Articles Tagged with 12b-1 Fees

In February, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division announced the Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative (the “SCSD Initiative”), encouraging investment advisers to self-report violations of federal securities laws. Specifically, the SEC is concerned with protecting advisory clients from undisclosed conflicts of interest related to 12b-1 fees charged by advisers. The SEC requests that investment advisers self-report violations of the federal securities laws relating to certain mutual fund share class selection issues prior to June 12, 2018, in exchange for more lenient treatment regarding the violations. A detailed explanation of Eligibility for the SCSD Initiative is available here. In May, the SEC also published a list of frequently asked questions and answers related to the SCSD Initiative.

Under Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, investment advisers have a fiduciary duty to act in their clients’ best interests. Included is an affirmative duty for the adviser to fully disclose all material facts, such as conflicts of interest. The SEC is concerned with conflicts associated with mutual fund share class selection, which the SCSD Initiative aims to address. In the SCSD Initiative, the SEC cautions that investment advisers must be mindful of their duties when recommending and selecting share classes for clients. Of particular concern are conflicts related to 12b-1 fees earned in the selection of classes of funds – conflicts which must be disclosed to clients. As explained by the SEC, a conflict of interest arises when an adviser receives compensation for selecting a more expensive mutual fund share class for a client when a less expensive share class for the same fund is available and appropriate. Such a conflict of interest must be disclosed. Compensation received either directly or indirectly through an affiliated broker-dealer is subject to scrutiny under the SCSD Initiative. As such, if the adviser failed to disclose a conflict of interest associated with the receipt of 12b-1 fees by the adviser, its affiliates, or its supervised persons for investing advisory clients, such funds are subject to disgorgement, and civil monetary penalties may be appropriate.  Continue reading

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently published guidance on the characterization of mutual fund fees, specifically 12b-1 distribution fees and sub-accounting fees, as part of their ongoing Distribution-in-Guise Initiative. Pursuant to Rule 12b-1 under the Investment Company Act of 1940, payments made by mutual funds (“funds”), to financial intermediaries from fund assets for the distribution of fund shares must be paid pursuant to a Rule 12b-1 plan that has been approved and adopted by the fund’s shareholders and Board of Directors (“Board”). In recent years the SEC has noticed that there are various fees being paid to intermediaries, in addition to distribution fees, that are being characterized as non-distribution-related fees and are not being paid pursuant to a Rule 12b-1 plan. Those fees include sub-transfer agent fees, administrative sub-accounting fees, and other shareholder servicing fees (collectively “sub-accounting fees”).

While these sub-accounting fees may in some cases be valid non-distribution-related fees, if they directly or indirectly compensate at all for any distribution-related activities, they are improperly labeled. Because of the importance of this issue given that fund fees directly impact investor returns and inherently involve conflicts of interest, the SEC has published guidance to assist funds in ensuring that distribution-related fees are being properly labeled and disclosed in a Rule 12b-1 plan as required. This potential problem was brought to the SEC’s attention after a recent sweep examination of various market participants including mutual funds, investment advisers, transfer agents, and broker-dealers.

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