, a “financial planner” is “a person who for compensation advises others upon the investment of money or upon provision for income to be needed in the future, or who holds himself or herself out as qualified to perform either of these functions.”  Before the amendments, the statute carved out exclusions for investment advisers and broker-dealers from the definition of a financial planner.  The amendments, however, will remove those exclusions.  This will result in investment advisers and broker-dealers being identified as financial planners.  The amendments became effective on July 1, 2017.

The amendments will also result in investment advisers and broker-dealers having a fiduciary duty with respect to advice they give Nevada clients.  According to another Nevada statute, a financial planner must “disclose to a client, at the time advice is given, any gain the financial planner may receive… if the advice is followed.”  A financial planner is also required to make a comprehensive examination of each initial client and continually update information regarding a client’s financial situation and goals.

Investment advisers and broker-dealers with Nevada clients may also face potential liability if certain conditions are met.  Nevada law provides that if a client incurs losses after receiving advice from a financial planner, that client can recover from the financial planner if specified circumstances are present.  For a client to recover, it must be established that either the financial planner breached any part of his or her fiduciary duty, the financial planner was grossly negligent in choosing the method of action advised, in light of the client’s circumstances that the financial planner knew, or the financial planner broke any Nevada law in endorsing the investment or service.

On May 30, 2017, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered a final consent judgment against Marc D. Broidy (“Broidy”) and his investment advisory firm, Broidy Wealth Advisors, LLC (“BWA”).  The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) had filed a complaint alleging that Broidy and BWA “intentionally overbilled clients and used the excess fees to pay for, among other things, Broidy’s personal expenses.”  The complaint also alleged that Broidy converted assets from clients’ trusts, also for the purpose of paying personal expenses.

The SEC alleged that from about February 2011 to February 2016, Broidy and BWA overbilled approximately $643,000 in connection with advisory services to five clients.  The SEC also alleged that Broidy and BWA made conscious efforts to conceal the overbilling.  BWA’s Form ADV and Investment Advisory Contracts stated that clients would typically be billed anywhere from 1 percent to 1.5 percent of their assets under management on a quarterly basis.  However, Broidy and BWA charged clients significantly more than these percentages.  Continue reading

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently announced a proposal to amend Rules 203(l)-1 and 203(m)-1 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”). The purpose of these proposed amendments is to “reflect changes made by… the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (the “FAST Act”).” The FAST Act amended sections 203(l) and 203(m) of the Advisers Act to provide advisers to small business investment companies (“SBICs”), venture capital funds, and certain private funds with additional avenues to registration exemption.

SBICs are commonly defined as privately-owned investment companies that are licensed and regulated by the Small Business Administration (“SBA”). They typically provide a vehicle for funding small businesses through both equity and debt. Section 203(b)(7) of the Advisers Act provides that investment advisers who only advise SBICs are exempt from registration. Moreover, investment advisers who use the SBIC exemption are not obligated to comply with the Advisers Act’s reporting and recordkeeping provisions, and they are not subject to SEC examination. Continue reading

On January 13, 2017, the United States Supreme Court agreed to examine a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) ability to seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in fraud cases, including fraud cases involving investment advisers.  The case, Kokesh v. SEC, raises the issue of whether claims for disgorgement are subject to a five-year statute of limitations on civil penalties.  Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court in April.

The underlying case involves a New Mexico investment adviser named Charles R. Kokesh (“Kokesh”), who acted as an investment adviser to various funds organized as limited partnerships.  The SEC filed suit against Kokesh, alleging that from 1995 through 2006, Kokesh ordered the funds’ treasurer to take money from the funds to pay various expenses, including $23.8 million for salaries and bonuses to the funds’ officers, including Kokesh, $5 million for office rent, and $6.1 million characterized as “tax distributions.”  According to the Tenth Circuit, the payments violated the funds’ contracts because the contracts did not permit payments for salaries of the funds’ controlling persons, including Kokesh, until 2000.  The contracts also did not address bonus payments, and they only permitted payment of tax obligations if certain prerequisites were present.  A jury found that Kokesh violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, among other statutes, and the District Court ordered Kokesh to pay a $2.4 million civil penalty, plus disgorgement of $35 million based on amounts going back to 1995.

In response, Kokesh appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the disgorgement was a penalty subject to a five-year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  The SEC argued that the disgorgement was remedial and not punitive, and therefore not a penalty subject to the statute of limitations.  The Tenth Circuit agreed with the SEC and held that disgorgement was not a penalty.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a final rule delaying by 60 days the implementation date of the DOL Fiduciary Rule from April 10th to June 9th. This is in response to President Trump’s February memorandum asking the DOL to review the impact of the DOL Fiduciary Rule and assess whether it negatively effects the ability of retirement investors to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. The DOL Fiduciary Rule seeks to assign fiduciary duties to all advisers to retirement investors by expanding the definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to cover a wider array of advice relationships.

Under the DOL’s final delay rule, the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and certain provisions of the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption will be implemented on June 9th. At that time, advisers acting as fiduciaries and engaging in transactions covered by the exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standards of the BIC exemption. The impartial conduct standards include providing investment advice in the best interest of the retirement investor, receiving only reasonable compensation, and not making any materially misleading statements. Continue reading

On March 8, 207, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Voya Financial Advisors, Inc. (“Voya”), an SEC-registered investment adviser.  The Order, to which Voya consented, obligates Voya to pay disgorgement of $2,621,324, prejudgment interest of $174,629.78, and a civil money penalty of $300,000.

The SEC’s Order claims that Voya did not inform its clients that it was receiving compensation from a third-party broker-dealer and that these receipts created a conflict of interest.  Section 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) states that investment advisers are forbidden from participating in “any transaction, practice, or course of business which operates as a fraud or deceit upon any client or prospective client.”  Section 207 provides that investment advisers are not allowed to “make any untrue statement of a material fact in any registration application or report filed with the Commission, or to omit to state in any such application or report any material fact which is required to be stated therein.”  Finally, Rule 206(4)-7 under the Adviser’s Act compels investment advisers to “[a]dopt and implement written policies and procedures, reasonably designed to prevent violation” of the Adviser’s Act and the rules thereunder. Continue reading

On February 2, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against Sentinel Growth Fund Management, LLC (“Sentinel”), an investment adviser, and its founder, Mark J. Varrachi (“Varrachi”).  The complaint alleges that from about December 2015 to November 2016, Varacchi and Sentinel stole $3.95 million or more from investment advisory clients.  The complaint asks that the District Court impose a permanent injunction against Varacchi and Sentinel, order them to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, and order them to pay civil penalties.

Neither Sentinel nor Varrachi was registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or with any state regulatory authority.  However, the SEC charged both of them with violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  The SEC found that Sentinel was “in the business of providing investment advice concerning securities for compensation,” which fits the definition of an investment adviser in Section 202(a)(11) of the Advisers Act.  As for Varrachi, the SEC determined that because he owned and managed Sentinel, he too was an investment adviser.  As a result of meeting the definition of an investment adviser, Sentinel and Varrachi were subject to the Advisers Act’s antifraud provisions. Continue reading

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued new guidance regarding the Custody Rule and inadvertent custody of client assets in the form of a No-Action Letter on standing letters of authorization (SLOAs) and a Guidance Update on custodial contract authority. This guidance comes in the wake of the recent SEC Risk Alert identifying most frequent compliance issues found in examinations of registered investment advisers and listing custody as one of these most frequent compliance issues.

The Custody Rule, or Rule 206(4)-2, provides that it is a fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act within the meaning of section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 for a registered investment adviser to have custody of client assets unless certain requirements are met. One of these requirements is an annual surprise examination requirement, although this requirement does not apply if the investment adviser solely has custody as a result of its authority to make advisory fee deductions. Continue reading

On January 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued ten Orders Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Orders”) against ten investment advisory firms.  In each of its Orders, the SEC alleges that each investment advisory firm gave money to campaigns for politicians who, if elected, would have the power to determine the choice of investment advisers to oversee government assets, and subsequently gave investment advisory services to public pension funds.  According to the SEC, these actions constituted violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).

Rule 206(4)-5(a)(1), commonly known as the Pay-to-Play Rule, provides that investment advisers who are registered with the SEC, foreign private advisers, and exempt reporting advisers are not permitted to provide “investment advisory services for compensation to a government entity within two years after a contribution to an official of a government entity made by the investment adviser or any covered associate of the investment adviser.”  This rule applies regardless of whether the investment adviser or covered person intended to sway the official.  According to the SEC’s Orders, five of the investment advisory firms were SEC-registered investment advisers, while the remaining five were exempt reporting advisers.  Thus, all ten of the investment advisory firms were subject to the provisions of Rule 206(4)-5(a)(1). Continue reading