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Written by:  Jay Gould and Peter Chess

While you were touring the Champagne region or sipping umbrella drinks at the beach this summer, the California Department of Corporations (the “DOC”) was busy overhauling the rules applicable to investment advisers.  On August 27, 2012, the DOC adopted final rules, available here, that provide for an exemption from registration for certain private fund managers pursuant to specific conditions.  This exemption, along with the rules previously adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), now permits certain investment advisers that provide advice only to private funds to operate without being fully registered with either the SEC or the State of California. 

Unlike the SEC rules, this exemption does not prohibit a fund manager from registering with the DOC—it simply allows the fund manager to decide whether it would like to register or rely on the exemption.  To rely upon this exemption, a California based adviser must complete and file the Form ADV (required under Rule 204-4 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”)) with the DOC that is required of an adviser that files for “exempt reporting adviser” status with the SEC.  But why would any adviser that is eligible to take advantage of the exemption decide to register? 

If a fund manager intends only to seek capital from “friends and family,” subjecting itself to the full registration requirements and the more complete compliance rules that are expected soon from the DOC could represent a significant expense to the manager.  Or, if a manager is leaving another organization and must quickly get to market, the three to four month process associated with the DOC review of an investment adviser application may be viewed as too long to wait.  But if a fund manager expects to target more institutional capital, or other investors that would have a reasonable expectation that the manager is subject to some regulatory oversight, the manager may very well decide that a California investment adviser registration is not so burdensome.  After all, a manager that seeks to rely on the exemption must still file the Form ADV, prepare a private placement memorandum, and have the fund audited, among other requirements discussed below.  The analysis that each fund manager must undertake in order to make this decision is multi-faceted and is ultimately one that is unique to each adviser and its own circumstance.

To briefly summarize the results of the DOC rulemaking, an investment adviser located in California may conduct its business without being a fully registered and regulated investment adviser under the DOC regulations so long as:

  • the adviser only advises private funds that rely on either Section 3(c)(1) or Section 3(c)(5) of the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, (which the DOC defines as “Retail Buyer Funds”) the investors of which are all “accredited investors”;
  • the adviser is not subject to any statutory disqualifications;
  • the adviser files certain periodic reports and notices; and
  • the adviser pays the annual registration fee of $125.  

Additionally, with respect to Retail Buyer Funds:

  • the adviser may only charge performance fees to investors that meet the Advisers Act definition of a “qualified client”;
  • the Retail Buyer Fund must be audited annually by a Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) registered accounting firm and deliver a copy of the audited financial statements to each beneficial owner; and
  • the adviser must provide “material disclosures” to fund investors that adequately and accurately describe the investment program of the fund and the relationship of the adviser to the fund (e.g., the type of disclosures that competent counsel drafts on behalf of fund managers now).

When an adviser that is eligible for the California exemption reaches $100 million in assets, it would become an exempt reporting adviser with the SEC and would need to switch its status over to the SEC.  And when it reaches $150 million it must become a fully registered investment adviser with the SEC; accordingly, investment advisers can operate without being fully registered with the SEC or the State of California so long as they have less than $150 million in assets and satisfy the conditions discussed above.

The California exemption contains a “grandfathering” provision for Retail Buyer Funds formed prior to the release of the exemption, as the additional requirements listed above are deemed satisfied if the Retail Buyer Fund: (i) distributes annual audited financial statements; (ii) pre-existing investors receive the “material disclosures” discussed above; (iii) from August 27, 2012 on, the Fund only sells interests to “accredited investors”; and (iv) the adviser receives performance-based compensation only from pre-existing investors or “qualified clients.”

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Written by:  Jay Gould and Peter Chess

Heath Abshure, President of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) and Arkansas State Securities Commissioner, sharply criticized the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (the SEC’s) new rulemaking that will lift restrictions on general solicitation and general advertising for hedge funds and other private investment vehicles in a press-teleconference on October 9, 2012.  At the heart of the criticism is the contention that hedge funds and private equity funds could be among the amended rule’s biggest users and beneficiaries. “The SEC’s proposed rule would open the door for private equity and hedge funds, typically only offered to the most sophisticated investors, to advertise to the general public without putting in place basic disclosure requirements that would allow investors to make informed decisions about the products being offered. This is the wrong way to go,” remarked Heath Slavkin Corzo, senior legal and policy advisor of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment during the teleconference.

Under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the JOBS Act), as discussed here and here, the SEC was directed to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, to permit general solicitation and general advertising in unregistered offerings made under Rule 506, provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors.  In reaction to the SEC’s answer to the directives of the JOBS Act, Abshure called for the SEC to withdraw its proposal and draft a new rule that promotes capital formation without sacrificing investor protection.

“People don’t seem to think so, but this is a drastic change to the face of securities regulation,” Abshure said. “Rule 506 offerings already are the most frequent financial product at the heart of state enforcement investigations and actions. Lifting the advertising ban on these highly risky, illiquid offerings, without requiring appropriate safeguards, will create chaos in the market and expose investors to an even greater risk of fraud and abuse. Without adequate investor protections to safeguard the integrity of the private placement marketplace, investors should and will flee from the market, leaving small businesses without an important source of capital.”

“The Commission itself has acknowledged that lifting the ban on general solicitation in private offerings will increase the risk of fraud, potentially harming investors and issuers alike,” added Barbara Roper, Director of Investor Protection for the Consumer Federation of America and the chair of the Investor Issues task force of Americans for Financial Reform during the teleconference. “While the Commission is required by the JOBS Act to lift the solicitation ban, it also has an obligation to adopt rules that protect investors and promote market integrity and the authority to do so.  A number of reasonable, concrete proposals have been suggested that, if adopted, would significantly improve safeguards for investors in private offerings.  Its rule proposal completely ignores those suggestions.  It cannot in good conscience continue to do so.”

The full press release about the teleconference is available here

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Written by:  Jay Gould and Peter Chess

On October 9, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the launch of an initiative to conduct focused, risk-based examinations of investment advisers to private funds that recently registered with the SEC.  These “Presence Exams” are part of a two year initiative with three primary phases: engagement, examination and reporting.  During the examination phase, staff from the National Exam Program (NEP) will review one or more of five areas identified by the SEC as “high-risk” areas for the business and operations of advisers:

  • Marketing.  NEP staff will conduct evaluations of marketing materials to ascertain, for example, whether the adviser has made false or misleading statements about its business or performance record.
  • Portfolio Management.  NEP staff will review and evaluate an adviser’s portfolio decision-making practices.
  • Conflicts of Interest.  NEP staff will review the procedures and controls that advisers use to identify, mitigate and manage conflicts of interest within their firm.
  • Safety of Client Assets.  NEP staff will review advisers deemed to have “custody” of client assets for compliance with provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the Advisers Act), and related rules designed to prevent theft or loss of client assets.
  • Valuation.  NEP staff will review advisers’ valuation policies and procedures.

Investment advisers should note that access to any advisory books and records will also need to be provided upon request during a Presence Exam.  Prior to the examination phase, NEP staff will engage in a nationwide outreach to inform newly registered investment advisers about their obligations under the Advisers Act and related rules during the engagement phase.  At the conclusion of the examination phase, the NEP will report its observations to the SEC and the public.

The NEP is administered by the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations within the SEC.  The letter outlining the NEP’s initiative, available here, was distributed to certain executives and principals of newly registered investment advisers and posted on the SEC’s website.  NEP staff will contact advisers separately if their firm is selected for an examination, and receipt of the letter announcing the launch of the initiative does not ensure that a Presence Exam will necessarily follow.

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Written by: Jay Gould and Peter Chess

Effective December 3, 2012, hedge funds and other private funds that rely on Section 3(c)(1) of the Investment Company Act (“3(c)(1) Funds”) and which sell their interests through third party marketers, must ensure that their private placement memoranda (“PPM”) are filed with FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.  The Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved new FINRA Rule 5123, Private Placements of Securities, which is part of an ongoing approach by FINRA to enhance oversight and investor protection in private placements.  Under Rule 5123, each firm that sells a security in a private placement, subject to certain exemptions, must file a copy of the offering document with FINRA within 15 calendar days of the date of the first sale.  If a firm sells a private placement without using any offering documents, then the firm must indicate that it did not use an offering document.  The rule also requires firms to file any materially amended versions of the documents originally filed.  Rule 5123 exempts some private placements sold solely to qualified purchasers, institutional purchasers and other sophisticated investors.

For hedge funds and other  private funds that have hired a third party marketer, the fund manager must make sure that the agreement with the marketer, which is required to be a registered broker dealer, obligates the marketer to file the PPM with FINRA and amend the filing if the PPM is materially revised.  The marketing agreement, or “placement agency agreement” as it is sometimes called, should indemnify the fund manager for the failure of the marketer to make these filings.      

Rule 5123 will become effective December 3, 2012, and the full text of the FINRA regulatory notice regarding Rule 5123 is available here.