Articles Tagged with Advisers Act

A recent decision handed down by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving SEC action against an adviser for failure to disclose material conflicts of interest provides potentially significant precedent for SEC enforcement proceedings going forward. See The Robare Group, Ltd., et al. v. SEC, No. 16-1453, (D.C. Cir. April 30, 2019). The Robare decision is a mixed bag for the SEC in that, while it affirmed the SEC’s findings of negligence against the adviser under one section of the Advisers Act, it threw out the SEC’s findings that the adviser “willfully” violated a second Advisers Act provision based on the same negligent conduct. Notably, the Court predicated its holding against the SEC on negligent behavior and willful behavior being “mutually exclusive.” The significance of this holding is that the SEC has traditionally applied a standard of willfulness in enforcement proceedings that falls short of the level of intent required by Robare. Accordingly, unless Robare is reversed or modified, the SEC will be forced to reconsider its prior practice of assuming that all voluntary conduct constitutes “willful” behavior going forward.

Robare involved an appeal by a Houston-based adviser, The Robare Group (“TRG”), of SEC administrative findings that TRG had violated Advisers Act Sections 206(2) and 207, and Rule 206(4)-7 under the Advisers Act, as a result of TRG’s inadequate disclosure of a “revenue sharing” arrangement with Fidelity Investments, whereby Fidelity compensated TRG in return for TRG clients investing in certain funds offered on Fidelity’s online platform. While TRG received approximately $400,000 over an eight year period from Fidelity under this arrangement, the SEC alleged that, during that same period, TRG failed (at first entirely and then inadequately) to disclose to its clients and to the SEC the compensation received from Fidelity and the conflicts of interest arising from that compensation.

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Demonstrating its regulatory interest in the robo adviser industry, on December 21, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against Wealthfront Advisers, LLC, a registered investment adviser which uses a software-based “robo adviser” platform in servicing its clients. The action is the second case against robo advisers filed on the same day. Wealthfront submitted an offer of settlement in light of the proceeding.

According to the SEC’s Order, Wealthfront utilizes a proprietary tax loss harvesting program (“TLH”) to help its clients garner tax benefits. These tax benefits would typically come through selling assets at a loss, which could potentially be used to reduce income or gains and create a lower tax liability. From October 2012 onward, Wealthfront has featured whitepapers on its website that provide information about the TLH strategy. Continue reading

The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) periodically issues “Risk Alerts” highlighting common deficiencies encountered by its staff during routine investment adviser compliance exams. These Risk Alerts serve the dual purpose of providing advisers with both useful insight into the results of recent OCIE examination activity as well as advance warning of areas that OCIE may be paying closer attention to in the future. Accordingly, a recent Risk Alert issued by OCIE details the most common deficiencies the staff has cited relating to Rule 206(4)-3 (the “Cash Solicitation Rule” or “Rule”) under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. See National Exam Program Risk Alert, Investment Adviser Compliance Issues Related to the Cash Solicitation Rule (Oct. 31, 2018).

By way of background, the Cash Solicitation Rule prohibits SEC-registered investment advisers from paying a cash fee, directly or indirectly, to any person who solicits clients for the adviser unless the arrangement complies with a number of conditions specified in the Rule, including that the fee must be paid pursuant to a written agreement to which the adviser is a party. Notably, the Rule discerns between solicitors that are affiliated with the registered adviser versus those that are not, setting-up more comprehensive requirements for the latter third-party solicitors. For example, third-party solicitors must provide potential clients with both a copy of the adviser’s Form ADV Part II (or other applicable brochure) and a separate written solicitor’s disclosure document containing specific data about the solicitation arrangement—including the terms of the solicitor’s compensation. Moreover, with respect to third-party arrangements, the Rule obliges advisers to: (i) collect a signed and dated acknowledgment from every potential solicited client that such client has in fact received the adviser’s brochure and the solicitor’s disclosure document; and (ii) make a “bona fide effort” to ascertain whether the solicitor has complied with its duties under the Rule.

In this context, OCIE cited the following as the most noteworthy deficiency areas encountered by its front-line examiners:

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against Massachusetts Financial Services Company (“MFS”), an SEC-registered investment adviser.  According to the SEC’s Order, MFS advertised hypothetical returns pertaining to its blended research stock ratings without informing clients that a number of the hypothetical portfolios’ superior returns were based on back-tested models.  Without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s Order, MFS submitted an offer of settlement to resolve the matter.

According to the SEC’s Order, MFS has employed a quantitative-based research department since 2000.  In 2000, the department developed what MFS calls “blended research” strategies, which involve “combining fundamental and quantitative ratings to arrive at a blended stock score, and by using a portfolio optimization process that considers the blended scores along with risk and other portfolio constraints.”  As of May of this year, MFS had approximately $21 million in assets under management invested in blended research strategies.

The SEC’s Order alleges that from 2006 through 2015, MFS created research proofs based on the blended research analysis. The data and a bar chart describing the analysis were featured in MFS advertisements.  MFS subsequently used the bar chart in three different kinds of marketing materials: in a standard slide deck from 2006 through 2015, in responses to formal requests from clients starting in 2012, and in a white paper that discussed MFS’s blended research strategies.  These materials were marketed exclusively to institutional clients, prospective institutional clients, financial intermediaries, and investment consultants.

In August of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Capital Dynamics, Inc. (“CDI”), a New York-based investment adviser.  The SEC alleged that from March 2011 to July 2015, CDI allocated certain expenses to private funds it was advising when the funds’ governing documents did not authorize the funds to pay these expenses.  CDI submitted an Offer of Settlement in conjunction with the Order.

According to the SEC’s complaint, CDI and its affiliates formed the private funds, collectively known as the “Solar Fund,” “to introduce a new investment program focused on clean energy and infrastructure.”  The documents that governed the funds provided that CDI and the funds’ general partners were obligated to pay “normal operating expenses,” such as employee expenditures and fees for specified services.  They could not charge these expenses to the funds. Continue reading

On October 2, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Tweed Financial Services, Inc. (“TFSI”), an investment advisory firm, and its proprietor, Robert Russel Tweed (“Tweed”).  The SEC’s complaint alleges that TFSI and Tweed “defrauded their clients by misleading them about how their money had been invested and how poorly those investments were performing.”  According to the SEC, TFSI and Tweed violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 by deceiving their clients.

According to the SEC’s complaint, TFSI and Tweed formed Athenian Fund L.P., a private fund, in 2008.  Twenty-four investors placed money in the Athenian Fund, and the fund raised approximately $1.7 million.  The Athenian Fund’s private placement memorandum informed investors that money invested in Athenian Fund would be invested in a master fund that “had been established to trade stocks using an algorithmic trading platform developed by acquaintances of Tweed.”  However, beginning in March 2010, Tweed transferred all of the Athenian Fund’s assets to another fund.  In March 2011, TFSI and Tweed had the Athenian Fund loan $200,000 to a startup software company.  The SEC alleged that these two ventures resulted in the Athenian fund losing approximately $800,000. Continue reading

On August 14, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease and Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Coachman Energy Partners, LLC (“Coachman”), an investment adviser, and its owner, Randall D. Kenworthy (“Kenworthy”).  According to the SEC’s Order, Coachman “failed to adequately disclose its methodology for calculating the management fees and management-related expenses it charged” to four oil and gas funds it managed.  Coachman and Kenworthy submitted offers of settlement in conjunction with the Order.

The SEC found that from 2011 to 2014, Coachman acted as investment adviser to four funds specializing in oil and gas operations.  Each fund was charged an annual management fee which made up 2 to 2.5% of the total capital contributions given to each fund as of the last day of the year.  According to the SEC, however, Coachman’s offering materials and Forms ADV did not adequately disclose that the management fees were based upon year-end contributions.  Rather, these documents implied that management fees and expenses were based upon “the average amount of capital contributions under management during the course of the year.”  Therefore, the SEC alleged that Coachman and Kenworthy overbilled investors in the amount of $1,128,916.

The SEC also alleged that between 2013 and 2014, Coachman billed two of the funds management expenses based upon 1.5% of the total capital contributions given to these funds as of the last day of the year.  However, the offering materials for these funds allegedly did not sufficiently inform investors that the funds would be obligated to pay Coachman for management expenses based on year-end capital contributions.  Rather, these materials supposedly informed investors that management expenses were calculated using the average number of capital contributions under management for the whole year.  The SEC alleges that this resulted in Coachman and Kenworthy overbilled clients in the amount of $449,294.

On August 23, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against Sonya D. Camarco (“Camarco”), an investment adviser.  The complaint alleges that Camarco “misappropriated over $2.8 million in investor funds from her clients and customers.”  The complaint also alleges that Camarco used these funds to pay a variety of personal expenses, including credit card bills and mortgages.

As stated in the SEC’s complaint, Camarco was a registered representative and investment adviser representative of LPL Financial LLC (“LPL”) from February 2004 through August 2017.  Under LPL’s policies, Camarco was not allowed to take money from client accounts unless the clients given her “specific and express” authority to do so.  However, the SEC’s complaint alleges that in July 2017, LPL realized that Camarco had been part of numerous suspicious transactions involving her clients’ accounts from 2004 through 2017. Continue reading

Beginning October 1, 2017, registered investment advisers are required to use revised form ADV, which requests certain information not sought on previous versions of the form. Advisers will also have to comply with amendments to Rule 204-2 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  With the compliance date less than three months away, advisers should examine whether to modify their internal policies and procedures pertaining to Form ADV reporting and recordkeeping, and also should begin the process of collecting the new information and assuring that the information remains available for future Form ADV filings.

The amendments to Form ADV changed the requirements of Item 5 of Part 1A of Form ADV and Section 5 of Schedule D.  The amendments will obligate investment advisers to disclose the estimated percentage of regulatory assets under management (“RAUM”) held in separately managed accounts (“SMAs”) and to indicate those assets “that are invested in twelve broad asset categories.”  Investment advisers with $10 billion or more in RAUM connected to SMAs will be obligated to report both mid-year and end-of-year percentages for each category.  Investment advisers with fewer than $10 billion in RAUM connected to SMAs will only be obligated to report only end-of-year percentages.  The amendments to Form ADV will also require investment advisers to disclose the identity of custodians that make up 10 percent or more of an investment adviser’s total SMA RAUM. 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