Articles Tagged with Broker Dealers 2

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), on March 31, 2014, announced insider trading charges against two men who allegedly traded on information they overheard from their respective wives.  On April 3, 2014, the SEC announced charges against two friends who traded tips related to an impending acquisition deal.  The spouse cases and friend cases differ with respect to the culpability of the tipper.  In the friend cases, the tipper and the tippees were all aware that they were breaching their duties to maintain the information and not trade on it.  In the spouse cases, the wives were unaware of their husbands’ intentions and actions and had previously informed their husbands of the prohibition on trading on any information gleaned from them.


The SEC has charged three friends who worked together to trade on nonpublic information related to the acquisition of The Shaw Group by Chicago Bridge & Iron Company.  John W. Femenia was employed by a major investment bank from which he obtained the information about the impending acquisition.  Femenia told his friend Walter D. Wagner the nonpublic information and Wagner passed that information along to Alexander J. Osborn.  Osborn and Wagner proceeded to invest substantially all of their liquid assets based on the information from Femenia.  When the public announcement was made, Wagner and Osborn profited approximately $1 million collectively.

Femenia was charged in December 2012 for knowingly being the source of nonpublic information to a whole insider trading ring.

Wagner settled with the SEC by disgorging all illicit profits and a parallel criminal action against him was announced on April 3rd. The SEC case against Osborn is ongoing.


The SEC charged two men with insider trading, in unrelated cases, for illegally trading on information they obtained from their wives. In each case, the husband overheard his wife on a business call in which market moving information was discussed. The SEC found that both men were aware of the prohibition on trading on the information obtained from their spouses and knowingly violated the duty and profited from the information.

Both men have settled their cases with the SEC and each has agreed to pay more than double the profits realized.

The lessons from these cases apply to any person who may obtain material nonpublic information about public entities that they have a duty to protect. Investment advisers and broker-dealers should be sure their insider trading training and policies address the friends and family issue directly. Employers should remind their employees to be cognizant of who can overhear their phone conversations or potentially see their written communication with clients or co-workers and take as many precautions as practicable to prevent the insider information from being used illegally.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) previously announced that its 2014 Examination Priorities included a focus on technology, including cybersecurity preparedness.  In connection with that statement of examination priority, OCIE recently issued a Risk Alert to provide additional information concerning its initiative to assess cybersecurity preparedness in the securities industry.

As part of this initiative, OCIE will conduct examinations of more than 50 registered broker-dealers and registered investment advisers focused on the following:

  • the entity’s cybersecurity governance,
  • identification and assessment of cybersecurity risks,
  • protection of networks and information,
  • risks associated with remote customer access and funds transfer requests,
  • risks associated with vendors and other third parties,
  • detection of unauthorized activity, and
  • experiences with certain cybersecurity threats.

OCIE has provided a sample form of request for information and documents that investment advisers and broker dealers can expect to receive prior to this type of examination.

Although the SEC has stated that they believe the sample document request (see Appendix) should help to empower compliance professionals with questions and tools they can use to assess their firms’ level of preparedness, registrants should also expect the SEC to use the sample document as a basis for finding deficiencies, to the extent the guidance is not followed.

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Written by: Jessica M. Brown and Jay B. Gould

On March 10, 2014, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) submitted a proposed rule to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that would require disclosure to certain clients and FINRA regarding the details of a broker-dealer representative’s financial recruiting incentives (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule is intended to ensure that the former clients of a representative who has changed firms are aware of: (i) the recruitment compensation that induced the representative to change firms, and (ii) all of the costs and potential risks associated with transferring their assets to the new firm (the “Recruiting Firm”). In addition to disclosures to clients, the Proposed Rule would require the Recruiting Firm to report to FINRA at the beginning of a representative’s employment, any significant total compensation increases the representative will receive in the first year, compared to the representative’s compensation the prior year.

Under the Proposed Rule, if a Recruiting Firm directly or through the representative, tries to induce the representative’s clients from a prior firm to transfer assets to the Recruiting Firm, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose to the potential client if the representative has received, or will receive, $100,000 or more in either (i) aggregate “upfront payments” or (ii) aggregate “potential future payments.” Upfront payments include compensation received upon commencement of association or specified amounts guaranteed to be paid at a future date (e.g. cash, deferred cash bonus, transition assistance, forgivable loans, equity awards, loan-bonus arrangements, or ownership interests. Potential future payments include those offered as a financial incentive contingent upon the representative meeting performance-based goals, allowance for additional travel or expense reimbursement in excess to what is typical for similarly situated representatives, or a commission schedule for a representative who is paid on a commission basis in excess of what is typically provided to similarly situated representatives.  Where the Recruiting Firm partnered with another entity, such as an investment adviser or insurance company, to recruit a representative, the disclosed upfront payments and potential future payments would include any payments from those third parties connected to the recruitment.

The amount of recruitment compensation received would be disclosed separately for aggregate upfront payments and aggregate potential future payments using ranges for each: $100,000 to $500,000; $500,001 to $1,000,000; $1,000,001 to $2,000,000; $2,000,001 to $5,000,000; and above $5,000,000. In addition to the amounts that must be disclosed, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose the basis for determining the upfront and potential future payments. Pursuant to the Proposed Rule, disclosure would not be required to be disclosed to clients that meet the definition of an “institutional account” under FINRA Rule 4512(c), however accounts held by natural persons would not qualify for the institutional account exception under the Proposed Rule.

Client disclosures, pursuant to the Proposed Rule, would also be required to include whether transferring assets from the representative’s prior firm to the Recruiting Firm would cause the client to incur any costs the Recruiting Firm would not reimburse. Further, if the assets are not transferrable, the Recruiting Firm would be required to disclose the costs the client may incur, including taxes.

The Proposed Rule would require the disclosures be made to the client at the time of first individualized contact by the representative or Recruiting Firm that attempts to convince the client to transfer assets. Written disclosures would be required if the contact is in writing. If the contact is oral, the disclosures would be made orally with written disclosures to follow. The disclosure requirement would be mandated for the representative’s first year with the Recruiting Firm.

The second component of the Proposed Rule would require the Recruiting Firm to report to FINRA if it reasonably expects the total compensation paid to the representative, in his/her first year, to increase the representative’s prior year’s compensation by the greater of 25% or $100,000. The compensation information reported to FINRA would not be available to the public under the Proposed Rule.

The SEC will review the Proposed Rule and is expected to seek public comment. The Proposed Rule has not yet been published on the SEC’s website as of the date of this posting.

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Written by: Jessica M. Brown

The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) approved two new Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) rules as part of FINRA’s ongoing rulebook consolidation process. The two new rules approved by the SEC on December 23, 2013 consolidate a number of existing NASD and NYSE rules and interpretations regarding supervision into the new FINRA Rules 3110 and 3120. The new rules will require broker-dealer firms to bring their current supervisory system and written policies and procedures into compliance with a handful of new requirements. Firms should be aware of the impact the new rules have on: (i) which personnel may act in a supervisory role; (ii) who may conduct office inspections; (iii) how certain internal communication must be reviewed; and (iv) additional requirements in regards to monitoring and reporting insider trading.

Supervisory Personnel

FINRA Rule 3110 requires a broker-dealer to have a supervisory system that designates at least one principal on-site to supervise the activities in each of the broker-dealer’s offices of supervisory jurisdiction (“OSJs”). The designated on-site principal for each OSJ must have a “regular and routine” physical presence and, absent certain circumstances, should not be responsible for the supervision of more than one OSJ.

Inspections of Offices

FINRA Rule 3110 requires broker-dealers to, at minimum, inspect (i) supervisory branch offices and OSJs annually, (ii) non-supervisory branch offices every three years, and (iii) non-branch locations (including “home offices”) on a “regular periodic schedule” which period should not be longer than three years.

Conflicts of Interest with Inspections

The new FINRA Rule 3110(c)(3) requires broker-dealers to establish policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to prevent conflicts of interest from compromising office inspections. Broker-dealers may not permit, except under certain special circumstances, an associated person to perform the inspection of a location where that person is assigned to or is directly/indirectly supervised by, or reports to, a person assigned to that location.

Investment Banking/Securities Transactions

New Rule 3110(b)(2) requires a principal to perform a written review of transactions related to the broker-dealer’s securities or investment banking business. The review does not need to be detailed for each transaction if the broker-dealer’s review system meets certain criteria.

Written and Electronic Communication Review

The new FINRA Rule 3110(b)(4) requires supervisory procedures be in place to review written and electronic communications which relate to the broker-dealer’s securities or investment banking. Further, broker-dealers must put procedures in place to review internal communications which may contain subject matter needing to be reviewed for compliance with securities laws and FINRA rules. While the supervisor is ultimately responsible, Rule 3110(b)(4) permits the delegation of certain communication review duties to unregistered personnel.

Insider Trading

In order to identify potential insider trading or other types of manipulative or deceptive devices, new FINRA Rule 3110(d) requires broker-dealers to have procedures in place to supervise the broker-dealer’s transactions and well as those of its associated persons or family members of the associated persons. In the event of a questionable trade, the broker-dealer must promptly perform an internal investigation. If the broker-dealer is engaged in investment banking services, it must supply FINRA with a quarterly report concerning insider trading investigations in the prior quarter, as well as a report within five days of the completion of an internal investigation where violations of insider trading policies were found.

Annual Report

New FINRA Rule 3120 requires broker-dealers to test and verify supervisory procedures and provide senior management with an annual report. Further, the annual report to senior management of a broker-dealer with more that $200 million in gross annual revenue must detail the reports made to FINRA concerning customer complaints and internal investigations, as well as information on the previous year’s compliance procedures.

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Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission published its 2014 priorities for its National Examination Program (“NEP”).  These priorities cover a wide range of issues at financial institutions, including investment advisers and investment companies, broker-dealers, clearing agencies, exchanges and other self-regulatory organizations, hedge funds, private equity funds, and transfer agents.  Similar to the 2013 priorities, the 2014 priorities were published to focus on areas that are perceived by the SEC staff to have heightened risk.

The examination priorities address market-wide issues and those specific to each of the NEP’s four program areas — (i) investment advisers and investment companies(“IA-IC”), (ii) broker-dealers (“B-D”), (iii) exchanges and self-regulatory organizations (“SROs”, and collectively, “market oversight”), and (iv) clearing and transfer agents (“CA” and “TA”).  For investment advisers and investment companies, the SEC has specifically outlined its priorities as follows: 

  • Core Risks
    • Safety of Assets and Custody
    • Conflicts of Interest Inherent in Certain Investment Adviser Business Models
    • Marketing Performance 
  • New and Emerging Issues and Initiatives
    • Never-Before Examined Advisers
    • Wrap Fee Programs
    • Quantitative Trading Models
    • Presence Exams
    • Payments for Distribution in Guise
    • Fixed Income Investment Companies 
  • Policy Topics
    • Money Market Funds
    • “Alternative” Investment Companies
    • Securities Lending Arrangements

The market-wide priorities include fraud detection and prevention, corporate governance and enterprise risk management, technology controls, issues posed by the convergence of broker-dealer and investment adviser businesses and by new rules and regulations, and retirement investments and rollovers. 

The full SEC press release can be found HERE and a full text of the 2014 Examination Priorities can be found HERE

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On April 8, 2013, we reviewed a recent speech by David Blass, the Chief Counsel of the Division of Trading and Markets of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), in which Mr. Blass provided his views on whether certain investment fund managers might be operating in a way that would require registration as a broker dealer.  For hedge fund managers, the problem typically arises in the context of paying internal sales people based on the amount of capital raised.  As we noted, the widespread misreading or abuse of Rule 3a4-1, the issuer’s exemption safe harbor on which so many hedge fund managers rely, is now clearly on the SEC’s radar.

But there are other ways to become entangled in broker dealer registration requirements that many private equity funds (and some hedge funds) will also need to consider.  The SEC staff is aware that advisers to some private funds, such as managers of private equity funds executing a leverage buyout strategy, may collect fees other than advisory fees, some of which look suspiciously like brokerage commissions.  It is not uncommon for a fund manager to direct the payment of fees by a portfolio company of the fund to one of its affiliates in connection with the acquisition, disposition (including an initial public offering), or recapitalization of the portfolio company.  These fees are often described as compensating the fund manager or its affiliated company, or personnel for “investment banking activity,” including negotiating transactions, identifying and soliciting purchasers or sellers of the securities of the company, or structuring transactions.  These are typical investment banking activities for which registration as a broker dealer is required.

Perhaps through its presence exams, the SEC staff recognizes that the practice of charging these transaction fees is fairly common among certain private equity fund managers.  Blass suggested that if the payment of these investment banking type fees were used to offset the management fee, then a valid argument could be made that no separate brokerage compensation was generated.  However, the industry argument that the receipt of such fees by the general partner of the fund should be viewed as the same person as the fund, so there are no transactions for the account of others was not an argument that the SEC staff appeared ready to endorse.  As long as the fee is paid to someone other than the fund for the types of activities described above, then the general partner or its affiliate would need to go through the analysis as to why broker dealer registration is not required.  The private equity fund bar has also advanced the policy argument that requiring private equity fund managers to register as broker dealers serves no useful purpose.  This policy argument that advocates the position that the SEC should exempt certain firms and not others for the same conduct, as attractive as it might be for managers of private equity funds, is a total non-starter from the regulator’s perspective.  The SEC staff will remain fixated on the type of activity and the fees generated from that activity when attempting to determine whether registration is required.

Particularly among private equity fund managers, many of which have not had a history of being a regulated entity, this violation of the broker dealer registration requirement is not viewed as a serious matter because “everyone else is doing it.”  But the SEC is putting private equity on notice that this is an area that the staff will focus on in examinations and will eventually bring enforcement action.  In addition to being subject to sanctions by the SEC, another possible consequence of acting as an unregistered broker-dealer is the potential right to rescission by investors.  A transaction that is intermediated by an inappropriately unregistered broker-dealer could potentially be rendered void.  A purchaser of securities would typically seek to void a transaction if the price had moved against him, leaving the fund manager scrambling to make up the difference between the sales price and the value at rescission.   Private equity fund managers and those hedge fund managers that conduct similar activities should give greater attention to this issue for which the SEC staff has provided fair warning.

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In a speech before the American Bar Association’s Trading and Markets Subcommittee on April 5, 2013, David Blass, the Chief Counsel of the Division of Markets and Trading, put hedge fund managers and private equity fund managers on notice that they may be engaged in unregistered (and therefore, unlawful) broker dealer activities as a result of the manner by which hedge fund managers compensate their personnel and, in the case of private equity fund managers, the receipt of investment banking fees with respect to their portfolio companies.  The good news is that Mr. Blass indicated that the Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) is willing to work with the industry to come up with an exemption from broker dealer registration for private fund managers that would allow some relief from the prohibitions against certain sales activities and compensation arrangements regarding the sales of private fund securities.  This post will address only the sales compensation activities of hedge funds with an explanation of the private equity investment banking fee discussion to follow.

Mr. Blass indicated that he believed that private fund advisers may not be fully aware of all of the activities that could be viewed as soliciting securities transactions, or the implications of compensation methods that are transaction-based that would give rise to the requirement to register as a broker dealer.

Mr. Blass provided several examples that fund managers should consider to help determine whether a person is acting as a broker-dealer:

How does the adviser solicit and retain investors?  Thought should be given regarding the duties and responsibilities of personnel performing such solicitation or marketing efforts. This is an important consideration because a dedicated sales force of internal employees working in a “marketing” department may strongly indicate that they are in the business of effecting transactions in the private fund, regardless of how the personnel are compensated.

Do employees who solicit investors have other responsibilities?  The implication of this point is that if an employee’s primary responsibility is to solicit investors, the employee may be engaged in a broker dealer activity irrespective of whether other duties are also performed.

How are personnel who solicit investors for a private fund compensated?  Do those individuals receive bonuses or other types of compensation that is linked to successful investments?  A critical element to determining whether one is required to register as a broker-dealer is the existence of transaction-based compensation. This implies that bonuses tied to capital raising success would likely give rise to a requirement for such individuals to register as broker dealers.

Does the fund manager charge a transaction fee in connection with a securities transaction?  In addition to considering compensation of employees, advisers also need to consider the fees they charge and in what way, if any, they are linked to a security transaction.  This point is aimed more at the investment banking type fees that a private equity fund might generate, but it would also be relevant in the context of direct lending funds or other types of funds that generate income outside of the increase or decrease of securities’ prices.

Mr. Blass also addressed the use or misuse of Rule 3a4-1, the so-called “issuer exemption.”  That exemption provides a nonexclusive safe harbor under which associated persons of certain issuers can participate in the sale of an issuer’s securities in certain limited circumstances without being considered a broker.  Mr. Blass stated his mistaken belief that most private fund managers do not rely on Rule 3a4-1, which, in fact, they do.  Blass suggests that private fund managers do not rely on this rule because in order to do so, a person must satisfy one of three conditions to be exempt from broker-dealer registration:

  • the person limits the offering and selling of the issuer’s securities only to broker-dealers and other specified types of financial institutions;
  • the person performs substantial duties for the issuer other than in connection with transactions in securities, was not a broker-dealer or an associated person of a broker-dealer within the preceding 12 months, and does not participate in selling an offering of securities for any issuer more than once every 12 months; or
  • the person limits activities to delivering written communication by means that do not involve oral solicitation by the associated person of a potential purchaser.

Mr. Blass rightly points out that it would be difficult for private fund advisers to fall within these conditions.  That, however, has not stopped most private fund managers from relying on some interpretation of the “issuer’s exemption” no matter how attenuated the adherence to the conditions might be.

Although Mr. Blass indicated a willingness to work with the industry to fashion an exemption from broker dealer registration that is specifically tailored to private fund sales, he also reminded the audience that the SEC is quite willing to take enforcement action against private funds that employ unregistered brokers.  Last month, the SEC settled charges in connection with alleged unregistered brokerage activities against Ranieri Partners, a former senior executive of Ranieri Partners, and an independent consultant hired by Ranieri Partners.  The SEC’s order stated (whether or not supported by the facts) that Ranieri Partners paid transaction-based fees to the consultant, who was not registered as a broker, for the purpose of actively soliciting investors for private fund investments. This case demonstrates that there are serious consequences for acting as an unregistered broker, even where there are no allegations of fraud.  The SEC believes that a fund manager’s willingness to ignore the rules or interpret the rules to accommodate their activities can be a strong indicator of other potential misconduct, especially where the unregistered broker-dealer comes into possession of funds and securities.

Private fund managers are encouraged to consider this statement and review their sales and compensation arrangements accordingly.

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Written by:  Jessica R. Bogo

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) hearing panel held that FINRA’s own rules prohibiting judicial class action waivers in broker-dealer customer arbitration agreements are preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act and unenforceable. Once this decision becomes final, it will likely change the landscape of broker-dealer arbitrations. Many other broker-dealers will adopt a judicial class action waiver in their customer arbitration agreements and end decades of securities class action lawsuits, which generally provide little benefit to class members.

In a thoughtful 48-page decision, a FINRA hearing panel on Thursday, February 21, 2013 followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011) (“Concepcion”) and held that FINRA Rules prohibiting broker-dealers from adopting judicial class-action waivers in customer arbitration agreements are unenforceable and preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). For more background on Concepcion and recent California litigation post-Concepcion, please see our prior client alerts including, “Recent Maverick Ruling in CA Appellate Court Finds Concepcion Does Not Overrule Gentry.”

The decision arises from a Complaint filed on February 1, 2012 by FINRA’s Department of Enforcement against Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (“Schwab”). In September 2011, Schwab added a provision to its pre- dispute arbitration agreements requiring customers to “waive any right to bring a class action, or any type of representative action” against Schwab or any related third party “in court.” The Complaint alleged that the waiver violated FINRA’s Rules prohibiting self-regulatory organizations (“SROs”) from adopting pre-dispute arbitration agreements that prohibited customers from filing judicial class actions.



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On February 21, 2013, the Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Staff” and the “SEC,” respectively) published its 2013 priorities for the National Examination Program (“NEP”) in order to provide registrants with the opportunity to bring their organizations into compliance with the areas that are perceived by the Staff to have heightened risk.  The NEP examines all regulated entities, such as investment advisers and investment companies, broker dealers, transfer agents and self-regulatory organizations, and exchanges.  This article will focus only on the NEP priorities pertaining to the investment advisers and investment companies program (“IA-ICs”)

As a general matter, the Staff is concerned with fraud detection and prevention, corporate governance and enterprise risk management, conflicts of interest, and the use and implications of technology.  The 2013 NEP priorities, viewed in tandem with the “Presence Exam” initiative that was announced by the SEC in October 2012, makes it abundantly clear that the Staff will focus on the approximately 2000 investment advisers that are newly registered as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd Frank”).

The Staff intends to focus its attention on the areas set forth below.   

New and Emerging Issues.

The Staff believes that new and emerging risks related to IA-ICs include the following:

  • New Registrants.  The vast majority of the approximately 2,000 new investment adviser registrants are advisers to hedge funds or private equity funds that have never been registered, regulated, or examined by the SEC.  The Presence Exam initiative, which is a coordinated national examination initiative, is designed to establish a meaningful “presence” with these newly registered advisers.  The Presence Exam initiative is expected to operate for approximately two years and consists of four phases: (i) engagement with the new registrants; (ii) examination of a substantial percentage of the new registrants; (iii) analysis of the examination findings; and (iv) preparation of a report to the industry on the findings.  The Presence Exam initiative will not preclude the SEC from bringing enforcement actions against newly registered advisers.  The Staff will give a higher priority to private fund advisers that it believes present a greater risk to investors relative to the rest of the registrant population or where there are indicia of fraud or other serious wrongdoing.  We expect to see the SEC bring enforcement actions against private equity and hedge fund managers for issues related to valuations, calculation of performance-related compensation and communications to investors that describe valuations and performance-related compensation.
  • Dually Registered IA/BD.  Due to the continued convergence in the investment adviser and broker-dealer industry, the Staff will continue to expand coordinated and joint examinations with the broker dealer examination program of dually registered firms and distinct broker-dealer and investment advisory businesses that share common financial professionals.  It is not uncommon for a financial professional to conduct a brokerage business through a registered broker-dealer that the financial professional does not own or control and to conduct investment advisory business through a registered investment adviser that the financial professional owns and controls, but that is not overseen by the broker-dealer.  This business model presents many potential conflicts of interest.  Among other things, the Staff will review how financial professionals and firms satisfy their suitability obligations when determining whether to recommend brokerage or advisory accounts, the financial incentives for making such recommendations, and whether all conflicts of interest are fully and accurately disclosed.
  • “Alternative” Investment Companies.    The NEP will also focus on the growing use of alternative and hedge fund investment strategies in registered open-end funds, exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), and variable annuity structures.  The Staff intends to assess whether: (i) leverage, liquidity and valuation policies and practices comply with regulations; (ii) boards, compliance personnel, and back-offices are staffed, funded, and empowered to handle the new strategies; and (iii) the funds are being marketed to investors in compliance with regulations.
  • Payments for Distribution In Disguise.    The Staff will also examine the wide variety of payments made by advisers and funds to distributors and intermediaries, the adequacy of disclosure made to fund boards about these payments, and boards’ oversight of the same.  With respect to private funds, the Staff will examine payments to finders or other unregistered intermediaries that may be conducting a broker dealer business without being registered as such.  Payments made pursuant to the Cash Solicitation Rule will also be a focus of private fund payment arrangements.

Ongoing Risks.

The Staff anticipates that the ongoing risks selected as focus areas for IA-ICs in 2013 will include:

  • Safety of Assets.  The Staff has indicated that recent examinations of investment advisers have found a high frequency of issues regarding the custody and safety of client assets under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) Rule 206(4)-2 (the “Custody Rule”).   The staff will focus on issues such as whether advisers are: (i) appropriately recognizing situations in which they have custody as defined in the Custody Rule; (ii) complying with the Custody Rule’s “surprise exam” requirement; (iii) satisfying the Custody Rule’s “qualified custodian” provision; and (iv) following the terms of the exception to the independent verification requirements for pooled investment vehicles.  Many private equity funds and fund of funds have been slow to adopt policies and procedures that comply with the Custody Rule.
  • Conflicts of Interest Related to Compensation Arrangements.  The Staff expects to review financial and other records to identify undisclosed compensation arrangements and the conflicts of interest that they present.  These activities may include undisclosed fee or solicitation arrangements, referral arrangements (particularly to affiliated entities), and receipt of payment for services allegedly provided to third parties. For example, some advisers that place client assets with particular funds or fund platforms are, in return, paid “client servicing fees” by such funds and fund platforms. Such arrangements present a material conflict of interest that must be fully and clearly disclosed to clients.  These types of compensation arrangements are commonplace among private equity fund advisers, many of which have just recently registered.  In fact, many private equity funds have compensation arrangements that the Staff believes requires broker dealer registration.  We believe that the Staff will make this point quite clearly by bringing enforcement actions against certain private equity fund general partners for engaging in unregistered broker dealer activity.  Enforcement actions are viewed as an effective way to get the message across to an industry that has long ignored this particular issue.
  • Marketing/Performance.  Marketing and performance advertising is viewed by the Staff as an inherently high-risk area, particularly among private funds that are not necessarily subject to an industry standard for the calculation of investment returns.  Aberrational performance of certain registrants and funds can be an indicator of fraudulent or weak valuation procedures or practices.  The Staff will also focus on the accuracy of advertised performance, including hypothetical and back-tested performance, the assumptions or methodology utilized, and related disclosures and compliance with record keeping requirements.   The Staff is starting to think about how the anticipated changes in advertising practices related to the JOBS Act will affect their reviews regarding registrants’ use of general solicitations to promote private funds.  Whether private funds will be permitted to advertise performance under the JOBS Act rules remains to be seen.  Certainly, there have been loud and influential voices that advocated for the position that the SEC should continue to study performance advertising by private funds before allowing it in the adoption of the highly anticipated rules.
  • Conflicts of Interest Related to Allocation of Investment Opportunities.  Advisers managing accounts that do not pay performance fees (e.g., most mutual funds), side-by-side with accounts that pay performance-based fees (e.g., most hedge funds) face potential conflicts of interest.  The Staff will attempt to verify that the registrant has controls in place to monitor the side-by-side management of its performance-based fee accounts and non-performance-based fee accounts with similar investment objectives, especially if the same portfolio manager is responsible for making investment decisions for both kinds of client accounts or funds.  For certain types of strategies, such as credit strategies, where one fund may be permitted to invest in all securities in the capital structure, whereas other funds may be limited in what they can purchase by credit quality or otherwise, these potential conflicts of interest are particularly acute.  Fund managers must have policies in place that account for these potential conflicts, manage the conflicts and document the investment resolution.
  • Fund Governance.  The Staff will continue to focus on the “tone at the top” when assessing compliance programs.  The Staff will seek to confirm that advisers are making full and accurate disclosures to fund boards and that fund directors are conducting reasonable reviews of such information in connection with contract approvals, oversight of service providers, valuation of fund assets, and assessment of expenses or viability.  Chief Compliance Officers will want to make sure that those items that are required to be undertaken in the compliance manual actually occur as stated and scheduled.

Policy Topics.

The staff anticipates that the policy topics for IA-ICs will include:

  • Money Market Funds.  The SEC continues to delude itself regarding the regulation of money market funds.  This once sleepy and relatively benign product is now the pillar of the commercial paper market and functions like and deserves the regulation of a banking product.  But the SEC, and the mutual fund trade organization, are loathe to cede authority to banking regulators for this “dollar per share”  product.  Accordingly, the SEC will continue to try to find ways for thinly capitalized advisers to offer and manage  money market funds by requiring money market funds to periodically stress test their ability to maintain a stable share price based on hypothetical events, such as changes in short-term interest rates, increased redemptions, downgrades and defaults, and changes in spreads from selected benchmarks (i.e., basically, all of the market events that have proven fatal to money market funds in the past and which will be so again as long as these funds remain fundamentally flawed).
  • Compliance with Exemptive Orders.  The staff will focus on compliance with previously granted exemptive orders, such as those related to registered closed-end funds and managed distribution plans, employee securities companies, ETFs and the use of custom baskets, and those granted to fund advisers and their affiliates permitting them to engage in co-investment opportunities with the funds.  Exemptive orders are typically granted pursuant to a number of well-developed conditions with which the registrant promises to adhere.  The market timing and late trading scandals of 2003 illustrated that once a registrant has obtained an exemptive order, it may or may not abide by all of the conditions of that order.
  • Compliance with the Pay to Play Rule.  To prevent advisers from obtaining business from government entities in return for political “contributions” (i.e., engaging in pay to play practices), the SEC recently adopted and subsequently amended, a pay to play rule. The Staff will review for compliance in this area, as well as assess the practical application of the rule.  Advisers should be aware that most states have their own pay to play rules and many of them have penalties that are far more onerous than the SEC’s rule.

We will continue to monitor this and other new developments and provide our clients with up to date analysis of the rules and regulations that may affect their businesses.

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Written by:  Jay Gould

The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) recently charged and entered into consent decrees with four India-based brokerage firms for providing brokerage services to U.S. investors without being registered as broker dealers under the U.S. securities laws.  This otherwise mildly interesting enforcement action by the SEC should serve as a cautionary tale to hedge fund managers based outside the U.S. that seek to raise capital from U.S. investors, as well as U.S. fund managers that seek to sell their fund shares in foreign countries.

Many non-U.S.-based fund managers seek to raise money from U.S. investors due to the large amounts of available capital in this country and the relative willingness of U.S. investors to consider managers from foreign jurisdictions.  However, visiting potential U.S. investors or sending fund marketing materials into the U.S. without complying with the U.S. broker dealer rules could result in a fate similar to that suffered by the four Indian brokerage firms that were sanctioned and fined by the SEC. In order to avoid an enforcement proceeding, non-U.S. fund managers should retain a properly registered U.S. brokerage firm to sell the fund’s securities, enter into a “chaperoning” arrangement with a U.S. broker or register a subsidiary as a broker-dealer in the U.S.  

Whether prudent or not, most U.S.-based fund managers rely on Rule 3a4-1, the so-called “issuers exemption,” under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “1934 Act”) in order to avoid either registering the general partner or an affiliate of the fund as a broker, or retaining an unrelated broker to sell the fund’s interests.  But when U.S. fund managers travel outside the U.S. to gauge interest or solicit potential investors, the U.S. rules are not applicable.  Each country has its own regulatory scheme, and fund managers are well advised to understand what is permitted and prohibited in each country before visiting each country at the risk of being the subject of a new episode of “Locked Up Abroad.”  Indeed, certain countries impose criminal sanctions for offering securities if the offeror is not properly authorized to do so.

The Investment Fund Law Blog boldly predicts that the SEC will one day soon re-visit the industry’s expansive interpretation of the “issuer’s exemption” and the result will not be pleasant for the private funds industry.

So what did these Indian brokerage firms do to incur the wrath of the SEC?  The activities that these firms engaged in included:

  • Buying and selling Indian securities on Indian stock exchanges on behalf of U.S. investors;
  • Managing public offerings for Indian issuers in which shares were sold to U.S. investors;
  • Soliciting U.S. investors by email, phone calls, and in-person meetings between Indian issuers and U.S. investors;
  • Engaging in commission sharing agreements with U.S. registered broker-dealers, in which the firms provided research to U.S. investors in exchange for commission income;
  • Organizing and sponsoring conferences in the U.S. bringing together representatives of Indian issuers and U.S. investors; and
  • Sending firm employees to the U.S. to meet with U.S. investors and attend corporate road shows.

Many of these activities no doubt sound hauntingly familiar to U.S.-based fund managers that travel abroad for the purpose of raising capital.  All four firms were censured and ordered to pay a combined total of more than $1.8 million in disgorgements and prejudgment interest, but no civil penalties were imposed due to the firms’ cooperation with the SEC.  The firms have all submitted settlement offers, without admitting or denying any wrongdoing.

The SEC’s press release on the matter can be found here