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New DDQ Inquiry Spells Potential Liability for Fund Managers

Written by Jay Gould

The Pillsbury Investment Funds Team has over the past month reviewed several new Due Diligence Questionnaire (“DDQ”) forms on behalf of fund manager clients from institutional investors and family offices that contain a new inquiry that is potentially problematic for certain fund managers. Generally, this new inquiry requests information regarding any dispute over fees that the manager has had over a specific time period with certain service providers for the fund and the general partner of the fund. In its typical form, the question asks:

During the past three years, have you [the fund manager] or a controlled affiliate, had any amounts in dispute with or refused payment to any third party marketer or sales agent, any public relations firm or individual conducting a similar function, or any law firm or legal representative?

The DDQ goes on to request additional information about each disputed payment and requests permission from the fund manager for the potential investor to contact the service provider named with respect to the disputed fees. The Pillsbury Investment Funds Team found this question interesting and potentially troublesome and contacted one of the institutional investors with respect to this inquiry. We were informed that this particular investor was concerned that fund managers that do not honor their obligations to service providers are often the same ones that take a broad view regarding the services can be “soft dollared,” manager expenses that are chargeable to the fund, and creative calculations of management and performance fees. We were informed that these particular service providers to fund managers are often not in a position to pursue fees in dispute due to the potential public relations disaster such an action would cause to the allegedly aggrieved party. Or put another way, if a third party marketer brought an action against a fund manager for fees due on assets raised on behalf of a fund, what fund manager would ever retain that marketer again? Institutional investors are also concerned about the continuity of service providers and any pattern related to why high or constant service provider turnover. It is worth noting that auditors are not generally included in this type of question because changing auditors and the reason for it is covered in a separate inquiry. It is our understanding that this addition to the DDQ is gaining popularity among institutional investors and family offices and that follow up on the information provided in response to the inquiry is being conducted.

This development raises several potential issues for fund managers that are asked to respond to this inquiry. First, all responses to DDQs and other “marketing” materials are subject to the fiduciary standard set forth in Investment Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-8 which was adopted in 2007 in response to the Goldstein decision. Rule 206(4)-8 applies to every investment adviser, whether or not registered, and imposes a strict liability fiduciary standard on information that is provided to investors and potential investors. Accordingly, to the extent a fund manager refuses to answer the DDQ or does not answer the question fully and truthfully, such manager faces a potential violation of Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act, which is a very serious offense. Additionally, to the extent a potential investor seeks to obtain information regarding legal fees in dispute, fund managers should be aware that they are being asked to waive the attorney client privilege with respect to this aspect of the relationship with their attorneys. Fund managers should seek to condition disclosure of this information on confidentiality, however, it is likely that such information could still be obtained from the investor by way of a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission, a state regulator, or even a third party litigant.