Articles Posted in Investment Adviser

In a closely-watched move, the SEC voted 3-2 this past Wednesday to expand the definition of an “accredited investor” to include both state-registered and SEC-registered investment advisers with $5 million or more in assets. Accredited investors are those who are permitted to purchase unregistered securities such as those typically sold in a private placement. The current definition includes individuals or married couples with $1 million or more in investments and individuals with $200,000 in annual income or total income with a spouse of $300,000.

Also added to the definition are individuals who hold Series 7, 65, and 82 licenses. Those correspond to examinations for the general securities agent or representative, the investment adviser representative, and the private placement agent, respectively. “Knowledgeable employees” of a private fund are now also accredited investors. In addition to the new categories included, the Commission established a framework whereby additional categories of sophisticated investors can be added to the definition over time.

The Commission also voted not to adjust upward for inflation, the traditional wealth-based definition of “accredited investor.” The issue exposes a fundamental debate about the adequacies of protections that currently exist in the private securities market, as well as issues of class-based access to markets.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently published its sixth risk alert on cybersecurity since 2014. In this alert, the SEC focused on how its regulated firms protect themselves against ransomware risk. I previously wrote about the SEC’s last risk alert on ransomware here.

Ransomware is malware that stops a user from accessing either part or all of the data within their network or other systems until a ransom is paid. For ransomware to be effective, it must gain access to network data in some form or fashion, usually through user error, such as a user clicking a link, downloading a file, or doing something else which affirmatively provides the ransomware access to data. From there, the hacker typically encrypts data and demands payment to unencrypt it.

There are varying studies, but up to 90% of financial services firms, including investment advisers, broker-dealers and investment companies, report that they have been targeted by ransomware. The SEC also reports that these targeted attacks have gotten more sophisticated in nature over the last few years, which necessitates greater allocation of resources from firms to protect themselves.

Earlier this week, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued a risk alert in which it discussed ongoing deficiencies identified during compliance examinations of investment advisers that advise private funds. This risk alert follows on the heels of other SEC activity relating to private fund advisers, including enforcement referrals, deficiency letters, and informal guidance.

The deficiencies discussed in the risk alert fall into three broad categories: disclosures relating to fees; disclosures relating to conflicts of interests; and sufficiency of a firm’s policies relating to nonpublic material information and its internal enforcement of such policies. The purpose of this risk alert was to provide guidance to private fund advisers regarding steps they should take to improve their compliance policies and program, while simultaneously advising investors in private funds of the types of issues to be aware of when dealing with private fund advisers. Many investors in private funds are pensions or other qualified retirement plans, charities and endowments, and families who have family offices.

This blog post focuses on the portion of the risk alert relating to fees and expenses. Continue reading ›

Through updates to the Frequently Asked Questions maintained on its website, the Small Business Administration announced that it has extended the safe harbor date previously announced in Question 31 from May 7, 2020 to May 14, 2020, and that it intends to issue updated guidance relating to the safe harbor before May 14.

By way of background, on April 23, 2020 the SBA issued guidance relating to the certification that must be made by any applicant for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Specifically, the SBA advised all applicants to consider the truthfulness of the certification in the application regarding the need for the loan to support business operations. The answer to question 31 clarified that all borrowers must carefully consider whether, in light of their current business and access to capital, the loan is necessary, provided the capital is available in a way that would not substantially impair the business. The SBA granted a “safe harbor” by which anyone who had received funds through a PPP loan will be deemed to have made the loan certification in good faith if they return the funds on or before May 7, 2020. A few days later the SBA made it clear that the answer to Question 31 applied to private as well as public companies, through the addition of Question and Answer 37.

The entire process has been sloppy and uncertain. Even the original certification required is vague.  What exactly does it mean that a loan is necessary “to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” This question could have been avoided through the development of more thorough, objectively measurable eligibility standards, rather than through such a scatter gun approach.

As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” This expression is commonly used in the investment world to mean that in bull markets, all portfolios tend to rise, no matter how poorly constructed. However, when the market changes directions sharply, as it has over the last thirteen trading days, poorly constructed portfolios sink more precipitously than the overall market.

The stock market has never before plunged by 18% off of its all-time high over such a short time frame. The main driver of the decline had been, prior to this week, concern over the impact that the spreading Coronavirus will have on the US economy. On Monday, March 9, however, news of an oil trade war caused a further, more precipitous decline. But the 18% decline in the market in the last few trading days represents the broad equity markets. Investors whose portfolios are overconcentrated in individual stocks or market sectors are experiencing even worse declines. To continue the boat metaphor, some portfolios will be sunk or will crash against the rocks. Continue reading ›

A federal court in the Southern District of New York is currently considering a motion filed last month that would overturn a jury verdict convicting a former Forex Trader at JP Morgan, Akshay Aiyer, of conspiring to rig bids in Forex transactions. The motion argues that the testimony of alleged co-conspirators Christopher Cummins of Citigroup and Jason Katz of Barclays was unreliable and false, and should not serve as a valid basis for the conviction.

Another aspect of the case that should be of interest to compliance officers of financial services firms was the role that text messages and group chats played in the trial of Mr. Aiver. During the trial in November 2019, Mr. Cummins testified that he and defendant Aiyer communicated via text message and private chat rooms in order to avoid being caught by the banks’ compliance personnel. Cummins pled guilty in 2017 but testified as a cooperating witness for the U.S. Justice Department in the case against Aiyer.

The cases against the US traders are only a part of a larger scheme involving other banks as well. In May 2017, the European Union levied fines totaling €1.7 Billion on Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland and Mitsubishi UFJ. The only firm not fined by the EU was UBS, who first detected and reported the fraudulent scheme. The importance of being able to monitor and detect these types of communications cannot be ignored.

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The SEC’s Divisions of Investment Management and Trading & Markets have issued guidance in the form of a set of Frequently Asked Questions (or “FAQs”) addressing the upcoming implementation of the newly-created SEC Form CRS Relationship Summary (“Form CRS”).

As previously profiled on this blog, Form CRS is a new SEC disclosure document that will be applicable to both RIAs and broker/dealers offering services to retail investors. Indeed, for RIAs, the new Form CRS will function as a new Part 3 to the RIA’s existing Form ADV. The purpose of Form CRS is to summarize basic information about the firm’s services, fees, and costs, as well as its conflicts of interest and material disciplinary events. As noted, Form CRS obligations only arise for firms dealing with “retail investors,” which the SEC defines as “natural persons” or their legal representatives, who seek to receive or receive services “primarily for personal, family or household purposes.” Full implementation of Form CRS is slated for June 30, 2020.

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As discussed in our most recent posting on this blog, the SEC has proposed a wholesale rewrite of its existing advertising and cash solicitation rules. While that last post delved into the specifics of the SEC’s proposed amendment of its advertising rule, in this installment, we take up the Commission’s plans for revamping its cash solicitation rule.

The SEC’s Release No. IA-5407, published on November 4th, aims to modernize both rules to reflect the dramatic changes seen in technology and the advisory industry since the initial adoption of these rules decades ago. While just a proposal for now, it offers the best view into what any ultimate final rules will probably look like. At this stage, RIAs and other industry participants are closely reviewing both proposed rules, and many will be submitting public comments to the SEC as permitted pursuant to the Commission’s public comment process. While the public comment process runs a fixed 60 days, the ultimate publication of final rules is at the SEC’s discretion.

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On November 4th, the SEC released for public comment proposed replacements to its decades-old advertising and cash solicitation rules. The proposed rules, which are accompanied by almost 500 pages of explanatory text, are now subject to the SEC’s “notice and comment” process, whereby interested persons will have 60 days to file comments to the SEC, after which time the SEC will likely issue final versions of the new rules. While the content of the final rules ultimately adopted by the SEC may differ substantially from the versions now being circulated, the current proposals are the most likely outcome at this point in time and offer valuable insight into the SEC’s thinking in this area.

According to the SEC, both the advertising and cash solicitation rules are ripe for updates and modernization as a result of “changes in technology, the expectations of investors seeking advisory services, and the evolution of industry practices.” Notably, the advertising rule (Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-1) has been largely untouched since its adoption in 1961. Likewise, the cash solicitation rule (Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-3) has not been amended since its adoption in 1979. In this installment of our blog, we will outline some of the more salient points of the SEC’s proposal to replace the advertising rule. Look for our discussion of the proposed cash solicitation rule amendment in an upcoming post.

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In a recent administrative order, the Securities Division (the “Division”) of the South Carolina Office of the Attorney General has adopted a new exemption from investment adviser registration for private fund advisers. This move is significant as, until now, South Carolina was one of fewer than 10 states not providing some form of exemptive relief to private fund advisers. New private fund advisers seeking to set up operations in South Carolina may utilize the new exemption immediately. Additionally, existing private fund advisers currently registered with the Division may invoke the exemption and de-register so long as such advisers are in compliance with the exemption’s provisions and all other applicable law. As the southeastern United States has become an increasingly popular venue for private fund advisers in recent years, South Carolina’s new exemption should be well-received by the private capital industry.

As noted, most states exempt private fund advisers from registration obligations arising under those states’ “Blue Sky” investment advisory laws. Such obligations arise as a result of the fund manager (typically a separate legal entity serving as the fund’s General Partner or Managing Member) exercising control over and managing the fund’s securities portfolio. In other words, because the fund manager has discretionary authority to manage the fund’s investment portfolio, and receives compensation for this service (typically in the form of a management fee and a performance allocation), the fund manager generally satisfies the definition of an “investment adviser” under prevailing law.

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