Articles Tagged with Performance Advertising

With the date for compliance with the new Investment Adviser Marketing Rule approaching, now is the time for registered investment advisers to consider how the new rule impacts many facets of their regular practices. One area that should be carefully evaluated is the use of “hypothetical performance.” The new rule expands the definition of an “advertisement” to include many one-on-one presentations that were not covered by the former advertising rule. Now, any one-on-one presentation that contains “hypothetical performance” is subject to the general anti-fraud provisions of the new rule, as well as to several specific conditions and limitations on the use of hypothetical performance.

 

The definition of “hypothetical performance” is “performance results that were not actually achieved by any portfolio of the investment adviser.” That definition expressly encompasses “targeted or projected performance returns.” The illustration of “targets” or “projections” in one-on-one presentations was previously covered by the general anti-fraud rules, but the new regime imposes more onerous requirements and may indeed prevent RIAs from using the types of illustrations they are currently routinely using with new clients and prospects.

 

A common approach to acquiring new clients involves presenting an illustration of how a proposed portfolio will perform. This is frequently done through the use of reporting software or publishing services such as Morningstar, Riskalyze, and others, although the adviser may have the ability to customize the inputs and the contents of the final report. Sometimes specific returns are projected, while at other times the projections will show a range or band of returns coupled by a specific probability range.

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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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The F-Squared Investments matter continues to have far-reaching consequences for those investment advisers who used F-Squared’s falsely inflated and improperly labeled backtested performance results in advertisements. As discussed previously, in November of 2015 Virtus Investment Advisers was fined $16.5 million for including the false and misleading performance results in its own advertisements and filings with the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”). More recently, the SEC charged Cantella & Co. (“Cantella”), a Boston-based investment adviser that licensed F-Squared’s Alpha Sector strategy, with securities violations for employing F-Squared’s false track record in its marketing materials.

F-Squared is an investment adviser that creates and markets index products using exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”). It sub-licenses these indexes to various unaffiliated investment advisers who manage assets pursuant to those indexes. In 2014 F-Squared admitted in a settled SEC administrative proceeding that it had materially misrepresented the performance results of its largest ETF strategy, AlphaSector, by labeling these results as actual results from a seven-year period when they were in fact hypothetical results derived through backtesting. In addition, F-Squared claimed that the strategy had outperformed the S&P 500 Index from 2001 to 2008 when in fact the hypothetical data contained a calculation error that falsely inflated results by 350 percent. F-Squared agreed to pay disgorgement of $30 million and a penalty of $5 million to settle the claim.

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Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought and simultaneously settled administrative charges against an investment adviser and its owner for misleading clients regarding the historical performance of a private fund managed by the adviser and for making misleading statements regarding the fund’s investment strategy.  Specifically, the SEC announced it had settled an administrative proceeding on January 28, 2016, against QED Benchmark Management LLC and its owner, Peter Kuperman, in which administrative proceeding the SEC alleged that QED and Kuperman represented that they would follow a scientific stock selection strategy.

According to the SEC, QED deviated from that strategy, which deviation resulted in heavy losses to QED’s fund.  After experiencing the losses, according to the SEC allegations, QED and Kuperman provided investors in the fund with information about the fund’s performance and supported that misleading information with statements of returns that included both actual and hypothetical returns, in violation of SEC guidance prohibiting misleading performance advertising. Continue reading ›

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