Articles Tagged with Investment Advisers

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President Obama signed into law the SBIC Advisers Relief Act (as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015—the FAST Act) on December 4, 2015.  (See also our Annual Compliance Alert)  After the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, advisers to Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) were limited in their choice to one of the available exemptions from registration under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The SBIC Advisers Relief Act provides certain additional relief for investment advisers that advise private funds and SBICs, and for those that advise venture funds and SBICs. The SEC’s Investment Management Guidance update  interprets the SBIC Advisers Relief Act and its implications.

What is an SBIC?

An SBIC is a privately owned and operated investment company making long term investments specifically in U.S. businesses and is licensed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The primary reason firms choose to become licensed with the SBA is to secure SBA financing.

What is the SBIC Adviser Exemption?

As originally implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act, the SBIC adviser exemption provided relief from SEC registration to those advisers whose only clients consisted of one or more SBICs, irrespective of assets under management.  However, the SBIC adviser exemption did not allow advisers to combine multiple exemptions such as the private fund or venture capital fund adviser exemptions in order to avoid SEC registration.

For example, an Adviser to both a venture fund and an SBIC (that does not qualify as a venture fund) would not be able to rely on either the venture capital fund adviser exemption or the SBIC adviser exemption.  Instead, the adviser would have had to rely on the private fund adviser exemption which would only be available to it if it had less than $150 million in regulatory assets under management.

Impact of the SBIC Advisers Relief Act on the use of the Venture Capital Fund and Private Fund Adviser Exemptions

The SBIC Advisers Relief Act amends Investment Advisers Act by:

  • including in the definition of a venture capital fund SBIC funds (other than business development companies).
  • excluding from the private fund adviser exemption the $150 million asset limitation with respect to a private fund that is a SBIC fund (other than a business development company).

As a result, an adviser:

  • may rely on the venture capital fund adviser exemption and advise both SBICs and venture capital funds; or
  • may rely on the private fund adviser exemption and advise both SBICs and non-SBIC private funds as long as the non-SBIC private funds account for less than $150 million in assets under management.
  • that is registered and advises SBICs may be eligible to withdraw its registration and begin reporting to the SEC as an exempt reporting adviser under either the venture capital fund adviser exemption or the private fund adviser exemption.

In contrast to an adviser relying solely on the SBIC Adviser Exemption, the SEC staff believes that when an SBIC adviser choses to rely on the private fund or venture capital fund exemption, the adviser is required to submit reports to the SEC as an exempt reporting adviser.

Additionally, the SEC staff notes that (i) advisers currently relying on the private fund or venture capital adviser exemption may advise SBIC clients following the revised exemptions and (ii) certain registered advisers of SBICs may be eligible to withdraw their current registration and rely upon the private fund adviser or the venture capital fund exemption as exempt reporting advisers.

State Implications

It is important to note that the Investment Advisers Act, as amended by the SBIC Advisers Relief Act, now preempts states from requiring advisers that rely on the SBIC fund exemption to register, be licensed or qualify as an investment adviser in the state.  As a result of the federal preemption, advisers that manage only SBIC funds will be relieved from having to register (or may withdraw if registered) in states that have not adopted exemptions to investment adviser registration analogous to the Investment Advisers Act.

Please contact an Investment Funds and Investment Management group attorney for further detail and with your questions.

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Earlier this month, the SEC announced the creation of its Office of Risk and Strategy  to operate within its Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE).  The new office will consolidate and streamline OCIE’s risk assessment, market surveillance, and quantitative analysis teams and provide operational risk management and organizational strategy for OCIE.

Headed by Peter B. Driscoll, a former E&Y auditor with law and CPA degrees, the Office of Risk and Strategy will lead the OCIE’s risk-based and data-driven National Examination Program.  Mr. Driscoll emphasized at the Investment Adviser Association’s annual compliance conference in Washington that private equity funds and private fund advisors would “continue to be a big focus” for the exam unit as well this year.  While this is no surprise, Driscoll also added that the focus on hedge funds will zero in on such areas as portfolio management, trading and back-office operations.  This may suggest a broader, deeper and more focused scrutiny on hedge funds than just the trading offenses we are familiar with from national headlines.

The SEC has been busy: it has visited at least 25% of ‘never-before-examined’ advisers, numbering over 700, which surpasses the SEC’s own goal.  There is no reason to expect the SEC’s enthusiasm to decline in this area in 2016.  If you are a hedge fund manager that has never been examined before, you may get a knock on your door this year.

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At the end of this month, the annual updating amendments for investment advisers’ Form ADV will be due. The following are some of the important annual compliance obligations investment advisers either registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) or with a particular state (“Investment Adviser”) and commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) or commodity trading advisors (“CTAs”) registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) should be aware of.

This summary consists of the following segments: (i) List of Annual Compliance Deadlines; (ii) 2016 Enforcement Priorities In The Alternative Space; (iii) New Developments; and (iv) Continuing Compliance Areas.

See the deadlines below and in red

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In commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Investment Company Act and Investment Advisers Act, David Grim discussed his views about the past, present and future of the investment management industry.  He selected four topics which in his opinion best illustrate the adaptability which the authors gave the 1940 laws governing the asset management industry.

Those topics are: (1) the role of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), (2) the role of private fund advisers, (3) the role of disclosure and reporting in our regulatory framework, and (4) the role of the board in fund oversight.

He called disclosure one of the critical pieces of the 40 Acts, and noted that the amount of information available to investors about funds and advisers through publicly available forms, prospectuses and offering documents has increased exponentially since 1940.  Specifically regarding private funds, he noted that the vast number of newly registered advisers after the passage of Dodd-Frank have resulted in a new era of transparency that has been beneficial to both investors and private fund advisers, in addition to the SEC.  The public availability of aggregated information has shed light on persistent questions and some misconceptions about the private fund industry. Investors have also benefitted by being able to make more informed choices when investing.

The full remarks are available here.

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(This article was published in the first February 2016 issue of “The Review of Securities and Commodities Regulation” and is reprinted here with permission.)

The last half of 2015 has been characterized by a lot of debate and press attention on the role of the Chief Compliance Officer (“CCO”) at investment advisers. It has attracted attention within the highest levels at the SEC as reflected in a series of public statements and speeches, including the public disagreement of two Commissioners on whether or not there is a new trend targeting CCOs. While this debate has been unusual, it has led to a healthy and productive discussion about the CCO’s role. Below, we will discuss in turn: (a) recent statements over the past six months by SEC leaders about CCOs and whether or not there is a new trend targeting them, (b) what qualities are essential to an effective CCO and whether or not the job should be outsourced, and (c) how an effective compliance leader can prevent and detect any problems and be truly effective in preparing the firm for SEC examinations.

CONTINUE READING… 

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On January 11, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) of the SEC announced its 2016 Examination Priorities (“Priorities”). To promote compliance, prevent fraud and identify market risk, OCIE examines investment advisers, investment companies, broker-dealers, municipal advisors, transfer agents, clearing agencies, and other regulated entities. In 2016, OCIE will continue to rely on the SEC’s sophisticated data analytics tools to identify potential illegal activity.

This year, private fund advisers should pay attention to the following OCIE Priorities:

  • Side-by-side management of performance-based and asset-based fee accounts: controls and disclosure related to fees and expenses
  • Cybersecurity: testing and assessments of firms’ implementation of procedures and controls
  • High frequency trading: excessive or inappropriate trading
  • Liquidity controls: potentially illiquid fixed income securities – focus on controls over market risk management, valuation, liquidity management, trading activities
  • Marketing / Advertisements: new, complex, and high risk products, including potential breaches of fiduciary obligations
  • Compliance controls: focus on repeat offenders and those with disciplined employees

Highlights for other market participants:

  • Never-Before-Examined Investment Advisers and Investment Companies: focused, risk-based examinations will continue
  • Broker-Dealers

    :

    • Marketing / Advertisements: new, complex, and high risk products and related sales practices, including potential suitability issues
    • Fee selection / Reverse Churning: multiple fee arrangements – recommendations of account types, including suitability, fees charged, services provided, and disclosures
    • Market Manipulation: pump and dump; OTC quotes; excessive trading
    • Cybersecurity: testing and assessments of firms’ implementation of procedures and controls
    • Anti-Money Laundering: missed SARs filings; adequacy of independent testing; terrorist financing risks
    • Registered representatives in branch offices – focus on inappropriate trading
    • Retirement Accounts: suitability, conflicts of interest, supervision and compliance controls, and marketing and disclosure practices
  • Public Pension Advisers: pay to play, gifts and entertainment
  • Mutual Funds and ETFs: liquidity controls – potentially illiquid fixed income securities
  • Immigrant Investor Program: Regulation D and other private placement compliance

For additional details, visit the SEC’s Examination Priorities for 2016. Please call an Investment Funds and Investment Management Attorney to discuss your firm’s risk areas.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released a “Risk Alert” on November 9, 2015, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of compliance issues observed in connection with the examination of registered investment advisers and investment companies that outsource their Chief Compliance Officers (“CCO”) to unaffiliated third parties.

We encourage our registered investment adviser clients, including hedge fund and private equity managers, that have outsourced their firm’s CCO function to compliance service providers or other third parties to carefully review the following SEC risk alert summary and review their outsourcing arrangement in view of the SEC’s observations.

Outsourced CCO Initiative

The OCIE staff (the “staff”) conducted 20 examinations as part of an Outsourced CCO Initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of compliance programs and outsourced CCOs by considering a number of factors such as:

  • Whether the CCOs appropriately identified, mitigated, and managed compliance risk;
  • Whether the compliance program was designed to reasonably prevent, detect and remedy violations of federal securities laws;
  • Whether there was open communication between those with compliance responsibilities and service providers;
  • Whether the CCOs have authority to influence compliance policies and procedures of the registrants and had sufficient resources to carry out their responsibilities; and
  • Whether compliance was an important part of the registrants’ culture.

Observations of successfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance strength in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • Regular and often in-person communication between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Strong relationships between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Registrants’ support of the CCOs;
  • CCOs having independent access to documents and information; and
  • CCOs having knowledge of the registrants’ business and regulatory requirements.

Observations of unsuccessfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance weakness in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • CCOs providing compliance manuals based on templates not tailored to the registrants’ businesses and containing inappropriate policies and procedures;
  • CCOs visiting registrants’ offices infrequently, conducting limited annual reviews of documents or insufficient evaluation and assessment of training pertaining to compliance matters;
  • CCOs not performing critical control testing procedures and lacking documentation to evidence testing of control procedures;
  • Critical areas of the registrants’ operations were not identified by CCOs resulting in certain compliance policies and procedures not being adopted, including those necessary to address conflicts of interest;
  • CCOs using generic checklists to gather pertinent information regarding the registrants;
  • Registrants providing incorrect or inconsistent information to the CCOs about firm business practices;
  • Lack of follow-up by CCOs with registrants to resolve discrepancies; and
  • CCOs having limited authority within the registrants’ organizations to improve adherence to compliance policies and procedures and implement necessary changes in disclosure practices, such as fees, expenses and other areas of client interest.

Conclusion

The staff reminds registrants that CCOs, whether direct employees, contractors or consultants, must have sufficient knowledge and authority to fulfill their role. In addition, each registrant is responsible for the adoption and implementation of its compliance program and accountable for any deficiencies.

Finally, the staff emphasizes that all registrants, and especially those that use outsourced CCOs, may find the issues identified in the Risk Alert useful to evaluate whether (i) their business and compliance risks have been appropriately identified (ii) policies and procedures are tailored to the specific risks their businesses encounter and (iii) their respective CCOs have the necessary power to effectively perform their responsibilities. Registrants and their funds are advised to review their business practices regularly to determine whether the practices are consistent with compliance obligations under Rule 206(4)-7 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 38a-1 under the Investment Company Act of 1940.

Please contact the Investment Funds and Investment Management Group if you would like to discuss the SEC alert or need help reviewing your outsourcing arrangement.

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The regulatory environment for SEC-registered advisers has become more complex as the result of a more aggressive and interconnected Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The connecting hub within the SEC is the Office of Compliance Inspection and Examination (OCIE), which serves as the “eyes and ears” of the SEC. The OCIE often is the first line of contact between an investment adviser and a potential referral to the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit (AMU), which is devoted exclusively to investigations involving investment advisers, investment companies, hedge funds and private equity funds.

The OCIE’s three main areas of focus for their 2015 exam priorities are (i) protecting retail investors, (ii) issues related to market-wide risks, and (iii) data analysis as a tool to identify registrants engaging in illegal activity.

Overlapping with the OCIE’s frontline examination role is the Compliance Program Initiative, which began in 2013 by sanctioning three investment advisers for ignoring problems within their compliance programs. The Compliance Program Initiative is designed to address repeated compliance failures that may lead to bigger problems. As such, any issues raised in a deficiency letter resulting from an examination are ripe for follow-up as the starting point of a subsequent examination. In the current regulatory environment—where violations of compliance policies and procedures can serve as the basis of enforcement actions—investment advisers and their compliance professionals need to pay close attention to the implementation, follow-through and updating of every aspect of their compliance program.

READ MORE…

Read this article and additional publications at pillsburylaw.com/publications-and-presentations.  You can also download a copy of the Client Alert.

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On November 3, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Fenway Partners, LLC (Fenway Partners), a private equity fund adviser, agreed to pay more than $10 million to settle charges that it failed to disclose conflicts of interest to a fund client and omitted material facts to investors.

SEC Findings

Fenway Partner’s current and former principals as well as the chief financial officer did not:

  • Disclose to Fenway Capital Partners Fund III, L.P. (the Fund) or its investors that Fenway Partners caused certain portfolio companies of the Fund to cancel management services agreements—subject to management fee offsets—between Fenway Partners and portfolio companies.
  • Disclose to the Fund or its investors the creation of the affiliated entity Fenway Consulting Partners, LLC (Fenway Consulting).
  • Disclose to the Fund or its investors that Fenway Consulting received $5.74 million for providing services to portfolio companies similar to those previously provided by Fenway Partners and often using the same employees—without a management fee offset against the fees paid to Fenway Partners.
  • Disclose in its capital call notice to investors in connection with a portfolio company investment that $1 million of the $4 million total capital call would be used to pay Fenway Consulting fees.
  • Disclose to the advisory board or the investors the conflict of interest concerning cash incentive plan payments to current and former Fenway Partner principals.
  • Disclose, as related party transactions, in the financial statements provided to investors, those payments received by Fenway Consulting for its services to portfolio companies.

The press release is available HERE.

A full copy of the SEC order is available HERE.

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This is a reminder that the 2016 IARD account renewal obligation for investment advisers (including exempt reporting advisers) starts this November. An investment adviser must ensure that its IARD account is adequately funded to cover payment of all applicable registration renewal fees and notice filing fees.

Key Dates in the Renewal Process:

November 16, 2015 – Preliminary Renewal Statements which list advisers’ renewal fee amount are available for printing through the IARD system.

December 18, 2015 – Deadline for full payment of Preliminary Renewal Statements. In order for the payment to be posted to its IARD Renewal account by the December 18 deadline, an investment adviser should submit its preliminary renewal fee to FINRA through the IARD system by December 14, 2015.

December 29, 2015 – January 2, 2016 – IARD system shut down. The system is generally unavailable during this period.

January 4, 2016 – Final Renewal Statements are available for printing. Any additional fees that were not included in the Preliminary Renewal Statements will show in the Final Renewal Statements.

January 15, 2016 – Deadline for full payment of Final Renewal Statements.

For more information about the 2016 IARD Account Renewal Program including information on IARD’s Renewal Payment Options and Addresses, please visit http://www.iard.com/renewals.asp

Please contact us if you have questions.