Investment Management

Posted on Monday, November 27 2017 at 5:46 pm by

Another Shoe Drops: UBS Withdraws from the Broker Protocol

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

Only one month after Morgan Stanley withdrew from the Protocol for Broker Recruiting (the “Protocol”), a second major brokerage firm has announced its intention to withdraw effective December 1st. UBS says it is withdrawing as part of a strategy to focus on retaining its current brokers instead of recruiting brokers from competitors. [i] Still, many observers believe Morgan Stanley’s and UBS’s withdrawals are meant “to stanch the flow of brokers and client assets.”[ii] This flow, of course, has quickened in recent years as advisers have left traditional, large brokerage firms to form independent advisory firms.[iii]

When Morgan Stanley withdrew from the Protocol, many speculated as to whether the Protocol would survive.[iv] Such speculation has only increased as sources have confirmed that Morgan Stanley’s withdrawal was the catalyst for UBS’s departure.[v] We expect more firms are currently considering how to respond to two of the largest brokerage firms withdrawing from the Protocol, and we would not be surprised to see similar announcements before year-end.

If you have questions about the recent withdrawals from the Protocol or general questions about the complexities that arise in establishing an independent advisory firm, please feel free to contact us directly.

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.

[i] Lisa Beilfuss, UBS to Pull Out of Pact on Broker Recruiting, WALL ST. J., Nov. 27, 2017, available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubs-to-pull-out-of-pact-on-broker-recruiting-1511799020 .

[ii] Id.

[iii] Neil Weinberg, Broker Protocol Reduced to a Sell Game, OnWallSteet, Oct. 18, 2016, available at https://www.onwallstreet.com/news/broker-protocol-reduced-to-a-shell-game.

[iv] Lisa Beilfuss, Morgan Stanley to Exit Accord on Broker Recruiting, WALL ST. J., Oct. 30, 2017, available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/morgan-stanley-to-exit-accord-on-broker-recruiting-1509380038

[v] Beilfuss, supra note 2.

Posted on Friday, November 17 2017 at 8:38 am by

SEC Announces Enforcement Results, Sets New Priorities

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

On November 15, 2017, the SEC announced the results of its enforcement actions for fiscal year 2017 and stated its enforcement priorities for fiscal year 2018.

During fiscal year 2017, the SEC brought 754 enforcement actions, returned $1.07 billion to harmed investors, and obtained judgments and orders totaling $3.789 billion in disgorgement and penalties.[i] Of the 754 enforcement actions, 446 were standalone cases.[ii] Investment advisory issues, securities offerings, and issuer reporting each accounted for 20% of the standalone cases, roughly in line with fiscal year 2016 results.[iii]

In the current fiscal year, the following five core principles will guide the SEC’s enforcement actions:[iv]

  • Focus on Main Street (i.e., unsophisticated) investors
  • Focus on individual accountability (as opposed to organizational accountability)
  • Keep pace with technological change
  • Impose sanctions that most effectively further enforcement goals
  • Assess the allocation of resources

Both the enforcement results for the recently completed fiscal year and the stated priorities for the current fiscal year reflect Chairman Clayton’s oft-articulated dedication to the SEC’s mandates: protect investors, maintain fair and efficient markets, facilitate capital formation.

If you have any questions about the SEC enforcement actions or enforcement priorities, please feel free to contact us directly.

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.

[i] SEC, SEC Enforcement Division Issues Report on Priorities and FY 2017 Results (Nov. 15, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2017-210.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

Posted on Thursday, November 9 2017 at 11:10 am by

Four Key Takeaways for Investment Advisers from Chairman Clayton’s PLI Address

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

On November 8, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton gave the keynote address at the Practicing Law Institute’s 49th Annual Institute on Securities Regulation.[i] Chairman Clayton’s remarks shed considerable light on the SEC’s priorities in the near-term. We believe there are four key takeaways from the address for investment advisers:

  • The SEC will deemphasize formal rulemaking and focus instead on enforcement actions that will improve “transparency in our securities markets”;[ii]
  • The SEC will scrutinize whether investment advisers’ proxy voting decisions are maximizing value for their clients;[iii]
  • The SEC will prioritize enforcement actions related to “complex, obscure, or hidden fees and expenses that can harm investors” (e.g., investing client assets in a mutual fund share class that charges a 12b-1 fee when a lower-cost share class of the same fund is available);[iv] and
  • The SEC will help investors track bad actors by creating a website with a searchable database of “individuals who have been barred or suspended as a result of federal securities law violations.”[v]

Chairman Clayton is clearly signaling to investment advisers that the SEC, in the near-term, will focus its energy on whether they are making complete and accurate disclosures to their clients.

If you have questions about Chairman Clayton’s keynote address or the regulations that govern investment advisers generally, please feel free to contact us.

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] SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Remarks at the PLI 49th Annual Institute on Securities Regulation – New York, N.Y. (Nov. 8 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/speech-clayton-2017-11-08.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

Posted on Monday, October 30 2017 at 8:39 am by

Advisers Trading in Europe or Advising E.U. Clients Must Prepare for MiFID II

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

On January 3, 2018, the European Commission’s sweeping reform, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (“MiFID II”), will become effective. MiFID II applies to firms providing investment services or performing investment activities in the European Union (the “E.U.”).[1] E.U. investment advisers, naturally, will be among those effected. However, U.S. investment advisers who transact in European financial markets or offer investment advice to E.U. citizens through separately managed accounts (“SMAs”), pooled products (e.g., hedge funds), or indirectly through sub-advisory arrangements may be effected as follows:

  • Trading Equities and Derivatives: Under MiFID II, equity trading must occur on regulated markets, multilateral trading facilities, systematic internalisers, or equivalent third country venues.[2] Accordingly, over-the-counter trading of European equities may be severely restricted and the cost of trading certain securities may increase substantially. In addition, derivatives are subject to new reporting requirements and national regulators are empowered to set position limits for certain derivatives.[3]
  • Marketing Separately Managed Accounts: Each U.S. investment adviser must review licensing requirements in each jurisdiction where an E.U. client or potential client resides to determine whether the adviser must establish a branch or obtain a license to do business in the jurisdiction.[4]
  • Marketing Pooled Products: U.S. investment advisers that offer alternative investment funds (“AIFs”) will be governed by the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (“AIFMD”) and jurisdiction-specific private placement rules, not MiFID II, when engaging in marketing activities for an AIF.[5] Likewise, U.S. investment advisers offering Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (“UCITSs”) are not directly subject to MiFID II when marketing a UCITS to E.U. clients, but will be indirectly impacted by MiFID II’s investor protection regime.[6]
  • Providing Sub-Advisory Services to E.U. Firms: E.U. firms subject to MiFID II may attempt to delegate compliance obligations to U.S. investment advisers serving as their sub-advisors. Among compliance obligations likely to be passed to the U.S. sub-advisor are those related to transparency and reporting.[7]

We invite you to contact us directly if you have any questions about the application of MiFID II to U.S. investment advisers.

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] Directive 2014/65/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on Markets in Financial Instruments and Amending Directive 2002/92/EC and Directive 2011/61/EU, 2014 O.J. (L 173) 349, 374.

[2] Id. at 409.

[3] Id. at 440, 444.

[4] Christopher D. Christian & Dick Frase, MiFID II: Key Considerations for US Asset Managers, 23 The Investment Lawyer. 1, 4 (May 2016).

[5] Id. at 5.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 4.

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..