Investment Management

Posted on Friday, October 13 2017 at 11:35 am by

Regulation S-K Amendments Promise FAST Relief for Advisers and Funds

By Paul Foley, John I. Sanders, and Lauren Henderson

On October 11, 2017, the SEC issued a Proposed Rule to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K.[1] The Proposed Rule, authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (the “FAST Act”), is intended to reduce the costs and burdens on registrants while still providing investors with disclosures that are user friendly, material, and free of unnecessary repetition.[2]

The Proposed Rule, if adopted, would amend rules and forms used by public companies, investment companies, and investment advisers.[3] The most notable provisions of the Proposed Rule include the following:

  • Eliminating risk factor examples from Item 503(c) of Regulation S-K because the examples do not apply to all registrants and may not actually correspond to the material risks of any particular registrant;[4]
  • Revising requirements related to descriptions of property owned by the registrant in Item 102 of Regulation S-K to emphasize materiality;[5]
  • Eliminating undertakings that are unnecessarily repetitious from securities registration statements;[6]
  • Changing exhibit filing requirements and allowing flexibility in discussing historical periods in the Management’s Discussion and Analysis;[7]
  • Permitting registrants to omit confidential information (e.g., personally identifiable information and material contract exhibits) from Item 601 without submitting a confidential treatment request;[8] and
  • Using hyperlinks in forms to help investors access documents incorporated by reference.[9]

The SEC will accept public comments on the Proposed Rule for sixty days before determining whether to issue a final rule or amend the proposal and seek additional public comment.[10] We are hopeful the Proposed Rule will be well-received by all stakeholders and be finalized relatively quickly.

We invite you to contact us directly if you have any questions about the SEC’s Proposed Rule or Regulation S-K generally.

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

[1] SEC, SEC Proposes Rules to Implement FAST Act Mandate to Modernize and Simplify Disclosure (Oct. 11, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2017-192.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] SEC, Proposed Rule: FAST Act Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K,

Release No. 33-10425; 34-81851; IA-4791; IC-32858, available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/2017/33-10425.pdf.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

Posted on Thursday, August 31 2017 at 5:45 pm by

DOL’s Proposed Rule Would Extend the Transition Period for Certain Fiduciary Rule Exemptions to July 2019

 By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Today, the text of a Department of Labor (the “DOL”) Proposed Rule we have been anticipating for several weeks was made available to the public.[i] The Proposed Rule would “extend the special transition period” for certain components of the Best Interest Contract Exemption (the “BIC Exemption”) and certain other exemptions to the Fiduciary Rule.[ii] Perhaps the most important aspect of the Proposed Rule is that it would maintain the current version of the BIC Exemption, which requires fiduciaries relying on it to merely “give prudent advice that is in retirement investors’ best interest, charge no more than reasonable compensation, and avoid misleading statements.”[iii] In making the proposal, the DOL stated that its purpose was to give the DOL “time to consider possible changes and alternatives” to the exemptions.[iv] If finalized, the Proposed Rule would extend the transition period of the effected exemptions to July 1, 2019.[v]

Please contact us if you have any questions about this article or the DOL Fiduciary Rule generally.

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.

[i] DOL, Notice of proposed amendments to PTE 2016-01, PTE 2016-02, and PTE 84-24, 82 Fed. Reg. 41365, available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/08/31/2017-18520/extension-of-transition-period-and-delay-of-applicability-dates-best-interest-contract-exemption-pte.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id. at 41367.

[iv] Id. at 41365.

[v] Id.

Posted on Thursday, August 17 2017 at 8:39 am by

DOL Proposes an Extension of the Fiduciary Rule Transition Period

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

When the DOL Fiduciary Rule became effective on June 9th, it marked the start of a transition period that was scheduled to end on January 1, 2018 (the “Transition Period”).[i]  During the Transition Period, compliance burdens under the Fiduciary Rule are relaxed.  For example, those seeking to rely on the Best Interest Contract Exemption (the “BIC Exemption”) will face less stringent requirements.[ii]  Also, the DOL stated that it would not bring enforcement actions during the Transition Period against “fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the new rule and exemptions.”[iii]

Last week, the DOL submitted proposed amendments to the BIC Exemption and certain other exemptions to the Fiduciary Rule.[iv]  We learned of this development through a 2-page filing the DOL made in relation to ongoing litigation.[v]  Unfortunately, the filing provided little detail, and the full text of the proposed amendments will not be available to the public until the conclusion of an interagency review.[vi]  However, what seems apparent, based upon the title of the proposed amendments in the filing, is that the proposed amendments include an extension of the Transition Period from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019.[vii]

In the long term, we believe that the DOL’s proposed amendments foreshadow either significant modifications to or a full repeal of the Fiduciary Rule and its exemptions.  In the near term, we believe the extension of the Transition Period, coupled with the temporary non-enforcement policy, provides fiduciaries with a reason to breathe easier.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this article or the DOL Fiduciary Rule generally.

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.

[i] Department of Labor, Conflict of Interest FAQs (Transition Period) (May 2017), available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/coi-transition-period-1.pdf.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Thrivent Financial for Lutherans v. Acosta, et al., No. 0:16-cv-03289 (D. Minn. Sept. 29, 2016), available at http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjTqJP_utzVAhWI7CYKHdKTDrcQFggrMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmedia.thinkadvisor.com%2Fthinkadvisor%2Farticle%2F2017%2F08%2F09%2Fthriventvdolnotice8-9-2017.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFWeSsTSR6C69Z17yHF1q1a7bkDpg.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

Posted on Wednesday, July 26 2017 at 8:58 am by

Six Ways to Improve Cybersecurity Policies and Procedures

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

The SEC has declared cybersecurity to be an examination priority for financial institutions (i.e., broker-dealers, investment advisers, and registered investment companies) in each of the past four years.[1]  While the SEC’s comments in these examination priority releases are helpful for financial institutions, we believe that the SEC may have provided more useful guidance concerning cybersecurity practices through investor bulletins designed to help investors avoid online fraud.[2]  This guidance reveals helpful insights into the SEC’s evolving approach to cybersecurity.  Accordingly, based on the SEC’s most recently issued guidance to investors, we identify six ways financial institutions could improve their cybersecurity policies and procedures below.[3]

1. Passwords. The SEC has recommended that investors choose a strong password (e., one that includes symbols, numbers, and both capital and lowercase letters) for online access, keep their password secure, and change it regularly.[4]  Consistent with this recommendation, financial institutions may want to consider requiring clients to choose strong passwords and change them regularly.

2.  Biometric Safeguards. The SEC has recommended that investors contact their financial institutions to determine whether they offer biometric safeguards (g., fingerprinting, facial and voice recognition, and retina scans) for mobile device access.[5]  Although biometric safeguards are not currently a standard security feature, financial institutions may want to consider ways they can add biometric safeguards as a feature of mobile device access for their clients.

3.  Public Computers. The SEC has recommended that investors avoid using public computers to access investment accounts.[6]  When an investor does use a public computer, the SEC recommends investors take the following precautions:  disable password saving; delete files, caches, and cookies; and log out of accounts completely when finished.[7]  Financial institutions could help investors follow the SEC’s helpful, but often forgotten, advice by, for example, requiring them to proactively check a box to enable password saving on each new device and automatically logging users out of their online accounts after relatively short periods of inactivity.

4.  Secure Websites. The SEC has recommended that investors not log in to an account unless the relevant financial institution’s website has a secure “https” address.[8]  Many financial institutions have a secure website already, but those that do not may want to consider implementing one.

5.  Links. The SEC has recommended that clients never click on links sent to them by financial institutions with which they do not have a relationship, and to confirm the legitimacy of links sent to them by their financial institutions by calling or emailing the purported sender.[9]  In response to this advice, financial institutions may want to use links judiciously, and ensure that those who will receive calls and emails from clients know what links have been sent to which clients and under what circumstances.  Without such knowledge, financial institution employees may be unable to confirm or deny the legitimacy of the link, undermining client confidence in the financial institution’s cybersecurity policies and procedures.

6.  Review Account Statements. The SEC has recommended that investors regularly review statements and trade confirmations for suspicious activity and contact their financial institution with a written complaint if there is suspicious activity.[10]  In response, financial institutions may want to evaluate their security procedures with respect to redemptions and distributions.  Adopting reliable technological innovations can help prevent suspicious activity and create a business advantage (g., using biometric safeguards or two-factor authentication may be more reliable and less time-consuming than requiring signature guarantees).

Please contact us if you have any questions about this article or the SEC’s cybersecurity guidance.

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, Examination Priorities for 2014 (Jan. 9, 2014), available at http://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2014.pdf; SEC, Examination Priorities for 2015 (Jan. 13, 2015), available at http://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2015.pdf; SEC, Examination Priorities for 2016 (Jan. 11, 2016), available at http://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2016.pdf;  SEC, Examination Priorities for 2017 (Jan. 12, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2017.pdf.

[2] SEC, Cybersecurity, the SEC and You (last visited July 25, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/spotlight/cybersecurity (containing a library of resources of both investors and securities industry professionals related to cybersecurity).

[3] SEC, Updated Investor Bulletin:  Protecting Your Online Investment Accounts from Fraud (April 26, 2017), available at https://investor.gov/additional-resources/news-alerts/alerts-bulletins/updated-investor-bulletin-protecting-your-online.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

Posted on Monday, July 24 2017 at 2:41 pm by

Wyoming Mid-Sized Advisers Can No Longer Register with the SEC

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

Wyoming required investment advisers to register with the state for the first time on July 1, 2017.[i]  Wyoming’s decision primarily affects those Wyoming-based advisers with between $25 million and $100 million in assets under management (“Mid-Sized Advisers”).  Generally, Mid-Sized Advisers may not register with the SEC.[ii]  However, Wyoming-based Mid-Sized Advisers were required to register with the SEC pursuant to an exception to the general rule.[iii]  That exception requires a Mid-Sized Adviser to register with the SEC if its principal office or place of business is in a state that does not require it to register.[iv]  Wyoming’s lack of a registration requirement for Mid-Sized Advisers and the SEC’s exception made Wyoming a destination for Mid-Sized Advisers who wanted to tout SEC registration.[v]  Some Mid-Sized Advisers went as far as to fraudulently claim to be based in Wyoming so that they could boast SEC registration.[vi]  Wyoming’s decision to require investment advisers to register with the state means that Wyoming-based Mid-Sized Advisers (real and fictitious) are no longer permitted to register with the SEC.  Instead, they must register with Wyoming and comply with its new regulatory regime.[vii]  This continues a shift, which we first noted in 2011, of primary responsibility for the regulatory oversight of Mid-Sized Advisers to the states.[viii]

Please contact us if you have any questions about the new law or its potential impact on your investment advisory business.

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.

[i] Wyoming Secretary of State, FAQs (March 14, 2017), available at http://soswy.state.wy.us/Investing/Docs/investment_faq_final.pdf.

[ii] 15 USC 80b-3a (2017); see also SEC, Division of Investment Management: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Mid-Sized Advisers, available at https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/midsizedadviserinfo.htm (providing additional commentary related to the effect of certain Dodd-Frank Act provisions on Mid-Sized Advisers).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] See Danielle Andrus, ThinkAdvisor, Wyoming to Begin Registering RIAs (July 13, 2016), available at http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2016/07/13/wyoming-to-begin-registering-rias; see also Christine Idzelis, Investment News, Wyoming poised to scrutinize its RIA industry for the first time (July 6, 2016), available at http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20160706/FREE/160709978/wyoming-poised-to-scrutinize-its-ria-industry-for-the-first-time.

[vi] See In re Matter of New Line Capital, LLC and David A Nagler, IA-4017 (February 4, 2015), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2015/ia-4017.pdf; and In the matter of Wyoming Investment Services, LLC and Criag M. Scariot, IA-4014 (February 4, 2015), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2015/ia-4014.pdf.

[vii] Wyoming Secretary of State, Proposed Rules, available at http://soswy.state.wy.us/Investing/Docs/WyomingProposedRulesforIA.pdf.

[viii] Paul Foley, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP Investment Management Blog, Deadline for Meeting the New Investment Adviser Regulatory Requirements Under the Dodd-Frank Act is Quickly Approaching (Sept. 20, 2011), available at http://www.kilpatricktownsend.com/en/Knowledge_Center/Alerts_and_Podcasts/Legal_Alerts/2011/09/Deadline_for_Meeting_the_New_Investment_Adviser_Regulatory_Requirements.aspx.

Posted on Monday, June 12 2017 at 11:00 am by

Fiduciary Rule Creates Breach of Contract Claim, But No Private Right of Action

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

The first part of the DOL’s Conflict of Interest Rule (the “Fiduciary Rule”) went into effect on Friday, June 9th.  A large group of newly-defined “fiduciaries” are now subject to certain requirements of the Best Interest Contract (“BIC”) exemption,[1] a portion of the Fiduciary Rule that according to some commentators creates a private right of action for investors.

The creation of a private right of action is one of the investment industry’s chief concerns with the Fiduciary Rule.  Industry leaders claim that the BIC exemption creates a private right of action because it enables investors to bring breach of contract claims and class actions against the fiduciaries with whom they contract.  However, a federal judge from the Northern District of Texas flatly rejected this claim in Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Hugler.[1]

The plaintiff in Hugler claimed, among other things, that the BIC exemption created a private right of action in violation of Alexander v. Sandoval, a Supreme Court case holding that only Congress, not an administrative agency, can create a private right of action under federal law.[2]  But the judge in Hugler sided with the DOL, finding that the BIC exemption does not create a private right of action, and so does not violate Sandoval.[3]  The judge reasoned that any lawsuit resulting from the breach of a BIC exemption contract would be brought under state contract law rather than federal ERISA law.[4]  The judge also noted that it is not a new concept for federal regulations to require entities to enter into written contracts with mandatory provisions; annuity owners already have enforceable contract rights against insurers, and multiple other agencies require that their regulated entities enter into written agreements with mandatory terms.[5]

Yet articles from leaders in the legal and investment industries continue to label the BIC exemption’s litigation risk as a private right of action for investors.  Fiduciaries reading these articles should keep in mind that a private right of action cannot exist under the BIC exemption because the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sandoval only allows a private right of action to be created by Congress.  Also, it is unlikely that any court will block the Fiduciary Rule on the grounds that the BIC exemption impermissibly creates a private right of action because, as pointed out by the judge in Hugler, any claims brought as a result of BIC exemption contracts would be brought under state law rather than federal law.  However, fiduciaries should be aware that the Fiduciary Rule still exposes them to litigation risk as investors can use BIC exemption contracts (which are not required to be used until January 1, 2018) to file state breach of contract claims and, potentially, class actions.

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] For more information on current Fiduciary Rule and BIC Exemption requirements, see Paul Foley & John Sanders, DOL Puts Advisors on Notice: Fiduciary Rule Will be Effective June 9th, Kilpatrick Townsend: Inv. Mgmt. Blog (May 25, 2017, 9:32 PM), http://blogs.kilpatricktownsend.com/investmentmanagement/?p=321.[1] Chamber of Commerce of the United States of Am. v. Hugler, 3:16-CV-1476-M, 2017 WL 514424 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 8, 2017).

[2] Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 286 (2001) (citing Touche Ross & Co. v. Reddington, 442 U.S. 560, 578 (1979)).

[3] Hugler, 3:16-CV-1476-M, 2017 WL 514424, at *20.

[4] Id..

[5] 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 Wednesday, April 19 2017 at 8:48 am by

SEC Issues Guidance to Robo-Advisers

Robo-advisers are a fast-growing segment of the investment advisory industry.  In fact, they now account for an estimated $71.5 billion in assets under management.[1]  In response to their explosive growth, the SEC has made robo-advisers an examination priority[2] and has issued regulatory guidance to them.[3]  The SEC’s guidance is summarized below.

  • Disclosures to potential clients should explain the: (i) robo-adviser’s business model and how it differs from traditional investment adviser models; and (ii) limitations in the scope of the robo-adviser’s services.[4]  The robo-adviser should also consider whether its delivery of the disclosures is clear and conspicuous enough to be effective in the context of the relationship, which may be entirely web-based.[5]
  • Questionnaires used to gather client information should be designed to obtain sufficient information to support the robo-adviser’s suitability obligation.[6] Where the client can select investments other than those the adviser recommends, the robo-adviser should provide commentary supporting its recommendations.[7]
  • Internal compliance programs should address the unique aspects of the robo-adviser business model, including limited human interaction and heightened cybersecurity risks.[8]

Advisers who have replaced or supplemented their advisory services with robo-adviser technology in recent years may have questions after reviewing the SEC’s guidance.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.

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

 

[1] Daisy Maxey, Spotlight on Robo Advisers’ Returns, Wall Street Journal (Nov. 1, 2016), https://www.wsj.com/articles/spotlight-on-robo-advisers-returns-1478018429.

[2] SEC, National Exam Program Examination Priorities for 2017 (Jan. 13, 2017), www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2017.pdf.

[3] SEC, IM Guidance Update No. 2017-02 (Feb. 2017), www.sec.gov/im-guidance-2017-02.pdf.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

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.