Articles Tagged with Investment Advisers

Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against Valor Capital Asset Management, LLC, a registered investment adviser, and its owner, Robert Mark Magee.  The SEC’s Order alleges that between July 2012 and May 2015, Magee “disproportionately allocated profitable or less unprofitable trades from Valor’s omnibus trading account to his personal accounts, while disproportionately allocating unprofitable or less profitable trades to Valor client accounts,” a practice known as “cherry-picking.”  Valor and Magee each submitted offers of settlement in conjunction with the Order.

According to the SEC’s Order, Valor had discretionary authority pertaining to the client accounts that were in Magee’s cherry-picking scheme.  Since Magee was Valor’s sole owner and employee, he was tasked with making trades and allocations for Valor’s clients’ accounts.  The SEC alleged that over a three-year period Magee mainly distributed the most unprofitable trades to clients’ accounts and mainly distributed the most profitable or less unprofitable trades to his own account.  The SEC also alleged that whenever Magee bought a block of securities using Valor’s omnibus account, he would delay allocating the block of securities “until after the relevant security’s intraday price changed.”  If the price increased, Magee allegedly would make a sale and allocate the trade to his own account, obtaining a gain.  If the price decreased, Magee allegedly would sell the security that same day and allocate the trade to Valor clients, resulting in a loss.  Alternatively, he would hold the security and allocate the purchase to Valor clients, which gave them an unrealized first-day loss. Continue reading

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority recently published a Regulatory Notice requesting comment regarding a proposed new rule pertaining to registered persons’ outside business activities.  Among other things, the proposed rule would significantly alter a broker-dealer’s obligations with respect to a registered representative’s conduct of investment advisory business through an unaffiliated registered investment adviser.

FINRA decided to propose this new rule after a “retrospective review of FINRA’s rules governing outside business activities and private securities transactions, FINRA Rule 3270 (Outside Business Activities of Registered Persons) and FINRA Rule 3280 (Private Securities Transactions of an Associated Person).”  FINRA determined that the rules “could benefit from changes to better align the investor protection goals with the current regulatory landscape and business practices.”  As a result, FINRA proposed a new single rule that it claims will make registered persons’ duties in regards to outside business activities clearer and decrease nonessential obligations while enhancing investor protection.

If the proposed rule is adopted, it will replace Rules 3270 and 3280.  The comment period ends on April 27, 2018. Continue reading

On February 26, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Making Findings and Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist Order against EquityStar Capital Management, LLC, an unregistered investment adviser, and its owner, Steven Zoernack.  According to the SEC’s Order, EquityStar and Zoernack offered and sold investment interests in two unregistered investment funds from about May 2010 to about March 2014.  The SEC’s Order alleges that in the course of making these offers and sales, EquityStar and Zoernack “made material misrepresentations and omissions and engaged in a fraudulent scheme involving this and other deceptive conduct.”

Zoernack was tasked with writing and publishing marketing materials for the funds that EquityStar managed.  In these marketing materials, Zoernack allegedly claimed that the funds’ manager, whose name was not disclosed, had “an impeccable and unblemished past record with the SEC.”  According to the SEC, however, Zoernack was in fact the manager, and he had “two criminal fraud convictions, had previously filed for bankruptcy, and had numerous money judgments and liens against him.”  The Order also claims that Zoernack made various efforts to hide his criminal record and negative financial history, including paying a search-engine manipulator to make positive information about him appear before negative information in search engine results. Continue reading

On February 13, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it is accepting registrations for the National Compliance Outreach Seminar (“National Seminar”).  The National Seminar, which is part of the SEC’s Compliance Outreach Program, is designed to help educate registered investment advisers’ chief compliance officers (“CCOs”), as well as their senior officers, about “various broad topics applicable to larger investment advisory firms and investment companies.”  The National Seminar will take place on April 12, 2018 at the SEC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and it will last from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.  While only 500 participants can attend in person, a live webcast will be provided via www.sec.gov.

This year the National Seminar will include six panel discussions between SEC personnel, CCOs, and various other industry representatives.  SEC personnel who participate in the panels typically include officers from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, the Division of Investment Management, and the Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit, as well as officers from other SEC divisions or offices.  CCOs and other senior staff in private advisory firms typically participate in the panels as well.  Each of these panels reflects areas of concern which the SEC likely intends to prioritize in 2018. Continue reading

On February 7, 2018, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published its Examination Priorities for 2018.  The Examination Priorities cover “certain practices, products, and services that OCIE believes may present potentially heightened risk to investors and/or the integrity of the U.S. capital markets.”  The five priorities that OCIE specifically listed are (1) issues crucial to retail investors, such as seniors and those saving for retirement, (2) compliance and risks in critical market infrastructure, (3) FINRA and MSRB, (4) cybersecurity, and (5) anti-money laundering programs.  This is not an exclusive list, and OCIE invited comments concerning how it can adequately promote compliance.

OCIE intends to continue to make shielding retail investors from fraud a priority.  OCIE plans to focus especially on senior investors and those saving for retirement.  For example, examiners will pay particular attention to firms’ internal controls that are intended to monitor their representatives, especially in relation to products targeted at senior investors.  OCIE will also focus on disclosure of the costs of investing, examination of investment advisers and broker-dealers who primarily offer advice through digital platforms, wrap fee programs, mutual funds and exchange traded funds, municipal advisors and underwriters, and the growth of the cryptocurrency and initial coin offering markets. Continue reading

On November 15, 2017, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, published the Division’s Annual Report for fiscal year 2017.  Avakian and Peikin emphasized the Division’s commitment to enforcing the federal securities laws in order to “combat wrongdoing, compensate harmed investors, and maintain confidence in the integrity and fairness of our markets.”  They also emphasized their goals of shielding investors, discouraging misconduct, and reprimanding and penalizing those who violate the federal securities laws.  To accomplish these goals, five core principles, according to Avakian and Peikin, will serve as the Division’s road map.

First, the Division will focus primarily on retail investors, who Avakian and Peikin believe are not only the most common market participants, but also are the most susceptible and least equipped to handle financial loss.  The Division plans to keep confronting violations of the securities laws that can have a strong impact on retail investors, such as accounting fraud, sales of unsuitable products, Ponzi schemes, and pump and dump schemes.  The Division has also established a Retail Strategy Task Force to formulate competent methods of confronting securities law violations that affect retail investors.  The Retail Strategy Task Force will work with the SEC’s examination staff and the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy to pinpoint risk areas common to retail investors. Continue reading

The Department of Labor (DOL) last week published a final rule extending the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delaying the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. The DOL stated that the primary reason for delaying the rule was to give the DOL necessary time to review the substantial commentary it has received under the criteria set forth in the Presidential Memorandum issued in February of this year, as well as to consider possible changes or alternatives to the Fiduciary Rule exemptions and to seek input from the SEC and other securities regulators.

The Fiduciary Rule was enacted in April 2016, with its applicability date originally set for April 10, 2017. It also provided for a transition period through January 1, 2018 for compliance with certain new and amended Prohibited Transaction Exemptions (PTEs), including the new Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption. The full requirements of the BIC exemption, including the written contract requirement for transactions involving IRA owners, are not required until the end of the transition period. Continue reading

Earlier this year the Maryland General Assembly amended parts of the Maryland Securities Act and added some new sections to it.  The amendments went into effect on October 1, 2017.  Changes to the Maryland Securities Act include the creation of the Securities Act Registration Fund, adoption of the North American Securities Administrators Association’s Senior Model Act to address financial exploitation of seniors, and changes in fees for certain filing categories.

The amendments added a new section, Section 11-208, which establishes a Securities Act Registration Fund.  The Fund’s purpose is “to help fund the direct and indirect costs of administering and enforcing the Maryland Securities Act.”  The Fund will comprise registration fees, money that the State sets aside for the Fund in its budget, and any money accepted from any other source for the Fund’s benefit.  The Fund cannot be used for any purpose other than administering and enforcing the Maryland Securities Act. Continue reading

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published its proposal to extend the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delay the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. Currently only adherence to the impartial conduct standards is required for compliance with the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption during the transition period, as well as for certain other prohibited transaction exemptions issued or revised in connection with the Fiduciary Rule. Compliance with the full provisions of the BIC exemption and the other related exemptions is not required until the second phase of implementation of the Fiduciary Rule, which is currently set for January 1, 2018.

If adopted, the same requirements in effect now for compliance with the BIC exemption and related exemptions would remain in effect for the duration of the extended transition period. The DOL stated that the primary purpose for seeking to extend the transition period was to allow the DOL sufficient time to review the substantial commentary it has received and consider possible changes or alternatives to the Fiduciary Rule exemptions. The DOL noted its concern that without a delay in the applicability date, financial institutions would incur expenses attempting to comply with certain conditions or requirements of the newly issued or revised exemptions that are ultimately revised or repealed.

The DOL stated that it anticipates it will propose in the near future a “new and more streamlined class exemption built in large part on recent innovations in the financial services industry.” These recent innovations include the development of “clean shares” of mutual funds by some broker-dealers, which the DOL discussed approvingly in its first set of transition period FAQ guidance. “Clean shares” would not include any form of distribution-related payment to the broker, but would instead have uniform commission levels across different mutual funds that would be set by the financial institution. In this way, the firm could mitigate conflicts of interest by substantially insulating advisers from the incentive to recommend certain mutual funds over others. However, these types of innovations will take time to develop.

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.