Investment Management

Posted on Tuesday, June 6 2017 at 12:13 pm by

Kokesh v. SEC:  The U.S. Supreme Court Limits SEC Disgorgement Powers

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Since the 1970s, courts have regularly ordered disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in SEC enforcement proceedings.[1]  According to the SEC, this was done as a means to both “deprive . . . defendants of their profits in order to remove any monetary reward for violating” securities laws and “protect the investing public by providing an effective deterrent to future violations.”[2]  Disgorgement has been one of the SEC’s most powerful tools in recent years.[3]  Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that significantly limits the SEC’s ability to disgorge ill-gotten gains.[4]

The question before the Supreme Court in Kokesh v. SEC was whether disgorgement, as it has been used by the SEC, constitutes a “penalty.”[5]  Under federal law, a 5-year statute of limitations applies to any “action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise.”[6]  The SEC has long argued that disgorgement does not constitute a “penalty” and, therefore, is not subject to a 5-year statute of limitations.  The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s position by holding that disgorgement constitutes a “penalty.”[7]  As a result, the SEC will be precluded from collecting ill-gotten gains obtained by the defendant more than five years before the date on which the SEC files its complaint.[8]

In the Kokesh case, the Supreme Court’s decision means that the defendant may retain $29.9 million of the $34.9 million of allegedly ill-gotten gains because that amount was received outside of the 5-year state of limitations.[9]  The Kokesh decision is also likely to have a significant long-term impact on SEC enforcement proceedings by reducing the leverage the SEC can apply while negotiating settlements.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s Winston-Salem and New York offices.  John I. Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

 

[1] SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., 312 F. Supp. 77, 91 (SDNY 1970), aff ’d in part and rev’d in part, 446 F. 2d 1301 (CA2 1971).

[2] Id. at 92.

[3] SEC, SEC Announces Enforcement Results for FY 2016 (Oct. 11, 2016), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/pressrelease/2016-212.html (illustrating that the SEC has obtained more than $4 billion in disgorgements and penalties in each of the three most recent fiscal years).

[4] Kokesh v. SEC, available at www.supremecourt.gov.

[5] Id. (“This case presents the question whether [28 U.S.C.] §2462 applies to claims for disgorgement imposed as a sanction for violating a federal securities law.”).

[6] 28 U.S.C. §2462 (2017).

[7] Kokesh v. SEC, supra note 4, available at www.supremecourt.gov.  (“SEC disgorgement thus bears all the hallmarks of a penalty: It is imposed as a consequence of violating a public law and it is intended to deter, not to compensate.”).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

Posted on Monday, May 8 2017 at 10:38 am by

General Solicitations of Certain Regulation D “Private” Securities Offerings:  SEC Affirms Zero-Tolerance Policy.

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

On March 29, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) issued a noteworthy opinion in In re KCD Financial Inc.,[i] a review of a FINRA disciplinary action.[ii]  While the opinion affirmed FINRA’s disciplinary action,[iii] it also affirmed the SEC’s zero-tolerance policy regarding general solicitations made in the course of certain Regulation D offerings.  Those relying on or contemplating relying on Regulation D exemptions from registration should review the SEC’s opinion.

Factual Background

KCD Financial, Inc. (“KCD”) is an independent broker-dealer.[iv]  In 2011, KCD signed an agreement with one of its affiliates (“Westmount”) under which it would solicit accredited investors for a particular private fund (the “Fund”) sponsored by Westmount.[v]  Westmount did not plan to register the offering.  Westmount instead planned to rely on a Rule 506(b) exemption from registration.[vi]

Prior to KCD selling any interest in the Fund, Westmount issued a press release describing the Fund.[vii]  Two Dallas newspapers published articles based on the press release and made the articles available on their respective public websites.[viii]  One of those newspaper articles was then posted on a public website belonging to a Westmount affiliate.[ix]  Westmount’s outside counsel informed Westmount that the newspaper articles constituted general solicitations, which are prohibited in Rule 506(b) offerings.[x]

After KCD and Westmount officers were told that the articles were general solicitations prohibited under Rule 506(b), they did not end the offering, register the securities, or seek to rely on an alternative exemption.  Instead, KCD’s CCO and Westmount’s Vice President of Capital Markets instructed the representatives to sell interests in the Fund only to (i) those with an existing relationship to KCD or Westmount and (ii) accredited investors who had not learned of the offering through the general solicitations.[xi]  Under those guidelines, at least one person was refused an opportunity to purchase interests in the Fund.[xii]

During a FINRA examination of KCD, the examiner found that the newspaper article about the offering had not been removed from a Westmount-affiliated website.[xiii]  Subsequently, FINRA filed a complaint against KCD alleging that the firm’s registered representatives sold securities that were unregistered and not qualified for an exemption from registration, thereby violating FINRA Rule 2010.[xiv]  FINRA also alleged that KCD failed to reasonably supervise the offering, thereby violating FINRA Rule 3010.[xv]  FINRA’s Hearing Panel found that KCD violated those rules.[xvi]  FINRA censured KCD and imposed a fine of $73,000.[xvii]  The National Adjudicatory Counsel affirmed FINRA’s decision.[xviii]  KCD then requested an SEC review.[xix]

SEC Review

KCD admitted that the Fund interests it offered were not registered, but argued that offers were made pursuant to Rule 506(b).[xx]  The SEC rejected KCD’s contention,[xxi] finding that where a party relying on the Rule 506(b) exemption makes a general solicitation, the exemption then is unavailable “regardless of the number of accredited investors or the knowledge and experience of the purchasers who were not accredited investors.”[xxii]  In this context, whether purchasers were accredited or had prior relationships with KCD and Westmount was “irrelevant to whether or not the newspaper articles constituted a general solicitation” and precluded reliance on Rule 506(b).[xxiii]

KCD also argued, assuming the newspaper articles constituted general solicitations, it could still rely on a Rule 506(b) exemption because “KCD did not generally solicit any of the actual investors in the [Westmount] Fund.”[xxiv]  This argument confused the notion of what is prohibited under Rule 506(b).  It is making an offer by general solicitation which precludes reliance on a Rule 506(b) exemption.[xxv]  Whether a sale results directly from the general solicitation is irrelevant.[xxvi]

Practical Implications

The SEC’s opinion affirms its view that exemptions from registration in securities offerings are narrowly construed and must be adhered to strictly.[xxvii]  Where, as here, the exemption prohibits a general solicitation, any general solicitation forever forfeits the issuer’s ability to rely on the exemption in making the offering (i.e., the toothpaste cannot go back into the tube).

Those making exempt offerings in reliance on Rule 504,[xxviii] Rule 505,[xxix] and Rule 506(b)[xxx] should review their sales practices in light of the KCD opinion.  In reviewing practices, issuers should look beyond the obvious means of making a general solicitation (e.g., a press release that is published by a widely-circulated newspaper).  Websites and social media accounts of those participating in the offerings are equally capable of precluding use of a valuable registration exemption.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s New York and Winston-Salem, North Carolina offices.  John I. Sanders is an associate based out of the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[i] In re KCD Financial, Inc., SEC Release No. 34-80340 (March 29, 2017), available at www.sec.gov/litigation/opinions/2017/34-80340.pdf (hereinafter, SEC Opinion).

[ii] In re KCD Financial, Inc., FINRA Complaint No. 2011025851501 (Aug. 3, 2016), available at http:www.finra.com (hereinafter, FINRA Opinion).

[iii] SEC Opinion, supra note 1, at p. 1.

[iv] Id., at p. 2.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id, at p. 3.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Id. at p. 4.

[x] Id.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] FINRA Opinion, supra note 2, at p. 4.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id.

[xx] SEC Opinion, supra note 1, at 2.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] Id. at 7.

[xxiii] Id. at 9.

[xxiv] Id at 10.

[xxv] Id.

[xxvi] Id. at 11

[xxvii] Id. at 7.

[xxviii] 17 CFR 230.504 (2017).

[xxix] 17 CFR 230.505 (2017).

[xxx] 17 CFR 230.506(b) (2017).

Posted on , May 8 2017 at 9:59 am by

SEC Amends Crowdfunding Rules

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Under the Jumpstart our Business Startups Acts of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”), the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted rules allowing for securities-based crowdfunding in 2015.[i]  The JOBS Act required the SEC to adjust dollar limits placed on the amount that could be invested or raised through securities-based crowdfunding at least every five years to account for inflation.[ii]  On April 5, 2017, the SEC issued a final rule adjusting those limits for the first time.[iii]  We encourage those interested in issuing securities through a securities-based crowdfunding offering to review the final rule and call us with any questions you may have.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s New York and Winston-Salem, North Carolina offices.  John Sanders is an associate based out of the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[i] SEC, Release No. 33-9974 (Oct. 9, 2015), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2015/33-9974.pdf.

[ii] Id. at 15.

[iii] SEC, Release No.33-10332 (April 5, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2017/33-10332.pdf.

Posted on Wednesday, March 8 2017 at 10:41 am by

SEC Issues Guidance to Ease Fund Implementation of “Clean Shares”

By Andrew Sachs and John I Sanders

In January, we authored a post[i] discussing an SEC no-action letter, dated January 11, 2017, to Capital Group (the “Capital Group Letter”), the parent company of American Funds.[ii]  In the Capital Group Letter, the SEC agreed that Section 22(d) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “Act”), which prohibits selling securities except at “a current public offering price described in the prospectus”, does not apply to brokers when acting as agent on behalf of its customers and charging customers commissions for effecting transactions in so-called “Clean Shares”.[iii]

Clean shares are mutual fund shares stripped of any front-end load, deferred sales charge, or other asset-based fee for sales or distribution that are sold by brokers who set their own commissions in connection with such sales.[iv]  We noted in January that the ability to replace the distribution fees typically charged by its mutual funds with commissions charged by a broker would give funds a new measure of flexibility to meet the demands of the Fiduciary Rule and competition generally, and we anticipated that many mutual fund companies would explore the concept of Clean Shares.

On February 15, 2017, just a month after publication of the Capital Group Letter, the SEC was compelled to issue guidance (the “FAQ”) addressing some of the questions it had received from mutual fund companies to-date.[v]  Below, we summarize FAQ as it relates to Funds seeking to implement Clean Shares.

Initial Implementation of Clean Shares

A mutual fund company issuing Clean Shares must, of course, amend its registration statement to include disclosure of the new share class.  Such an amendment might be affected through a Rule 485(a) filing or through a Rule 485(b) filing, depending on whether the amendment is “material”.[vi]  Typically, funds prefer Rule 485(b) filings because they become effective immediately,[vii] while Rule 485(a) filings are subject to a 60 day review.[viii]

In the FAQ, the SEC confirmed that “Funds should create these new Clean Shares, like any new class, by making a filing under Rule 485(a).”  To minimize the burdens of filing under Rule 485(a), if the only disclosures being amended are those describing the new share class, we advise mutual fund companies to seek selective review of the Rule 485(a) filing.  The request for a selective review should be made in the cover letter accompanying the 485(a) filing and must include (i) a statement as to whether the disclosure in the filing has been reviewed by the staff in another context; (ii) a statement identifying prior filings that the registrant considers similar to, or intends as precedent for, the current filing; (iii) a summary of the material changes made in the current filing from the previous filings; and (iv) any specific areas that the registrant believes warrant the SEC staff’s particular attention.[ix]

Adding Clean Shares to Multiple Funds

A mutual fund family adding Clean Shares to multiple funds need not file Rule 485(a) filings for each fund.  Instead, the FAQ confirms that mutual funds companies introducing Clean Shares across multiple funds can request Template Filing Relief pursuant to Rule 485(b)(i)(vii).  A registrant requesting Template Filing Relief would make a single Rule 485(a) filing with a Template Filing Relief request for all other funds with “substantially identical disclosure”.[x]

We note, however, that a request for Template Filing Relief must include (i) the reason for making the post-effective amendment; (ii) the identity of the Template filing;[xi] (iii) the identity of the registration statements that intend to rely on the relief (“Replicate filings”).[xii]  Additionally, the registrant must represent to the SEC that (i) the disclosure changes in the template filing are substantially identical to disclosure changes that will be made in the replicate filings; (ii) the replicate filings will incorporate changes made to the disclosure included in the Template filing to resolve any staff comments thereon; and (iii) the replicate filings will not include any other changes that would otherwise render them ineligible for filing under rule 485(b).[xiii]  Selective Review and Template Filing Relief can save registrants adding Clean Shares to existing funds time and money.

Existing Share Classes Qualify as Clean Shares

One of the more interesting aspects of the FAQ was the acknowledgement by the SEC that certain existing share classes of funds (such as institutional class shares) might already meet the requirements of Clean Shares, thereby offering a path to offering Clean Shares to many registrants without a Rule 485(a) filing.[xiv] In such a case, the SEC noted that a 485(a) filing would not be necessary “solely to add the prospectus disclosure described in the [Capital Group Letter]”[xv] where the fund already offers a share class that meets the requirements of the Capital Group Letter.[xvi]  Instead, a Rule 485(b) or Rule 497 filing will suffice.

Conclusion

The introduction of Clean Shares to the mutual fund industry presents an opportunity for mutual fund companies to improve the competitive position of their products, and we anticipate that there will be continued interest in Clean Shares even if the Department of Labor’s Conflict of Interest Rule does not become effective.[xvii]  If you have questions about Clean Shares of the SEC’s recent guidance, we encourage you to contact us.

 

[i] Andrew Sachs and John I. Sanders, Effects of the DOL Fiduciary Rule Reach Mutual Fund Industry, Kilpatrick Townsend: Investment Management News and Notes (Jan. 27, 2017), http://blogs.kilpatricktownsend.com/investmentmanagement/.

[ii] SEC, Response of the Office of Chief Counsel Division of Investment Management, available at https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2017/capital-group-011117-22d.htm (“Capital Group Letter”).

[iii] Id.

[iv] John Waggoner, Brace for Thousands of New DOL Fiduciary-Friendly Mutual Fund Share Classes, INVESTMENT NEWS (Jan. 6, 2017), http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20170106/FREE/170109955/brace-for-thousands-of-new-dol-fiduciary-friendly-mutual-fund-share.

[v] SEC, Frequently Asked Questions on IM Guidance Update 2016-06 (Mutual Fund Fee Structures, available at https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/guidance/frequently-asked-questions-mutual-fund-fee-structures.htm (“FAQ”).

[vi] 17 CFR 230.485(a)-(b) (2017).

[vii] 17 CFR 230.485(b) (2017).

[viii] 17 CFR 230.485(a) (2017).

[ix] SEC: IM Guidance 2016-06, available at https://www.sec.gov.

[x] Id.

[xi] This identifying information should include the name of the Fund and the registrant, the Securities Act file number, and the filing date of the rule 485(a) filing.

[xii] This identifying information should include the name of the registrant, the Securities Act file number, and the series and class name for each of the Funds that intend to rely on the relief.

[xiii] SEC: IM Guidance 2016-06, available at https://www.sec.gov.

[xiv] FAQ, supra note 7.

[xv] Id. at Question 5.

[xvi] See, Capital Group Letter, supra note 2 (Listing the registrant’s representations to the SEC:  The broker will represent in its selling agreement with the fund’s underwriter that it is acting solely on an agency basis for the sale of Clean Shares; The Clean Shares sold by the broker will not include any form of distribution-related payment to the broker; The fund’s prospectus will disclose that an investor transacting in Clean Shares may be required to pay a commission to a broker, and if applicable, that shares of the fund are available in other share classes that have different fees and expenses; The nature and amount of the commissions and the times at which they would be collected would be determined by the broker consistent with the broker’s obligations under applicable law, including but not limited to applicable FINRA and Department of Labor rules; and Purchases and redemptions of Clean Shares will be made at net asset value established by the fund (before imposition of a commission).

[xvii] Paul Foley and John I. Sanders, Department of Labor Set to Eliminate the Fiduciary Rule, JD SUPRA (March 3, 2017), http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/department-of-labor-set-to-eliminate-92801/.

Posted on Friday, January 27 2017 at 10:34 am by

Effects of the DOL Fiduciary Rule Reach Mutual Fund Industry

By Andrew Sachs and John I. Sanders

The Department of Labor finalized the so-called “Fiduciary Rule” in April 2016 and announced it would go into effect in April 2017.[i]  Since the finalization of the Fiduciary Rule, the annuities,[ii] brokerage,[iii] and advisory industries[iv] have all seen substantial changes to products or fee structures.  Now, the effects of the rule have reached the mutual fund industry as well, with the SEC’s recent approval of American Funds’ “Clean Shares” – shares stripped of any front-end load, deferred sales charge, or other asset-based fee for sales or distribution that are sold by brokers who set their own commissions in connection with such sales.[v]

On January 11th, the SEC issued a no-action letter to Capital Group, the parent company of American Funds.[vi]  The no-action letter stated that the SEC concurred with Capital Group’s view that Section 22(d) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “Act”), which prohibits selling securities except at “a current public offering price described in the prospectus,” does not apply to brokers when acting as agent on behalf of its customers and charging customers commissions for effecting transactions in Clean Shares.[vii]

At least one publication predicts that thousands of mutual funds will create similar classes of shares.[viii]  We believe that the ability to replace the distribution fees typically charged by its mutual funds with commissions charged by the broker will give funds a new measure of flexibility to meet the demands of the Fiduciary Rule and competition generally.  For those wishing to more fully understand the costs and benefits of adopting a similar share class, we are here to help.

Andrew Sachs is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s Winston-Salem office. John I. Sanders is an associate in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

 

[i] Department of Labor, Fact Sheet: Department of Labor Finalizes Rule to Address Conflicts of Interest in Retirement Advice, Saving Middle Class Families Billions of Dollars Every Year, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/fact-sheets/dol-final-rule-to-address-conflicts-of-interest.

[ii] Greg Iacurci, Insurers Developing Fee-Based Fixed-Index Annuities Post-DOL Fiduciary Rule, INVESTMENT NEWS (July 14, 2016), http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20160714/FREE/160719964/insurers-developing-fee-based-fixed-indexed-annuities-post-dol.

[iii] Katherine Chiglinsky and Margaret Collins, AIG CEO Blames Obama Retirement Rule for Broker-Dealer Exit, BLOOMBERG (Jan. 27, 2016), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-27/aig-broker-dealer-exit-fueled-by-obama-retirement-rule-ceo-says.

[iv] Darla Mercado, How the New “Fiduciary” Rule Will Actually Affect You, CNBC (Oct. 13, 2016), http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/13/how-the-new-fiduciary-rule-will-actually-affect-you.html.

[v] John Waggoner, Brace for Thousands of New DOL Fiduciary-Friendly Mutual Fund Share Classes, INVESTMENT NEWS (Jan. 6, 2017), http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20170106/FREE/170109955/brace-for-thousands-of-new-dol-fiduciary-friendly-mutual-fund-share.

[vi] SEC, Response of the Office of Chief Counsel Division of Investment Management, available at https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2017/capital-group-011117-22d.htm.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Waggoner, supra note 5.

Posted on Tuesday, January 24 2017 at 3:08 pm by

Constitutionality of SEC Judges Questioned

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Among the many provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act were some that gave the SEC greater ability to hear cases and levy punishments in internal administrative courts without resort to ordinary federal courts.[i]  These provisions resulted in alarming results, including a 90% success rate for the SEC in front of its own newly-minted administrative law judges.[ii]  For comparative purposes, the SEC’s previous success rate was below 70%.[iii]

A legal challenge brought against the SEC argued that these judges are “inferior officers” that, pursuant to the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution,[iv] must be appointed by an executive branch member and approved by the Senate.  Because such steps were never taken, the judges’ actions would be unconstitutional if they are, in fact, found to be “inferior officers”.  The 10th Circuit has agreed with the plaintiffs, but the SEC is expected to appeal.[v]

If the challenge is ultimately successful, there will be two significant impacts.  First, the cases decided by the SEC’s judges may be void.  Second, the SEC will be forced to use the old, less certain procedure of bringing enforcement actions in federal district court.  If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to read a succinct review of the matter in today’s Wall Street Journal.[vi]

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s New York and Winston-Salem, North Carolina offices.  John I. Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[i] Giles D. Beal IV, Judge, Jury, and Executioner:  SEC Administrative Law Judges Post-Dodd Frank, 20 N.C. Banking Inst. 413 (2016), available at https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=20+N.C.+Banking+Inst.+413&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=e7ef73edd6e64a6ec56e122360340a35.

[ii] Jean Eaglesham, SEC Wins with In-House Judges, Wall St. Journal (May 6, 2015), http://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-wins-with-in-house-judges-1430965803.

[iii] Id.

[iv] U.S. Const. art. II, sec. 2, cl. 2.

[v] Alison Frankel, 10th Circuit Strikes Down SEC ALJ Regime, Debates Reach to Other Agencies, Reuters (Dec. 28, 2016), http://www.reuters.com/article/otc-sec-idUSKBN14H1S3.

[vi] David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman, When is a Judge Not Really a Judge?, Wall St. Journal (Jan. 23, 2017), http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-is-a-judge-not-really-a-judge-1485215998.

Posted on Tuesday, January 17 2017 at 8:39 am by

SEC Announces 2017 Exam Priorities

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Each year, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (the “OCIE”) releases its priorities for the upcoming year.  For regulated entities such as investment companies and investment advisers, the release of the OCIE’s priorities is highly significant.  The reason, simply put, is that your regulator’s priorities must also be your own priorities.

Among the OEIC’s newly-released examination priorities for 2017 are the following:[i]

  • Never-Before Examined Investment Advisers
  • Cybersecurity compliance procedures and controls
  • Robo-advisors’ marketing, recommendation formulation, and security procedures
  • ETF exemptive relief compliance, sales practices, and risk disclosures
  • Elder abuse detection and prevention practices
  • Money market funds’ compliance with the newly effective rules
  • FINRA oversight

We agree with the OCIE Director who stated earlier this week that the release of examination priorities is an important opportunity for regulated entities to evaluate their own compliance programs and make the necessary enhancements prior to examinations.[ii]  Therefore, we encourage you to read the full text of the SEC announcement, consider your compliance programs in the prioritized areas, and contact us with any questions you may have.

 

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s New York and Winston-Salem, North Carolina offices.  John Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[i] SEC, SEC Announces 2017 Examination Priorities (Jan. 13, 2017), https://www.sec.gov/news/pressrelease/2017-7.html.

[ii] Id.

Posted on Thursday, November 10 2016 at 2:03 pm by

Revised Form ADV: What CCOs Need to Know

By Paul Foley and John Sanders of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton

On Aug. 25, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted final rules intended to update and enhance the disclosure requirements promulgated under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940—primarily by revising Form ADV. The final rules, which became effective on October 31, 2016 and have a compliance date of Oct. 1, 2017, are substantial and wide-ranging, and chief compliance officers should take note both of their provisions and the potential implementation issues they raise.

INCREASE IN SMA DISCLOSURES

Among the most significant amendments to Form ADV are those related to the disclosure of assets held in separately managed accounts. Advisers will now be required to disclose the approximate percentage of SMA assets that are invested in 12 broad asset categories, including exchange-traded equity securities, U.S. government bonds and derivatives.

This classification requirement presents a practical concern as certain SMA assets may not fit squarely within a single category. The SEC will allow advisers to use their own classification methodology for such assets, “so long as their methodologies are consistently applied and consistent with information the advisers report internally.” But what sounds like well-intentioned deference may not be as beneficial to advisers as it seems. In fact, it may trap unwary advisers, leaving them unable to change internal classification methodologies later.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the new SMA disclosure requirements may be of marginal utility with respect to SMAs holding significant interests in funds, such as exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, hedge funds and private equity funds. Indeed, despite the wide variations among fund asset allocations, the amendments only require advisers to disclose the amount of fund assets held in SMAs. Advisers are expressly told not to look through such funds with respect to the underlying exposure to the various asset categories.

The lack of a look-through mechanism means that the SEC and current and potential advisory clients may garner little information from the new disclosure requirements. This is particularly true with respect to advisers that primarily use funds in SMAs.

For example, if nearly all of an adviser’s SMA assets are invested in funds, the new disclosure requirements will provide almost no meaningful insight regarding the risk, diversification or strategies used by the adviser in SMAs. This issue will only grow more pronounced as advisers increasingly use ETFs and other fund-based strategies.

UMBRELLA REGISTRATION

Another noteworthy amendment to Form ADV tries to make umbrella registration more efficient. The SEC first allowed umbrella registration through no-action letter guidance in response to the new adviser registration requirements set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act. Today, around 743 filing advisers and 2,587 relying advisers are using umbrella registrations. The SEC believes this represents nearly all advisers entitled to use umbrella registration.

With umbrella registration already in extensive use, the true effect of these amendments is to codify the conditions that must be met before it can be employed. According to the SEC, this was done “to limit eligibility for umbrella registration to groups of private fund advisers that operate as a single advisory business.”

The Commission received a number of comment letters regarding umbrella registration that favored relaxing the requirements. Specifically, some objected to the condition that the filing adviser and relying advisers operate under a single code of ethics and a single set of written policies and procedures administered by a single CCO. But the SEC did not alter its position.

The agency’s focus on limiting the applicability of umbrella registration did not address a surprisingly popular practice whereby one or more advisers under common control, but organized as distinct entities, avoid registration entirely. In such circumstances, advisers specifically do not meet the requirements for umbrella registration and each adviser tries to rely on its own exemption from registration. This seems like a missed opportunity by the SEC to address a practice that one could argue is simply doing indirectly what is prohibited from being done directly.

SOCIAL MEDIA DISCLOSURE

Nestled among the amendments that will impact advisers immediately is one that, although somewhat significant today, will likely become even more important over time. Form ADV now requires disclosure of the adviser’s social media accounts and the address of each of the adviser’s social media pages. The SEC plans to use this information to prepare for examinations of advisers and compare information that advisers disseminate across different platforms.

We anticipate that SEC examiners will have heightened interest in advisers’ use of social media. Moreover, we believe this additional disclosure will lead to significantly more deficiencies and, potentially, enforcement related to the adviser recordkeeping and performance marketing rules.

CLARIFYING AMENDMENT AND TECHNICAL CHANGES

In addition to the changes discussed above, the SEC has made numerous amendments designed to clarify Form ADV and its instructions. Although the clarifying and technical amendments are too numerous to cover adequately here, an overview of the changes to Item 7, which the SEC revised significantly, provides an illustrative example.

Item 7.A., which requires advisers to disclose whether their related persons fall within certain financial industry categories, will now state that advisers need not disclose that some of their employees perform investment advisory functions or are registered representatives of a broker/dealer, since this information is reported elsewhere in Form ADV.

In a similar vein, Item 7.B asks whether an adviser serves as an adviser to a private fund and Section 7.B.(1) is where further information is provided. The SEC has added an explanation that Section 7.B.(1) of Schedule D should not be completed for a fund if another registered adviser or SEC-exempt reporting adviser reports the information. These amendments are likely to improve the overall quality of disclosure in Form ADV by making it more consistent among advisers.

BOOKS AND RECORD RULES

The SEC has also amended Rule 204-2, the books and records rule, under the Advisers Act. Rule 204-2(a)(16), which at present requires advisers to maintain records supporting performance claims in communications that are distributed to 10 or more persons, will now require records to be maintained for any performance claims distributed to any person.

In addition, Rule 204-2(a)(7) will now require advisers to maintain originals of all written communications received and copies of all written communications sent by an adviser relating to the performance or rate of return of any managed accounts or other securities recommendations. We believe these amendments to the books and records rule will have a limited impact on advisers because most advisers already maintain this information.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s New York office. John Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem, North Carolina office.