Articles Tagged with Private Funds

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Enhanced Focus on Private Funds, ESG, and Operational Resiliency

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Examinations today announced its 2022 examination priorities.  The Division will focus on private funds, environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, retail investor protections, information security and operational resiliency, emerging technologies, and crypto-assets.

The Division will focus on registered investment advisers (RIAs) who manage private funds. Examinations will review issues under the Advisers Act, including an adviser’s fiduciary duty, and will assess risks, including a focus on compliance programs, fees and expenses, custody, fund audits, valuation, conflicts of interest, disclosures of investment risks, and controls around material nonpublic information. The Division will also review private fund advisers’ portfolio strategies, risk management, and investment recommendations and allocations, focusing on conflicts and disclosures around these areas.  In addition, the Division will review the practices, controls, and investor reporting around risk management and trading for private funds with indicia or signs of systemic importance.

The SEC press release is here.  The full priorities memorandum is here.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission today voted to propose amendments to Form PF, the confidential reporting form for certain SEC-registered investment advisers to private funds. The proposed amendments are designed to enhance the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) ability to assess systemic risk as well as to bolster the Commission’s regulatory oversight of private fund advisers and its investor protection efforts in light of the growth of the private fund industry.

The proposed amendments would require current reporting for large hedge fund advisers and advisers to private equity funds. These advisers would file reports within one business day of events that indicate significant stress at a fund that could harm investors or signal risk in the broader financial system. The proposed amendments would provide the Commission and FSOC with more timely information to analyze and assess risks to investors and the markets more broadly.

The proposal also would decrease the reporting threshold for large private equity advisers from $2 billion to $1.5 billion in private equity fund assets under management. Lowering the threshold would result in reporting on Form PF that continues to provide robust data on a sizable portion of the private equity industry. Finally, the proposal would require more information regarding large private equity funds and large liquidity funds to enhance the information used for risk assessment and the Commission’s regulatory programs.

Continue Reading . . .

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An expanded universe of individuals and entities will be able to participate as “accredited investors” in securities offerings as a result of recent SEC rulemaking.

TAKEAWAYS

  • The SEC has expanded its definition of “Accredited Investor” to additional individuals and entities, including individuals with certain professional certifications and knowledgeable employees of private funds.
  • The amendments may provide additional regulatory certainty for issuers, investors and counsel.

On August 26, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) adopted amendments to the definition of “accredited investor” in Rule 501(a) of Regulation D under the Securities Act of 1933 (the Amendments). The Amendments, which will become effective 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, expand the pool of individuals and entities that qualify as accredited investors. The definition of accredited investor is relevant, among other things, to the operation of Rule 506 of Regulation D, which is a safe harbor under Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act. Rule 506 is the most commonly-used exemption for private offerings, accounting for the vast majority of the trillions of dollars raised through unregistered offerings every year. Unregistered, private offerings of securities have supplanted public offerings as the dominant form of capital-raising in the United States. Since regulatory requirements are much greater for offerings that include non-accredited investors, an overwhelming majority of Rule 506 offerings are offered only to accredited investors.

READ MORE. . .

Read this article and additional Pillsbury publications at Pillsbury Insights.

More of this will be covered at an ALI CLE webinar, sponsored by Pillsbury, later this month that focuses on Regulation D Offerings and Private Placements.  To find out more about this webinar and to register, please visit https://www.ali-cle.org/course/Regulation-D-Offerings-Private-Placements-2020-VCCP0922

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This alert contains a summary of the primary annual and periodic compliance-related obligations that may apply to investment advisers registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) or with a particular state (“Investment Advisers”), and commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) and commodity trading advisors (“CTAs”) registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) (collectively with Investment Advisers, “Managers”).[1]  Due to the length of this Alert, we have linked the topics to the Table of Contents and other subtitles for easy click-access.

This summary consists of the following segments: (i) List of Annual Compliance Deadlines; (ii) New Developments; (iii) 2018 National Exam Program Examination Priorities; (iv) Continuing Compliance Areas; and (v) Securities and Other Forms Filings.

READ MORE . . .

Read this article and additional Pillsbury publications at Pillsbury Insights.

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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) 2017 Enforcement Priorities In The Alternative Space; (iii) New Developments; and (iv) Continuing Compliance Areas.

Table of Contents

Page

Table of Annual Compliance Deadlines……………………………………………………………. 3

2017 Enforcement Priorities In The Alternative Space………………………………………. 5

New Developments………………………………………………………………………………………. 7

 

CONTINUE READING…

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  • 3(c)(1) funds should update their offering documents to reflect $2.1 million net worth requirement.
  • Assets under management threshold remains unchanged at $1 million.
  • Only new client relationships entered and new investors admitted in private funds after August 15, 2016 are affected; new contributions by pre-August 15 investors are grandfathered.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) issued an order on June 14, 2016 raising the net worth threshold for “qualified clients” in Rule 205-3 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”).  Effective August 15, 2016, the dollar amount of the net worth test increased from $2 million to $2.1 million. The dollar threshold of the assets-under-management test has not changed and remains at $1 million.  Adjustments to the dollar thresholds for the assets-under-management and net worth tests under Rule 205-3 are made pursuant to section 418 of the Dodd-Frank Act and section 205(e) of the Advisers Act and are intended to reflect inflation.  The adjusted amounts would reflect inflation from 2011 until the end of 2015.

Under the Advisers Act, an investment adviser is generally prohibited from receiving performance fees or other performance-based compensation.  Section 205(e) of the Advisers Act provides for an exemption to this prohibition and Rule 205-3 under the Advisers Act permits an investment adviser to receive performance fees only from “qualified clients.”  The increased threshold affects private funds that rely on the exception to the definition of investment company provided in section 3(c)(1) of the Investment Company Act (“3(c)(1) Funds”) which, under the rule, are allowed to pay performance-based fees if their investors are qualified clients.  Accordingly, 3(c)(1) Funds must amend their offering documents to conform to the new qualified client net worth threshold.

Grandfathering:  Subject to the transition rules of Rule 205-3, the June 2016 SEC order generally does not apply retroactively to clients that entered into advisory contracts (including investors that invested in a private fund) prior to the August 15, 2016 effective date.

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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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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 SEC, again, makes it clear:  all aspects of fee, expense and other arrangements must be disclosed accurately and in detail before commitments are accepted.

The SEC recently announced a settlement with three investment advisor affiliates of The Blackstone Group (the Advisors) that were accused of breaching their fiduciary duty to funds they manage or managed, failing to make necessary disclosure to the funds’ investors and failing to adopt and implement policies and procedures reasonably designed to prevent violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and its rules. The charges leveled against the Advisors centered on conflicts of interest involving monitoring fees and legal fee discounts. At the time the alleged violations occurred, each of the Advisors was an SEC-registered investment advisor. Although the Advisors neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s findings, they made several changes to existing business practices, agreed to pay the SEC a $10 million penalty and agreed to remit to their funds fees and interest approximating $29 million in response to allegations of violations of Section 206(2) and Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act and Rules 206(4)-8 and 206(4)-7 thereunder.

Accelerated Monitoring Fees

According to the SEC, the Advisors entered into monitoring agreements with each portfolio company owned by their funds and received, in addition to the annual management fees paid by their funds, monitoring fees from the portfolio companies. In accordance with the funds’ limited partnership agreements, fifty percent of the Advisors’ monitoring fees was used to offset the annual management fee otherwise payable by the funds. Under certain of the monitoring agreements, in the event of a private sale or initial public offering of a portfolio company, monitoring fees could be accelerated for the remaining years of the agreements’ terms (including extension periods), discounted to present value and paid in advance upon termination of the agreements. Notwithstanding that fifty percent of the accelerated monitoring fees inured to the benefit of the funds and their limited partners, the SEC found the arrangements problematic because the value of the funds’ assets was reduced by the net amount of the accelerated monitoring fee payments when the portfolio companies were sold or taken public, thereby reducing amounts available for distribution to the limited partners.

The SEC was particularly offended by the fact that, in certain instances, fees were accelerated beyond the period during which a fund owned the relevant portfolio company or beyond the period during which services were performed by the Advisors. In addition, the SEC alleged that, although the Advisors disclosed their ability to collect monitoring fees to the funds and the funds’ limited partners before capital was committed to the funds, the Advisors did not disclose the practice of accelerating monitoring fees prior to the time the Advisors received the accelerated fees. The SEC conceded, however, that monitoring fee acceleration was disclosed in distribution notices, quarterly management fee reports and, where there were public offerings of portfolio companies, in SEC filings on Form S-1. The SEC further acknowledged that the funds’ limited partner advisory committees could have objected to acceleration and arbitrated the matter, but never took such action. The problem, according to the SEC, is that, because of the conflict of interest, the Advisors could not effectively consent to the acceleration.

Disparate Discounts on Legal Fees

The Advisors also negotiated a single agreement with legal counsel pursuant to which legal counsel provided services to the funds and the Advisors.  According to the SEC, although the funds generated significantly more work than the Advisors, the Advisors received substantially greater discounts than the funds. In addition, the difference in the discounts was not disclosed to the funds, the funds’ advisory committees or limited partners. Again, because of the conflict, the Advisors could not consent effectively.

Takeaways

The findings made and penalties imposed by the SEC in the Blackstone matter highlight the SEC’s disdain of conflicts of interest between advisors and the private funds they manage. More importantly, the matter makes clear the SEC’s intention to go after even the most common business practices in private equity, if the SEC determines that aspects of those practices are not disclosed fully prior to the time capital commitments are accepted. Nothing is sacrosanct.

As was the case with Blackstone, a fund’s private placement memorandum typically discloses that the fund’s management entities and affiliates of those entities may receive fees to which the fund will not be entitled. It also customarily discloses actual and potential conflicts involving fund counsel. The SEC has made clear that those disclosures will not be sufficient if they do not describe all aspects of the relevant conflicts clearly, accurately and completely. Broad and generalized disclosures, even where sophisticated and experienced fund investors are able to discern the nature of the conflict, will not protect against violations of Sections 206(2) and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act and the rules promulgated under those sections of the Act. Further, disclosures made after investors’ capital commitments are accepted may not be sufficient.

This case also highlights the fact that the SEC will push back against attempts by an SEC-registered investment advisor to limit its fiduciary duty to the funds it advises. In addition, it appears that the SEC will apply Section 206(2) and Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act broadly and with a big stick.

As is always the case, cooperation with the SEC in connection with an examination or investigation is critical. In addition, as is evidenced in the Blackstone matter, taking remedial action to eliminate or ameliorate conflicts can be very helpful to an advisor that is under SEC scrutiny and seeking to minimize exposure to punitive action.

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Brian Finch, a partner in Pillsbury’s Public Policy Practice, will be speaking on cybersecurity at a 100WHF event in San Francisco on October 13, 2015.  The event is titled Under Attack: Cyberdefense in the Network Age. Mr. Finch is recognized as a leading legal authority on matters related to cyber security.  He co-authored an article on Cybercrimes affecting hedge funds, posted in our blog.