On October 30, 2018 the Securities and Exchange Commission announced amendments to rules and forms designed to improve disclosures made to clients regarding variable annuities and variable life insurance contracts. According to the SEC, the purpose of the proposed amendments is to assist investors in comprehending the characteristics of variable annuities and variable life insurance contracts and the risks associated with those investment products. The proposed amendments would allow financial institutions who offer variable annuities and variable life insurance contracts to give a summary prospectus to investors, which would satisfy the financial institutions’ disclosure obligations. The SEC has invited the public to comment on both the proposed amendments and the hypothetical summary prospectus samples created and included in the proposed rule. The comment period will run through February 15, 2019. Continue reading
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued three Orders Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings relating to the misuse of quantitative models in managing customers’ accounts. Four entities affiliated with Transamerica and two individuals associated with one of those entities were charged with violating the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and Advisers Act Rules. The Orders allege that AEGON USA Investment Management LLC, Transamerica Asset Management, Inc., Transamerica Capital, Inc., and Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc., marketed various products and investment strategies that used a “proprietary quant model” while failing to verify whether the models functioned as intended and without disclosing known risks connected with the models. The Transamerica entities and the individuals, Bradley Beman and Kevin Giles, submitted offers of settlement to resolve the charges. Continue reading
Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it had reached a settlement with Ross Shapiro, a former managing director of Nomura Securities International, Inc. (“Nomura”). The SEC filed a complaint against Shapiro and two other defendants, Michael A. Gramins and Tyler G. Peters, in September of 2015. The complaint alleged that between January 2010 and November 2013, Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters made misrepresentations to customers about the prices of residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) and manufactured housing asset-backed securities (“MHABS”), thereby violating the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
An RMBS is a security whose underlying assets comprise residential loans. Customers who invest in an RMBS typically obtain payments derived from the interest and principal payments on these loans. Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters provided market information and sold RMBS and MHABS on behalf of Nomura, a FINRA-registered broker-dealer. The customers in question were funds that invested in RMBS.
The SEC’s complaint alleged that Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters made various misrepresentations to customers regarding the prices at which Nomura bought and sold RMBS and MHABS and that they misrepresented the amount of compensation that Nomura would receive for arranging any trades. For example, Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters allegedly deceived customers on numerous occasions regarding how much Nomura paid for RMBS and MHABS. Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters also gave clients the impression that Nomura had paid a higher price for RMBS and MHABS than it actually had. These misrepresentations were usually made via electronic communications such as instant messaging, emails, and online chats.
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.
As we recently highlighted, the Securities and Exchange Commission took enforcement action against three registered investment advisers for violating the pay-to-play rule applicable to advisers under the Investment Advisers Act. Broker-dealers should be aware that in 2017 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced the approval of modifications to two rules – Rules 203 and 458, imposing similar prohibitions and limitations on capital acquisition brokers (“CABs”). A CAB is a FINRA member firm that participates in a restricted amount of activities, such as “advising companies on capital raising and corporate restructuring, and acting as placement agents for sales of unregistered securities to institutional investors under limited conditions.” The rules will implement “’pay-to-play’ and related recordkeeping rules to the activities of member firms that have elected to be governed by the CAB Rules.” The new rules went into effect on December 6, 2017. Continue reading
On April 12, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations published a Risk Alert “providing a list of compliance issues relating to fees and expenses charged by SEC-registered investment advisers… that were the most frequently identified in deficiency letters sent to advisers.” According to OCIE, investment advisers often explain the terms of a client’s fees and expenses in their Form ADV and their advisory agreements. If an investment adviser does not follow these terms and participates in improper fee billing, that investment adviser may be violating the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The Risk Alert is designed to compel investment advisers to evaluate their practices, as well as their policies and procedures, to help ensure compliance with the Advisers Act. Continue reading
Last month three registered investment advisers settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission over charges they violated the pay-to-play rule, Investment Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-5. The Orders Instituting Proceedings were entered against EnCap Investments, L.P., Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., and Sofinnova Ventures, Inc. All three advisers submitted offers of settlement in connection with the Orders.
The Pay-to-Play Rule prohibits registered investment advisers and exempt reporting advisers from offering investment advisory services for compensation to a government entity for a period of at least two years after the investment adviser or a covered associate of the investment adviser makes a political contribution to an official of the government entity. An investment adviser violates the Pay-to-Play Rule regardless of whether the investment adviser intended to influence the government entity official. Continue reading
On July 10, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission published five Orders Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against two registered investment advisers, three investment adviser representatives, and Leonard S. Schwartz, a marketing consultant. The Orders allege that the respondents violated the Investment Advisers Act’s Testimonial Rule (275.206(4)-1(a)(1)). The SEC also alleged that another investment advisory firm, Romano Brothers & Company (“Romano Brothers”), violated the Testimonial Rule by posting two videos on YouTube featuring client testimonials. The Testimonial Rule provides that investment advisers and their representatives are forbidden from publishing, circulating, or distributing advertising materials that directly or indirectly refer to client experiences about the investment adviser and its services. The SEC considers publication of client testimonials fraudulent because testimonials typically present a biased evaluation of an investment adviser’s services. Continue reading
On June 25, 2018, Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC agreed to an Order settling charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to Wells Fargo’s use of Market-Linked Investments (“MLIs”). According to the Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings, beginning in January 2009 and ending in about June 2013, Wells Fargo and its predecessor “improperly solicited customers to redeem their market-linked investments (“MLI”) early and purchase new MLIs without adequate analysis or consideration of the substantial costs associated with such transactions.” Continue reading
On June 4, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against deVere USA, Inc. (“deVere”), a registered investment adviser. The SEC’s Order alleges that deVere failed “to make full and fair disclosure to clients and prospective clients of material conflicts of interest regarding compensation obtained from third-party product and service providers.” The Order also alleges that deVere made inadequate disclosures in its Form ADV, did not conform its compliance program to its method of doing business, and did not follow compliance requirements adopted in its compliance manual. deVere submitted an offer of settlement in conjunction with the SEC’s Order. Continue reading