Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2018 Second Quarter Update

Below is our quarterly newsletter.  If you would like to be added to our distribution list, please contact us.

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July 12, 2018

Clients, Friends, Associates:

We hope that you are enjoying the start of summer.  Although the second quarter is typically not as busy as the first quarter from a regulatory or compliance perspective, we continue to see rapid developments in the digital asset space.  As we move into the third quarter, we would like to provide a brief overview of some items we hope will help you stay abreast of these developments.

In addition to the discussion below, we would like to announce a couple of firm items:

CFM Atlanta.  Our Atlanta office has just moved into new space in the heart of Buckhead.  The new office address is 3348 Peachtree Road NE, Suite 1030, Atlanta, GA 30326.

CoinAlts Fund Symposium. In April founding sponsor Cole-Frieman & Mallon hosted its second full day Symposium attended by over 300 professionals, students, and investors in New York.  Featuring twenty eight speakers, including key-notes, John Burbank of Passport Capital and Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management, CoinAlts East presented a broad spectrum of content essential to managers and investors in the digital asset space.  Our next CoinAlts Fund Symposium will take place in San Francisco on September 20, 2018. More details to follow.

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GDPR

GDPR Effective May 25.  The General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) went into effect on May 25, 2018 as part of the European Union’s effort to protect personal data.  Any person or business that handles EU residents’ personal data must comply with the regulation.  GDPR also applies to businesses established outside of the EU if their activities involve processing personal data related to offering goods or services to persons within the EU.  US fund managers with EU resident investors will need to: (i) maintain records of any data processing activities; (ii) obtain EU clients’ affirmative consent to process data; and (iii) provide EU clients with access to the fund’s privacy policy.

Managers with EU resident investors, but no presence within in the EU may also be required to appoint an EU local representative unless they can demonstrate processing is “occasional”, does not include special categories of EU resident personal data, including criminal, on a large scale, and is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.  We believe most of our clients generally fall into this exclusion and will not need to appoint an EU representative, but it may be challenging at present to find EU counsel that will advise on this requirement in the absence of more guidance from EU regulators.  For more information on GDPR, including compliance items for hedge fund managers, please see our earlier post.

Legal and Regulatory Developments

SEC Proposes Rules Regarding Form CRS, Form ADV, and Disclosures in Retail Communications.  On April 18, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”)  proposed new rules and amendments to certain rules and forms under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (“Advisers Act”) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.  One proposal would require both registered investment advisers and broker-dealers to provide a summary (“Form CRS”) disclosing the nature and details of their relationship to retail investors.  Form CRS would be added as a section to Form ADV and would disclose: (i) the relationships and services the firms offer; (ii) the standard of conduct and fees and costs associated with the services; (iii) specified conflicts of interest; and (iv) reportable legal or disciplinary events on the firm’s part or its financial professionals.

The SEC also proposed two new rules to reduce investor confusion caused by communications with broker-dealers and investment advisers by placing additional requirements on retail investor communications.  One rule would restrict broker-dealers’ use of the terms “adviser” and “advisor” when communicating with retail investors.  The other rule would require broker-dealers and investment advisers to disclose their SEC registration status in retail investor communications.  It would also require associated natural persons and supervised persons to disclose their relationships with broker-dealers or investment advisers in retail investor communications.  Comments to the SEC are due on or before August 7, 2018.

SEC Proposes Interpretation of Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers.  On April 18, 2018, the SEC proposed an interpretation of the conduct standard for investment advisers under the Advisers Act and requested comment on its proposal.  The SEC also seeks comment on the following proposed requirements for SEC registered investment advisers (“RIAs”): (i) federal licensing and continuing education; (ii) periodic account statements; and (iii) financial responsibility requirements similar to those required of broker-dealers.  Comments to the SEC are due on or before August 7, 2018.

SEC Charges 13 Private Fund Advisers for Repeated Form PF Filing Failures.  On June 1, 2018, the SEC  announced settlements with 13 SEC RIAs for repeatedly failing to provide risk monitoring information.  The SEC found that the advisers continually failed to file annual reports on Form PF.  Section 204(b) of the Advisers Act requires large fund managers to report information such as assets under management, fund strategy, and fund performance on Form PF.  The SEC uses these reports to inform their rulemaking process and to target examinations and enforcement investigations.  The SEC found that each of the advisers violated the Form PF reporting requirements under the Advisers Act.  Although the advisers did not admit or deny the SEC’s findings, they agreed to be censured, cease and desist, and to each pay a $75,000 civil penalty.

SEC Charges Hedge Fund Adviser with Deceiving Investors.  On May 9, 2018, the SEC charged a hedge fund adviser and certain principals, including the CEO and a former portfolio manager, for fraudulently overvaluing its funds by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Defendants are alleged to have placed trades in exchange for inflated broker-dealer quotes and applied “imputed” mid-point valuations in a manner that further inflated the value of securities.  The SEC is seeking permanent injunctions, the return of illicit profits with interest, and civil penalties.

SEC Charges Hedge Fund Firm for Asset Mismarking and Insider Trading.  The SEC announced on May 8, 2018 that a manager agreed to settle charges regarding insider trading and fraudulent overvaluation of certain assets held by its hedge funds.  The SEC found that two of the portfolio managers overstated the values of their hedge funds’ securities.  In a separate order, the SEC alleged that the CFO failed to supervise the two portfolio managers appropriately and respond to red flags regarding the mismarking.  The SEC also found that the portfolio managers violated insider trading laws by trading pharmaceutical securities on confidential information obtained through a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration official.

Second Circuit Amends Martoma Decision.  On June 25, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit amended its decision in United States v. Martoma to clarify tippee liability in insider trading cases.  As we discussed in a previous Quarterly Update, the Second Circuit once again upheld a former portfolio manager’s 2014 conviction for insider trading.  In its amended decision, the court confirmed that a “meaningfully close personal relationship” is not required for tippee liability in insider trading cases.

Digital Asset Matters

We see many thought-provoking items in the digital asset sector as the industry moves towards greater institutional infrastructure.  After numerous public statements by SEC officials, token issuers understand that there are several compliant ways to raise capital through token offerings.  One way is through Regulation A+, which has many advantages over other securities offering mechanisms.  We are also seeing many groups use airdrops as a way to try to circumvent the private placement regulatory regime.  One item to specifically note, is that privately placed tokens may have resale restrictions that could create issues for both the token issuers and token purchasers.  We are also aware of several groups beginning the process of registering as alternative trading systems or otherwise becoming broker-dealers and/or qualified custodians.

Outside of these items, we have summarized some notable regulatory developments in the second quarter.  For a complete review of these developments, please consult our Digital Asset Regulatory Items blog post.

CFTC Issues Advisory on Virtual Currency Derivatives.  On May 21, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) Division of Market Oversight and the Division of Clearing and Risk issued an advisory regarding virtual currency derivative products.  The CFTC outlined key expectations for exchanges and clearinghouses operating in the virtual currency derivatives space:

  • Enhanced Market Surveillance – an adequate market surveillance program would include sharing information on the underlying spot markets, allowing the CFTC to access a broad range of exchange trade data (i.e., trader identity, volumes, times, prices, and quotes), and real-time monitoring of all trading activity to identify red flags.
  • Close Coordination with the CFTC Surveillance Group – exchanges should engage in regular discussions with the CFTC on surveillance of virtual currency derivatives contracts and allow access to data on settlement processes referenced in such contracts.
  • Large Trader Reporting – exchanges should set large trader reporting thresholds for any contract at five BTC (or equivalent) to increase their ability to focus on relevant market information.
  • Outreach to Members and Market Participants – exchanges should obtain comments from stakeholders on listing issues beyond contract terms and conditions.  Comments should include explanations of opposing views and the exchanges’ perspectives.
  • Derivative Clearing Organization’s Risk Management – the CFTC requests information from derivative clearing organizations (“DCOs”) necessary to assess the suitability of proposed initial margin requirements.  The CFTC may require DCOs to amend inadequate initial margins.  They may also request information regarding the approval process of proposed contracts.

NASAA Combats ICO Fraud.  On May 21, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) announced its involvement in “Operation Cryptosweep,” one of the largest coordinated enforcement efforts against fraudulent Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”), crypto-related products, and cryptocriminals.  Operation Cryptosweep is a combined effort between NASAA’s members, spanning more than 40 jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.  Since April 2018, the operation has produced almost 70 inquiries and investigations in addition to 35 pending or completed enforcement actions related to digital assets and ICOs, including multiple actions against private funds.  According to NASAA President Joseph Borg, these recent actions are only the beginning of further enforcement against ICO fraud.

Other Items

5th Circuit Issues Mandate on Fiduciary Rule.  On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a mandate regarding the Department of Labor’s (“DOL’s”) Fiduciary Rule (“Fiduciary Rule”) after months of uncertainty.  The Fifth Circuit’s mandate effectuates its March 15 decision to vacate the Fiduciary Rule.  Although the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule appears defeated, the court’s decision may prompt the SEC and other regulators to revisit their plans for fiduciary reform.

Section 3(c)(1) of the Investment Company Act Amended.  President Trump authorized the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (“Growth Act”) on May 24, 2018.  A portion of the Growth Act amends Section 3(c)(1) of the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, by increasing the number of investors allowed in a qualifying venture capital fund from 100 to 250 investors.  The Growth Act —  which will take effect in late 2019 —  defines a qualifying venture capital fund as one with less than $10 million “in aggregate capital contributions and uncalled committed capital.”

The CFTC and NASAA Sign Information Sharing Memorandum.  The CFTC and NASAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) regarding the sharing of non-public information on May 21, 2018.  The MOU aims to forge a closer working relationship between the CFTC and individual state securities agencies— represented by the NASAA— to better enforce the U.S. Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, as amended (“CEA”) by promoting voluntary, inter-agency sharing of non-public information.  NASAA President Joseph Borg believes the MOU could assist NASAA members in enforcing both securities and commodities law violations, particularly against schemes related to digital assets and other modern commodities.

NFA Develops Swaps Proficiency Program and Exam.  The National Futures Association (“NFA”) announced on June 5, 2018 that its board approved the creation of an online proficiency requirements program and exam for all associated persons participating in swaps activities.  The swaps proficiency program is part of the NFA’s mandate under the CEA, which requires the NFA to set training standards and proficiency testing for individuals and activities governed thereunder.  The online program and exam are expected to launch in early 2020.

Cayman Islands Revises and Clarifies AML Regulations.  As mentioned in previous updates, the Cayman Islands released the 2018 revisions to its Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) regulations earlier this year.  The following are some notable changes:

  • Non-Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (“CIMA”) registered funds (i.e., 4(4) funds) will be subject to AML regulations;
  • All investment funds (registered and unregistered) must designate natural persons to act as Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officers (“AMLCOs”), Money Laundering Reporting Officers (“MLROs”), and Deputy Money Laundering Reporting Officers (“DMLROs”) by September 30, 2018 or, for funds registering after June 1, 2018, upon submission of the registration application; and
  • All investment funds (registered and unregistered) will be subject to enhanced AML processes and procedures.

CIMA also released a notice on April 6, 2018 to clarify its guidance notes on the AML regulations.

The guidance clarified that a fund could designate the same individual to serve as its AMLCO and MLRO.  Also, if an MLRO, DMLRO, and AMLCO have been appointed, a person carrying out the relevant financial business of a fund may delegate to another the performance of functions outlined in the AML regulations.  Significantly, managers should also note that these officers may be exposed to criminal sanctions for breach of their obligations.  Failure to comply with CIMA’s AML regulations could result in an unlimited fine and imprisonment for two years.  We recommend that fund managers discuss AML compliance and implementation issues with offshore counsel and the fund’s administrator.

Cayman Islands Appeals Court Holds That a Liquidator May Not Adjust a Shareholder’s NAV.  The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal held that an official liquidator of a fund could not change a contractually agreed upon net asset value (“NAV”), even if it were based upon fraudulent numbers.  The judge agreed with the lower court that allowing adjustment of the NAV would “interfere with the shareholders’ proprietary rights,” an action that legislators did not intend to permit.  This outcome may benefit shareholders by providing certainty regarding a fund’s NAV and the benefits derived from “their rights under a valid and subsisting contract.”

Cayman Issues AEOI Portal Update.  On May 29, 2018, the Cayman Islands issued an update regarding the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Portal (“AEOI”).  The statutory deadline for filing Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”) and US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, as amended, (“FATCA”) reporting was May 31, 2018.  However, the Cayman Islands Department for International Tax Cooperation will allow Cayman Financial Institutions until July 31, 2018 to fulfill their 2017 CRS and US FATCA reporting obligations without facing adverse consequences, compliance measures, or penalties.

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Compliance Calendar. As you plan your regulatory compliance timeline for the coming months, please keep the following dates in mind:

Deadline – Filing

  • June 29, 2018 – Delivery of audited financial statements to investors (private fund managers to fund of funds, including SEC, state, and CFTC registrants)
  • June 30, 2018 – Deadline for Cayman Island registered funds with a fiscal year end of December 31 to file the Fund Annual Return and audited financial statements with CIMA
  • June 30, 2018 – Deadline for making available AIFMD annual report for funds in or advertising in the EU (Alternative Investment Funds with a financial year ending on December 31st)
  • June 30, 2018 – Review transactions and assess whether Form 13H needs to be amended
  • July 15, 2018 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers
  • July 30, 2018 – Quarterly account statements due (CPOs claiming the 4.7 exemption)
  • July 30, 2018 – Collect quarterly reports from access persons for their personal
    securities transactions
  • July 31, 2018 – Cayman Islands CRS and US FATCA reporting deadline without adverse consequences (for those who missed the initial May 31, 2018 deadline)
  • August 14, 2018 – Form 13F filing (advisers managing $100 million in 13F Securities)
  • August 14, 2018 – CTA-PR filing with NFA
  • August 29, 2018 – Quarterly Form PF due for large hedge fund advisers
  • August 29, 2018 – CPO-PQR filing with NFA
  • September 30, 2018 – Review transactions and assess whether Form 13H needs to amended
  • September 30, 2018 – Deadline to designate an MLRO, DMLRO, and AMLCO for Cayman Islands AML compliance
  • October 15, 2018 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers
  • October 15, 2018 – Annual Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report deadline (for those who missed the April 17 deadline)
  • Periodic – Fund managers should perform “Bad Actor” certifications annually
  • Periodic – Amendment due on or before anniversary date of prior Form D filing(s), or for material changes
  • Periodic – CPO/CTA Annual Questionnaires must be submitted annually, and promptly upon material information changes
  • Periodic – Form D and blue sky filings should be current

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Mr. Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Digital Asset Regulatory Items – Second Quarter 2018

The second quarter offers notable regulatory updates in the digital asset space. For your convenience, we provide an overview of these items down below.

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SEC MATTERS

Speeches & Testimony

Chairman Testifies on Cryptocurrencies Before the House Committee on Appropriations

On April 26, 2018, Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Chairman Jay Clayton testified before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that digital assets are divided into 2 categories: (1) a “pure medium of exchange”—considered to be “not a security”; (2) tokens—a tool “to finance projects.” Given the uncertainty around cryptocurrencies, this may suggest that even the SEC might not readily view all tokens as securities yet.

SEC Director Hinman Testifies Before the House That Many ICOs are Securities Offerings, Certain Utility Tokens Do Not Have Hallmarks of a Security

On April 26, 2018, SEC Director William Hinman stated his position that it is “hard to have an initial sale without a securities offering.” Consequently, Hinman believes that initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) will likely require registering as a securities offering or operating under an exemption. He clarified that it is possible for a token not to have the hallmarks of a security if the token was purchased solely for its functional use and not as an investment. For many issuers, it could mean that they can offer tokens for sale by relying on appropriate exemptions without having to comply with the SEC securities registration.

SEC Director Hinman Speaks at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on Crypto

On June 14, 2018, SEC Director of the Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman spoke at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on Crypto in San Francisco.  He addressed questions regarding ICOs and token sales and whether a digital asset can be something other than a security.  He mentioned that currently, neither Bitcoin nor Ether meet the Howey test. However, he cautioned that classification of whether an instrument is a security is not static and the classification can change as the instrument changes.

Releases

SEC Creates Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation Position

On June 4, 2018, the SEC announced that Valerie A. Szczepanik would be the agency’s first ever Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation. This newly created position will allow the SEC to explore how U.S. securities laws would apply to digital asset technologies such as ICOs and cryptocurrencies. Ms. Szczepanik has been with the SEC since 1997. During her tenure, she has been an Assistant Director for the Division of Enforcement’s Cyber Unit. Currently, Szczepanik serves as the Head of the SEC’s Distributed Ledger Technology Working Group, Co-Head of the Dark Web Working Group, and a member of the FinTech Working Group.

Enforcement

SEC Takes Civil Actions Against Fraudulent ICO

On April 2, 2018, the SEC filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Centra Tech., Inc. (“Centra”) for raising at least $32 million in unregistered securities through a fraudulent ICO. Centra falsely claimed that it had partnered with VISA, Mastercard, and Bancorp to create a “crypto debit card.” The complaint seeks a permanent injunction to stop Centra’s activities and to return the ill-gotten gains to investors. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has also filed criminal charges against the two founders.

SEC Files Charges Against Titanium Blockchain

On May 22, 2018, the SEC filed charges in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Titanium Blockchain for violating antifraud and registration provisions under federal securities laws. The company used false corporate relationships and testimonies to inflate the values of their digital assets. Under the guise of an ICO, they fraudulently raised up to $21 million in cash and digital assets.

Other

SEC Creates Mock Initial Coin Offering

The SEC has created howeycoins.com. The website is designed to educate the public about fraudulent ICOs and how to avoid being a victim.

CFTC MATTERS

Advisory

The CFTC Issues Advisory on Virtual Currency Derivatives

On May 21, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued key expectations for exchanges and clearinghouses regarding virtual currency derivative products. These include: i) enhanced market surveillance; ii) close coordination with the CFTC surveillance group; iii) large trader reporting; iv) outreach to members and market participants; and v) derivative clearing organization’s risk management. For more details on these key points, please refer to our second quarterly update.

Speeches

CFTC Gives Keynote at the FIA 40th Annual Law & Compliance Division Conference on the Regulation of Futures, Derivative, and OTC Products, Washington, D.C.

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam.  On May 3, 2018, CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam spoke at the Futures Industry Association’s 40th Annual Law & Compliance Division Conference on the Regulation of Futures, Derivative, and OTC Products. In his speech, the Commissioner noted that institutions look at digital assets as something more than a currency. He also acknowledged the National Futures Association’s work on understanding and regulating virtual currencies and their derivatives.

Commissioner Quintenz Announces the Establishment of TAC Subcommittees

CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz. On June 4, 2018, CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz announced the creation of the Technology Advisory Committee’s (“TAC”) four new subcommittees. The subcommittees will be tasked with exploring automated and modern trading markets, cybersecurity, distributed ledger technology and market infrastructure, and virtual currencies.

Enforcement

CFTC Files Complaint Regarding Fraudulent ATM Coin

On April 16, 2018, the CFTC filed a complaint against three investment funds for their connection with a “binary options” scheme that defrauded at least 6 U.S. clients of about $618,810. The managers invited investors to transfer their fund balances to a virtual currency firm in return for the fraudulent virtual currency called “ATM Coin.” Neither the defendants nor the executed transactions were registered with the CFTC or a registered exchange. One of the fund managers also faces criminal charges for altering records and obstructing the FBI investigation.

NFA MATTERS

Notice to Members

NFA Encourages FCMs and IBs to Review OFAC FAQs for Compliance Obligations

On May 3, 2018, the National Futures Association (“NFA”) released a notice recommending that futures commission merchants (“FCMs”) and introducing brokers (“IBs”) review the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) FAQs about compliance and sanctions with regard to illicit digital currency activities. The FAQs detail OFAC’s goal to combat terrorism and criminal exploitation of digital transactions, as well as compliance obligations in dealing with blocked persons or property.

FINRA MATTERS

Enforcement

FINRA Suspends a Member for Failure to Disclose Outside Business Activity.

On April 18, 2018, FINRA issued a $20,000 fine and a two-year suspension to a broker for failure to disclose his private blockchain business activity with his firm. According to FINRA, all firms’ employees must report outside business activities and any material changes to their firms. This rule is intended to strengthen investor protections against outside activities.

STATE MATTERS

California Legislation

The following bills regarding the digital asset space are moving through the California legislature.

  • CA AB-2658: it would define blockchain technology in California and create a government working group to evaluate the use of blockchain technology by CA businesses and the state government. The bill passed the State Assembly on May 30, 2018 and is currently in the State Senate.
  • CA SB-838: it would allow certain privately-owned corporations to amend their articles of incorporation to include provisions for the use of blockchain technology in recording information related to stock transactions. The bill passed the State Senate on May 17, 2018 and is currently in the State Assembly.

Colorado Division of Securities Participates in Coordinated International Crypto Crackdown

On May 3, 2018, the Colorado Securities Commission announced that it signed orders requiring Linda Healthcare Corporation and Broad Investments, LLC to cease and desist from selling securities in the state. The companies violated Colorado securities laws by promoting ICOs to Colorado residents without disclosing the risks involved.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Announces New Cryptocurrency Oversight Position

Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer, released a statement on June 26, 2018 that Florida would be creating an oversight position for its cryptocurrency industry.  In coordination with the Office of Financial Regulation and the Office of Insurance Regulation, this new oversight position aims to develop policy, legislation, and regulation regarding cryptocurrency.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and focuses his legal practice on the investment management industry. He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345

Regulation A+ for Token Offerings

Overview of Regulation A+ for Token Sponsors

Token issuers have come under increasing scrutiny with respect to their offerings on the heels of various statements by SEC personnel (see here, here and here).  SEC representatives have testified recently before House and Senate committees that the initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) they have seen are securities offerings and that it is “hard to have an [ICO] without a securities offering.”  These statements along with recent SEC enforcement actions against ICOs have created the desire for token issuers to make their offerings SEC compliant.  Many token issuers have thus begun to offer and issue tokens through certain exemptions from the securities registration regime including Regulation D private offerings and the Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (“SAFT”).  One option many groups are looking into is using Regulation A+ (“Reg. A+”) to offer security tokens publicly.

Background

Regulation A was overhauled through the JOBS Act, resulting in what is now referred to as Regulation A+.  Reg. A+ allows for a registered security to go through a general solicitation process without going through the long and costly IPO process.  Securities issued under Reg. A+ can be freely traded, subject to some restrictions and holding periods.  Another unique feature is that it allows for “testing the waters,” soliciting investors to gauge interest in the offering before or after filing the offering statement.  To qualify to use Reg. A+, an issuer must have their principal place of business in the United States or Canada and not be an ineligible investor (please see our blog post Notes on Regulation A+ for more information).

Reg. A+ has two tiers; Tier 1 allows issuers to raise up to $20 million and Tier 2 allows issuers to raise up to $50 million over a 12-month rolling period.[1]  Below is a side-by-side comparison of the two tiers.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 Comparison

Tier 1

  • Can raise up to $20 million
  • No limit on amount investor can purchase
  • All types of investors (qualified purchasers, accredited investors, and unaccredited investors)
  • 2,000 investor limit pursuant to Section 12(g) of the ’34 Act
  • Do not need audited financial statements except in special circumstances
  • Must comply with state “blue sky” laws regarding securities registration
Tier 2

  • Can raise up to $50 million
  • Limits on how much an unaccredited investor can purchase (see below)
  • All types of investors (qualified purchasers, accredited investors, and unaccredited investors)
  • Conditional exemption from Section 12(g) of the ’34 Act restrictions[2]
  • Audited financial statements
  • State “blue sky” laws regarding securities registration are preempted
  • Must file annual, semi-annual, and current event reports after the offering with the SEC

Process

The process will look something like the following:

  • Step 1: Entity Formation
    • To start the process, the entity must first be created.  This includes putting together the articles of incorporation and operating agreement, registering the entity with the state(s) in which it will operate, drafting promissory note distribution agreements (a SAFT can be used here instead), and issuing securities.
  • Step 2: Draft Form 1-A
    • There are three parts to Form 1-A: Part I: Notification Filing, Part II: Offering Circular, and Part III: Exhibits.
    • Part I: Notification Filing
      • This is a brief summary of information about the issuer, offering, and jurisdictional information.  It can be filled out online and is formatted like the Form D filing.  It requires information such as balance sheet financials, determination of eligibility, a summary of the offering, and designation of the jurisdiction.
    • Part II: Offering Circular
      • The offering circular is a simplified and scaled down version for the Form S-1 and is similar to hedge fund offering documents. It is the primary disclosure document prepared in connection with the Reg. A+ offering.  This section requires information such as risk factors, the business plan, plan of distribution, Management’s Discussion & Analysis (“MD&A”) of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, management interests, and detailed analysis of the securities being offered.
    • Part III: Exhibits
      • The exhibit that are required as part of the Form 1-A include:
      • Issuer formation documents (e., operating agreement, articles of incorporation, etc.)
      • Promissory note agreement (or SAFT)
      • Agreement between issuer and broker-dealer
      • Opinion from legal counsel
      • Consent of auditor
      • Testing the waters materials
      • Escrow agreement (if necessary)
  • Step 3: Submission to the SEC
    • Once all the materials for the Form 1-A are assembled, the Form 1-A will be filed for qualification on the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval (“EDGAR”) system.  Issuers can request that their offering statement be non-public as long as they are publicly filed no later than 21 calendar days before qualification.  Once Form 1-A has been submitted, the issuer will correspond with the SEC regarding the submission to ensure that it is complete.  The offering statement on Form 1-A only needs to be qualified by order of the SEC and issuers will receive a notice of qualification from the Division of Corporation Finance.  With the consent of the Director of the Division of Corporation Finance, issuers are allowed to withdraw an offering statement so long as none of the securities under it have been sold and the offering statemen is not subject to a temporary order suspending the Regulation A exemption.
  • Step 4: Notice Filing
    • For this step, the issuer will need to determine in which states to concentrate their selling efforts.  Once the states have been selected, the issuer will need to conduct the required notice filings in each state.  Although Tier 2 offerings preempt state securities registration and qualification provisions, state securities regulators can still require issuers to file any documents that were with the SEC with state with state securities regulators.
  • Step 5: Ongoing Compliance
    • Tier 2 issuers are required to file Form 1-K, Form 1-SA, and Form 1-U with the SEC.
      • Form 1-K is an annual report that is filed 120 days after the fiscal year end. It consists of two parts: part 1 contain basic fillable information; part 2 requires the following: business operations of the issuer; transactions with related persons; information about directors, executives, and significant employees; MD&A; and two years of audited financials.
      • Form 1-SA is a semiannual report which is filed 90 days after end of first 6 months of fiscal year. It does not require an audit and includes financial statements and MD&A.
      • Form 1-U needs to be filed within 4 business days of any of the following:
        • Fundamental changes in the nature of the business;
        • Bankruptcy or receivership;
        • Material modification of the rights of security holders;
        • Changes in the certifying accountant of the issuer;
        • Non-reliance on previous financial statements or a related audit report or completed interim review;
        • Changes in control of the issuer;
        • Departures of the principal executive officer, principal financial officer or principal accounting officer; or
        • Unregistered sales of 10 percent or more of outstanding equity securities.
  • Final Step: Exit Reporting
    • Tier 1 issuers are required to file an exit report on Form 1-Z through EDGAR no later than 30 calendar days after the termination or completion of an offering.
    • Tier 2 issuers may file an exit report on Form 1-Z if the offering has fewer than 300 security holders of record, offers and sales are not ongoing, and the issuer is up to date on all filings required by Regulation A.

Timeline

The timeline for a Reg. A+ offering will look something like the following:

  • Week 1: The initial discussion of terms and the offering will take place.  The issuer and their legal counsel will create a detailed legal and operational timeline.
  • Week 2: The issuer will form the necessary entities, start drafting Form 1-A, and begin gathering the needed financials statements and other documents.
  • Week 3-4: All documents and financials will be finalized and submitted to the SEC.
  • Week 5: The issuer will begin the notice filing process and conduct the necessary ongoing compliance.
  • Week 6 and on: The issuer will begin back and forth discussion process with the SEC regarding the offering.

Issues & Other Items to Consider

There are a few items to consider when choosing to register under the Regulation A exemption:

  1. Testing the Waters – If testing the waters occurs after filing the offering statement, any solicitation materials used must be preceded or accompanied by a preliminary offering circular or contain a notice informing potential investors where and how the most current preliminary offering circular can be obtained.  These solicitation materials must also be included as an exhibit when the offering statement is submitted for nonpublic review or filed.
  2. Tier 2 Unaccredited Investor Limit – In a Tier 2 offering, an unaccredited investor can purchase no more than: (a) 10% of the greater of annual income or net worth (for natural persons); or (b) 10% of the greater of annual revenue or net assets at fiscal year end (for non-natural persons).
  3. Auditing – Tier 2 issuers will need to have their financial statements audited and should begin this process as soon as possible.  However, if a Tier 1 issuer has had previously audited financial statements, in certain cases they may need to submit these.
  4. Solicitation through Electronic Communication – An issuer is allowed to “test the waters” through platforms that limit the number of characters or text that can be included and still satisfy the requirements of Rule 255 if: (a) the electronic communication is distributed through a platform that limits the number of characters or text that may be included in the communication; (b) including the required Rule 255 statements together with the other information would cause the communication to exceed the platform’s characters or text limit; and (c) the communication contains an active hyperlink to the required Rule 255 statements and prominently conveys important or required information through the hyperlink.  However, if an electronic communication can contain the Rule 255 statements in their entirety along with the other information without exceeding the platform’s characters or text limit, it is not appropriate to only include hyperlink to the required statements.
  5. Payment for Securities – For both tiers, an issuer can accept payment for the sales of its securities only after its offering material have been qualified by the SEC.  In addition, issuers under Tier 1 offerings generally must have their offering materials qualified by state securities regulators in each state in which it plans to sell securities.
  6. Secondary Sales – For the 12 months following its first offering, no more than 30% of the aggregate offering price may be sold by security holders.  After the 12 months, secondary sales by affiliates will be subject to the 30% limit over a 12-month period.  Secondary sales by non-affiliates at this point will only be curtailed by the maximum offering allowed under each tier.

Conclusion

Thus far, Reg. A+ provides the most flexibility for SEC compliant ICOs.  Although there are reporting obligations and other restrictions, Reg. A+ allows for what is essentially a “mini-IPO” without the cumbersome process.  As token issuers look to be compliant, we are likely to see an uptick in Reg. A+ offerings.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Bart can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

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[1] This rolling 12-month period means that each month you will need to recalculate the aggregate sales, dropping off the sales from more than 12 months ago. For example, if an offering pursuant to Reg. A+ started in January of 2018, it means that by February of 2019 initial sale of securities from January 2018 are no longer in the aggregate total (thus only calculating February 2018 – February 2019 sales).

[2] As long as the issuer remains current with their periodic reporting, engages the services of a transfer agent registered with the SEC pursuant to Section 17A of the Exchange Act, and meets the size-based requirements similar to those of a “smaller reporting company” under the Securities Act and the Exchange Act.

Airdrops and Securities Laws

Legal Issues Surrounding Digital Asset Airdrops

Given the regulatory scrutiny on initial coin offerings, many digital asset company sponsors (those launching an ICO token/product/security/utility/etc) have been looking for ways to get their assets in the hands of a large number of people to begin creating network effects so the digital asset become valuable.  One way to accomplish this is through an “airdrop” where the sponsor gives away the digital asset to certain persons under certain circumstances.  Airdrops come in many shapes and forms – in some, the sponsor deposits only the digital asset they have created and in others a sponsor or other third party might deposit a variety of digital assets created by different groups.  Some airdrops require users to do something (sign up for a list or tweet a link related to the sponsor) and some are done for “free”.  In any event, there are potentially securities laws issues related to the airdrops and any transactions in the digital asset after the airdrop.  The below analysis is intended as a broad overview, but each airdrop should be considered in light of its facts and circumstances.  Additionally, the regulation of airdrops, including how they may be taxed, is beginning to evolve and subject to change.

Potential Application of Securities Laws to Airdrops

The legal status of digital assets is uncertain and continually developing – whether a token is a security ultimately depends on the particulars of each token.  Given recent statements by the SEC, however, it is safest to assume that any airdropped tokens are securities.  The public offering or sales of securities must be registered with the SEC or qualify for an exemption, though many token companies are not complying with these requirements.  As a result, a number of these airdrops may be violating securities laws, even if the teams behind the assets claim they are not securities, or if they do not realize their activities fall within the scope of the securities laws.  In light of this, the following legal issues may apply to an airdrop:

  • Transfer Restrictions – Even if a token qualifies for an exemption from registration with the SEC, it may be subject to transfer restrictions. For example, many securities are exempt from SEC registration via the private placement exemption under Regulation D (also known as “Reg D”), which requires a certain holding period (e.g. 6-12 months) before a purchaser can transfer the securities.  While the Reg D exemption applies to purchases and sales of securities, the Reg D holding restrictions may apply because the SEC may view the exchange of personal information and/or public promotion as payment.  In light of this, the recipients of digital assets (unknowingly) may be restricted from transferring those assets and should be careful.
  • Free Stock Enforcement Actions – In the late 1990’s the SEC brought enforcement actions in cases of “free stock” offerings. In such instances, companies gave out “free” stock in exchange for something of value to the company.  For example, recipients provided personal information, solicited additional investors, and linked to issuers’ websites.  The SEC was concerned that investors were not receiving full and fair disclosures about the securities.  Airdrops resemble free stock since the airdrop teams give “free” tokens, often in exchange for information like email addresses or social media shares.  Additionally, these airdrop programs are often promoted in mediums such as Telegram chats where disclosures are entirely absent.  Because of these similarities with free stock, the SEC could bring enforcement actions against the sponsors of the airdrops in the future.
  • Broker-Dealer Regulations – Generally, a broker is anyone that engages in securities transactions on behalf of another person for compensation, and must be registered with the SEC. If a team airdrops digital assets on behalf of other token companies, it could be deemed a broker if it receives compensation for the airdrop.  This compensation could take the form of tokens or marketing services from issuers of the airdropped assets.
  • Underwriter Liability – An underwriter is someone that acts on behalf of a securities issuer, for example, by distributing securities of the issuer. Depending on the circumstances, underwriters can be liable for an issuer’s securities violations.  If an airdrop team deposits tokens that are issued by another company, it could also be liable for the securities violations of that company, which very well may be the case, as described above.
  • Pump & Dump – Pump and dump schemes occur when an organized group coordinates to artificially change the price of an asset. The SEC and CFTC have issued warnings about token pump and dump schemes, and the SEC has already pursued certain groups for these schemes.  In light of this, airdrop announcements and marketing materials will likely be subject to heightened scrutiny by the SEC and CFTC.
  • KYC/AML – Know Your Customer (“KYC”) and Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) laws are aimed at combatting money laundering and bribery and require certain due diligence on clients. KYC and AML regulations typically apply to banks, broker-dealers, FINRA members, and other financial institutions, as well as large cash transactions.  Many token exchanges already implement KYC and AML procedures, for example, by requiring new users to upload a driver’s license in order to prove their identities.  It’s possible that an airdrop team may be subject to KYC and AML requirements such that it would need to verify the identity of each recipient.

Conclusion

As the digital asset industry becomes more aware of the securities laws and the nuances of the application of those laws to the digital asset space, sponsors of digital assets are working to make sure their business plan and token distribution structure fit within the laws.  While airdrops (“free tokens”) seem like one way to get around certain securities laws, there are still risks and sponsors should vet any potential distribution, even if free, with legal counsel.  We do expect to see a wider variety of token offering structures used in the future, including Regulation A+ which has fewer restrictions on securities transfers.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345 if you have any questions on this post.

Alternative Trading Systems (ATS)

ATS Registration Overview for Digital Asset Platforms

Digital asset platforms located in the U.S. that facilitate trading and exchange of digital assets (which are deemed to be securities) are generally subject to securities laws requiring such platforms to be registered as a national securities exchange (“NSE”) or fall within an exemption from NSE registration.  One exemption from registration as an NSE allows firms to conduct a platform business if such firm is registered as an alternative trading system (“ATS”).  This requirement was first highlighted by the SEC in the DAO Report released in July 2017.  We anticipate that many digital asset platforms currently facilitating trading will continue to face scrutiny as to whether they need to be registered as NSEs or an ATS and many have already begun the process to register as an ATS.

ATS Definition & Requirement to Register

The statutory definition of an ATS is:

any organization, association, person, group of persons, or system:

(1) That constitutes, maintains, or provides a market place or facilities for bringing together purchasers and sellers of securities or for otherwise performing with respect to securities the functions commonly performed by a stock exchange within the meaning of § 240.3b-16 of this chapter; and

(2) That does not:

(i) Set rules governing the conduct of subscribers other than the conduct of such subscribers’ trading on such organization, association, person, group of persons, or system; or

(ii) Discipline subscribers other than by exclusion from trading.

As many digital asset platforms or exchanges technically fall within the ATS definition, these platforms will need to appropriately register with the SEC.  To register as an ATS, the platform will need to do the following:

  1. Register as (or buy) a broker-dealer
  2. File Form ATS
  3. Comply with Regulation ATS

1. Register as a Broker-Dealer

Registering as a broker-dealer (“BD”) is a pre-requite to becoming an ATS.  A firm may only file Form ATS with the SEC after receiving the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) approval of its broker-dealer application (or after purchase of a broker-dealer).  For platforms registering as a broker-dealer, at a high level the firm must:

  • Submit Form BD;
  • Comply with all applicable state requirements; and
  • Ensure all of its “associates persons” (BD representatives) have satisfied applicable qualification requirements.

The process to register as a new BD is well worn and relatively straight forward.  Firms applying to register as a BD will need to submit online through Form BD online and then submit a New Membership Application (“NMA”) to FINRA.  The NMA requires the firm to describe their business and compliance policies and controls in detail.  A firm will also be subject to an in-person new membership interview and will have to demonstrate how the ATS technology operates to FINRA staff.  As part of the BD process, the firm will need to become a member of at least one self-regulatory organization (“SRO”), which is likely to be FINRA, and become a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”).

If a firm is already a broker-dealer (or has a broker dealer affiliate) but is not an ATS, the firm will need to submit a Continuing Membership Application (“Form CMA”) to FINRA.  For groups registering as a de novo BD, the firm should describe those parts of its business that will include the ATS function.  As with a de novo BD, an existing BD must demonstrate to FINRA staff how the ATS technology operates.

 2. File Form ATS

After a firm has registered as a BD and has discussed the ATS platform with FINRA (to FINRA’s satisfaction), the firm will need to notify the SEC that it is operating as an ATS.  Form ATS is the official SEC notification and must be submitted at least 20 days before the firm begins to operate its platform.

Form ATS is general in scope and requires information such as:

  • Certain identification information (i.e. full name, business name, address, CRD number, etc.)
  • Firm incorporation documents as attachments
  • Description of the types of users on the platform (i.e., broker-dealer, institution, or retail) and any differences in access to services between such users
  • List of the types of securities (digital assets/tokens which are deemed to be securities) that will be traded on the platform
  • Description of how the ATS will operate
  • Description of certain ATS operational procedures (i.e., entry of orders, transaction executions, reporting transactions, compliance, etc.)

It is important to note that Form ATS is a notice filing where the SEC provides no confirmation to the ATS regarding the filing status unless the form is deficient.  When a Form ATS has been filed with the SEC, it will be listed on the SEC website which will display the platform’s full name, the name(s) under which business is conducted, and the city and state of the ATS.  The reports on Form ATS are generally not published and are considered confidential.  Such reports will only be available to the SEC staff, state securities authorities, and any SRO for examination.

3. Ongoing Compliance

An ATS will be subject to numerous compliance obligations outside.  Some of the specific ATS obligations include:

  • File Form ATS-R (which summarizes the ATS’s transactions, on a quarterly basis) within 30 calendar days after the end of each quarter.
  • Amend Form ATS at least 20 calendar days before implementing a material change to the operation of the ATS.
  • Update Form ATS within 30 calendar days after the end of each quarter to correct any inaccurate or unreported information.
  • Permit the examination and inspection of its premises, systems, and records and cooperate with the examination, inspection, or investigation of subscribers by the SEC or SRO of which such subscriber is a member.

Additional BD, FINRA, and other guidelines, regulations, and obligations include:

  • Participating in the lost and stolen securities program.
  • Complying with the fingerprinting requirement.
  • Maintaining and reporting information regarding affiliates.
  • Following certain guidelines when using electronic media to deliver information.
  • Maintaining an anti-money laundering program.
  • Complying with the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) programs.
  • Filing quarterly and annual financial statements to the SEC.

If an ATS is not in compliance with the above requirements it may be subject to steep penalties.  In addition, it is important to note that securities on a registered ATS platform may be subject to a wide range of holding periods which must be enforced for an ATS to remain in compliance.

Registration Timing

It is unclear exactly how long a particular ATS application will take to be approved – it will largely depend on the exact scope of activities the platform will be involved with.  In general a platform designed for trading of private placements (in a kind of closed system for accredited investors) would likely take anywhere from 6-12 months to become fully licensed after submitting the Form NMA.  Technically, FINRA is required to review and process a substantially complete NMA within 180 calendar days after receiving it.

Issues to Consider

There are a number of issues to consider with respect to an ATS application.

  1. Underlying Instruments – the securities on most current digital asset exchanges are unregistered securities which were originally offered outside of any sort of registration exemption. Essentially these are restricted securities and any person selling or reselling such securities are arguably violating US securities laws (for more background, please see our post on restricted securities and distribution structures).  In such a case, we are not sure how FINRA will view a platform which facilitates the trading of restricted instruments.  We have seen many token issuers over the last 6-12 months who have decided to offer their tokens/securities according to registration exemptions, including through SAFTs.  To the extent a digital asset platform only transacts with such tokens (or tokens which go through the S-1 IPO process, which we think will happen within the next 12 months), we believe it is likely that such a platform would be able to be registered with FINRA.
  2. Discussion with FINRA Regarding Trading System – we have not talked directly with FINRA about their review of ATS platforms.  Most ATS platforms were created to allow for “dark pool” trading in the traditional institutional securities space.  It is unclear if FINRA has the experience or technical understanding (currently) to deal with digital assets and applicable trading platforms.
  3. IRS Reporting Requirements – the IRS released a notice in 2014 regarding the tax treatment of virtual currency. Since then, the IRS has subjected exchanges to certain user reporting requirements.  It is unclear whether the IRS will extend these types of user reporting requirements to ATS platforms as well.
  4. FinCEN’s Money Services Businesses Requirements – the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) released guidance in March of 2013 regarding individuals who handle virtual currencies. FinCEN determined that a person engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds, or other virtual currency (an “exchanger”) is subject to money services business (“MSB”) registration.  Although it is unclear if an ATS qualifies as a MSB, FinCEN has taken action against virtual currency exchanges that did not register with the bureau.
  5. Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer Requirements – MSBs are required by the Bank Secrecy Act to have Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) and Know Your Customer (“KYC”) procedures. AML procedures are required to detect and report suspicious actives that may indicate money laundering and terrorist financing.  KYC procedures are identification verification actions taken to ensure that the user is truly who they claim to be in order to prevent fraud.
  6. State Regulations – many states have imposed their own laws regarding digital assets. In addition, each state has its own rules and regulations regarding ATS platforms that operate within the state.  Before beginning to operate an ATS, you will want to research what rules and regulations your state has imposed.

Conclusion

After the DAO report, there have been a number of recent comments from SEC officials regarding digital assets and trading platforms that show the need for the cryptocurrency industry to quickly begin the process of integrating into the traditional securities regulatory landscape.  We believe that the ATS structure will become the predominant structure for digital asset exchanges in the future.  We also believe that over the next 12-24 months, as regulators flesh out various issues, the process will become more streamlined and well worn.  A few cryptocurrency related platforms have already started the process to become an ATS, with more likely to follow.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345 if you have any questions on this post.

Token Distribution and Unregistered/Restricted Securities

Digital Assets and Restricted Securities Background

Many recent Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and other token sales are being conducted through a Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (SAFT) or other private placement that exempts the token from registration as a security with the SEC. Tokens sold through these structures have become hot investments, and access to deals selling these tokens is generally difficult to obtain. Accordingly, many investors are creating private funds, unincorporated investment groups, syndicates or other types of investment-fund-like structures (“syndicates” or “investors” for the purposes of this post) to invest in these tokens or SAFTs. Many times these syndicates are established with the stated intent or objective to make distributions of the tokens immediately upon receipt. Effectively the sponsors of such structures have created a de-facto distribution system for VC like investments into blockchain projects. The question is how such a distribution structure fits with traditional securities regulations – specifically, can privately placed tokens (securities) be distributed shortly after receipt? The answer is probably no.

Background on Unregistered Securities

SAFTs, tokens from a SAFT, or other private placements are in most cases going to be unregistered securities (unless the token or instrument later becomes registered with the SEC which is highly unlikely).  In general federal securities laws prohibit the transfer of unregistered securities unless an exemption applies to the transfer.  Any person then who has possession of, and then transfers, an unregistered security without complying with an applicable exemption is breaking the securities laws and subject to civil penalty (fine, rescission, bar from industry, etc).  Additionally, many private placements and SAFTs contain contractual provisions that restrict transfer of tokens for a certain amount of time after issuance (with a wink and a nod from the token issuer that “everyone transfers them anyways”). Unless there is an exemption allowing for the transfer of the tokens (restricted securities), the transferor would be both breaking securities laws and breaching contractual representations made to the token sponsor.

Potential Exemptions

Section 4(a)(1)

Given the above framework, investors or syndicates will want to find an exemption so they can transfer the tokens in accordance with securities laws (the risk posed by breaching a contractual representation to the token sponsor is beyond the scope of this post). Among statutory exemptions, Section 4(a)(1) the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) provides an exemption from registration of the securities if the sales/transaction is not conducted by an issuer, dealer, or underwriter. These terms all have precise definitions, but in this context we would be most concerned about the transferor being deemed an “underwriter” which is defined, in part, as “any person who has purchased from an issuer with a view to, or offers or sells for an issuer in connection with, the distribution of any security, or participates or has a direct or indirect participation in any such undertaking.” This is a broad definition, and because of the stated or not-stated intent of creating a distribution structure for tokens, the syndicates described above may well be considered “underwriters” in this context and need to find another exemption on which to rely.

Investors my be in luck though as there are two other common exemptions that may be available – Rule 144 and Section 4(a)(1 ½).

Rule 144

Rule 144 of the Securities Act allows public resale of restricted securities if certain conditions are met.  The central condition is that the unregistered securities are held by the investor for a period of at least one year.  Further, the transferor/investor may not be an affiliate of the issuer.  There may be reduced holding period requirements if the issuer is subject to the Exchange Act Reporting requirements, but this is not a likely scenario in the digital asset space.  We believe for most syndicate groups, Rule 144 is the best way to comply with the transfer restriction. Of course, certain syndicates operating in this space might want or need to distribute the tokens before the expiration of Rule 144’s one-year holding period, and while imperfect as a solution, Section 4(a)(1 ½) (discussed below) may grant another option.

Section 4(a)(1 ½)

As mentioned above, Section 4(a)(1) of the Securities Act provides an exemption from registration for transactions by any person other than an issuer, underwriter, or dealer.  Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act provides a separate exemption for transactions by an issuer through a private offering. Over time, through case law and acknowledged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), the “Section 4(a)(1 ½)” exemption was created.  This exemption generally is an exemption for private offerings, similar to Section 4(a)(2), but for entities that are not issuers.

To avoid being deemed an underwriter (and to ensure that a resale is sufficiently private), the investor/transferor must be able to show that it did not purchase the restricted securities with a view to distribution or resale.  In order to show this the investor/transferor should examine the following criteria :

  • Number of Purchasers – there should be a limited number of purchasers of the restricted security.  This generally can be satisfied if there are less than 25 purchasers.
  • Investment Intent – the investing entity’s intent in purchasing the tokens or SAFT should be to hold for an indefinite period of time and not with a view to resell or distribute.  The longer the investing entity holds the tokens or SAFT, the better the argument for the investor/transferor’s original intent.  Generally, in conjunction with other facts and circumstances, holding the security for at least six months will evidence the investor/transferor’s investment intent. The investor/transferor should also obtain a representation from purchasers that (1) the purchase is being made as an investment and not for resale and (2) any subsequent transfer will be made only in an SEC-registered transaction or in compliance with an exemption from registration.
  • Offeree Qualification – the investor/transferor of the token or SAFT should determine whether the buyer can hold the securities for an indefinite period of time and assume the risk of the investment by looking to the experience and sophistication of the buyer.
  • Information – the investor/transferor should provide access to all information about the investment and business of the issuer that would be necessary to the buyer. The investor/transferor should also provide access to any nonpublic information if it is an insider with such information.
  • Private Offering – No form of general advertising or general solicitation may be used in reselling the securities.

Because of the facts and circumstances determination for Section 4(a)(1 ½), the safest approach to addressing these restricted securities’ holding periods is for the investor/transferor to hold the securities for greater than one year in order to fall under the Rule 144 safe harbor.

Other Issues to Consider

There are a number of additional items that should be considered in the context of transferred digital assets that may have been issued as private securities:

  • Securities v. Non-Securities.  The restricted securities transfer rules apply to securities – they do not apply to non-security instruments.  Entities that invest in tokens and SAFTs may want to consider taking a position that the tokens are not securities and therefore not subject to securities laws.  Such a position would entail a facts and circumstances determination, and taking such a position is likely a risky strategy based on recent comments from SEC Chairman Clayton.  Also, taking the position that a SAFT is not a security would be problematic if the SAFT included language that it was a restricted security or otherwise contained a restrictive legend.
  • Distribution to syndicate owners.  If an entity wants to distribute the tokens or a SAFT instrument to its underlying owners, it should be aware that the above exemptions do not apply to a distribution to a syndicate’s underlying owners.  Additionally, the SEC would likely consider an in-kind distribution of tokens in exchange for redemption of interests in a syndicate as consideration sufficient to constitute a sale.
  • Regulation S.  Non-US investors may consider investing in a SAFT or purchasing tokens under Regulation S of the US securities laws.  While such investors would be non-US investors, Regulation S contains a one-year holding period similar to Rule 144 for sales to US persons so resale of such instruments would potentially be limited.
  • Timing.  No official guidance has been issued regarding holding periods and SAFT instruments.  We do not know whether the holding period begins when a SAFT is issued or once the actual tokens are issued (i.e. whether the SAFT and tokens are separate securities).  In cases where tokens are issued after a significant period of time following the SAFT execution, this determination may be significant.  Again, a determination one way or another will require a facts and circumstances analysis.

Conclusion

Investors should be aware that SAFTs and tokens in which they invest may be restricted securities that may not be resold absent an applicable exemption. With respect to digital assets, this issue is nascent and evolving, but investment managers should be cognizant to follow the securities laws in the absence of additional guidance from the SEC. Please reach out if you have questions on any of the above.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345 if you have any questions on this post.

Notes on Regulation A+

Last week members from our firm attended the inaugural Reg A Conference in New York, where various industry participants gathered to discuss Regulation A under the Securities Act of 1933 (Reg A+). The conference covered a wide range of topics on the Reg A+ landscape, including the recent shift towards utilizing Reg A+ for initial coin / security token offerings (more on this below).

As background, Reg A+ is a securities exemption created by Title IV of the JOBS Act that allows issuers to conduct securities offerings of up to (i) $20 million for Tier 1 offerings or (ii) $50 million for Tier 2 offerings on an annual basis. Reg A+ is viewed by some as a “mini-IPO” that provides small issuers with a more affordable and expedited method of publicly selling securities to retail investors throughout the United States.

Regulatory Obligations

While Reg A+ may be an attractive option for many startup and emerging companies, there are some notable eligibility restrictions. Only issuers that have a principal place of business in the United States or Canada may conduct a Reg A+ offering. Additionally, Reg A+ is not available to:

  1. Companies subject to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934;
  2. Investment Companies;
  3. Business Development Companies;
  4. Blank Check Companies;
  5. Certain Bad Actors;
  6. Issuers of fractional undivided interests in oil or gas rights or a similar interest in other mineral rights; and
  7. Issuers disqualified due to filing deficiencies.

Issuers that are eligible to issue securities under Reg A+ must undergo a review process with the SEC and potentially state securities regulators. Tier 1 issuers must qualify with state securities regulators as well as the SEC. Tier 2 issuers must qualify offerings solely with the SEC, as state review is preempted for Tier 2 (although state notice filings may be required). Tier 2 issuers must also provide audited financials as part of the qualification process.

Issuers that do qualify and issue securities pursuant to Reg A+ are also required to maintain post-qualification filings. Tier 1 issuers must file a Form 1-Z after the termination of an offering, whereas Tier 2 issuers must file annual audited financials, semi-annual unaudited reports, and current reports for ongoing offerings.

Why Regulation A+?

The primary selling point of Reg A+ is that it provides an expedited path for startup and emerging companies to issue securities to retail investors. Unlike private placements under Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c) of Regulation D, securities offered pursuant to Reg A+ are purchasable by retail investors and freely tradeable upon issuance. Furthermore, while Rule 506(b) offerings institute a prohibition on general solicitation and registered offerings enforce a quiet period, issuers offering securities pursuant to Reg A+ may freely advertise before, during, and after the qualification period (subject to certain disclosure and disclaimer requirements).

Equity offerings pursuant to Reg A+ can also be listed on a registered exchange, with many issuers opting to do so. In short, Reg A+ effectively bridges the gap between Regulation D private placements and registered securities offerings by providing issuers access to the broader retail market and exchanges without the commitment and expense of conducting a registered offering.

Application for Initial Coin Offerings

There has been much discussion of late regarding the best mechanism for digital asset issuers to conduct initial coin offerings (ICOs) that are compliant with United States securities laws. While there has been some evidence that certain digital assets—namely Bitcoin and Ethereum—are likely not securities, there is strong evidence that the SEC considers most ICOs unregistered securities offerings.

In what is seen as the SEC’s initial assertion of jurisdiction in the digital asset and cryptocurrency economy, the SEC has repeatedly stated that ICO issuers must register offers or sales of securities unless a valid exemption applies. This has led many to believe that the SEC was signaling that token offerings could be offered pursuant to existing securities rules and exemptions. This belief was further solidified when SEC Commissioner Jay Clayton plainly stated: “It is possible to conduct an ICO without triggering the SEC’s registration requirements.  For example, just as with a Regulation D exempt offering to raise capital for the manufacturing of a physical product, an initial coin offering that is a security can be structured so that it qualifies for an applicable exemption from the registration requirements.”

With these statements and policies in mind, we believe that an increasing number of token issuers will look to conduct security token offerings (STOs) pursuant to Reg A+. Currently, multiple entities are working to register with the SEC and FINRA as broker-dealers and/or alternative trading systems capable of listing STOs and brokering related transactions. If STOs gain popularity as an alternative method to raise capital and/or securitize interests in assets, Reg A+ is the natural landing spot for tokenized securities—it is the most practical exemption that allows issuers to access retail investors and list the tokenized securities on exchanges without going through a full registration.

Conclusion

Although Reg A+ has only been in existence for three years (Reg A+ became effective in June 2015), it appears to be gaining traction as a preferred method for raising capital. While it can be challenging to determine the exact amount of capital that issuers have raised due to staggered and less frequent reporting timeframes, the SEC’s Office of Small Business Policy disclosed that Reg A+ offerings raised approximately $600 million from June 2015 through September 2017. Industry professionals estimate that number is now closer to $1 billion in the three years since the establishment of Reg A+.

In March of this year, the U.S. House of Representative passed the Regulation A+ Improvement Act of 2017, which would increase the cap on Tier 2 Regulation A+ offerings to $75 million. If the legislation passes the Senate and is signed into law, the increased cap could potentially provide tailwinds for further proliferation of Reg A+ as a funding mechanism for startup and emerging companies.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this post or if you believe your company could benefit from issuing equity, debt, or digital assets pursuant to Reg A+.

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Kevin Cott is a partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Cott directly at 770-674-8481.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Overview of GDPR for US Private Fund Managers

The General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) is a new set of requirements intended to strengthen the protection of citizens’ personal data as well as data movement within the European Union (“EU”).  GDPR was adopted on May 24, 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union and went into effect on May 25, 2018.  The regulation replaces Directive 95/46/EC, known as the Data Protection Directive and may apply to certain organizations (including private fund managers) in the US who work with persons in the EU.  This post is designed to give fund managers an overview of the regime and some initial items that should be considered.

What is GDPR?

GDPR sets restrictions on those who process, transfer, or monitor personal data and the procedures by which this is done.  The term “personal data” means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.  The term generally means any information that directly or indirectly can lead to the identification number, location data, online identifier, or similar items related to the identity of a natural person (can include physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural, social data, etc).   Organizations that are subject to GDPR but are not compliant can be fined the greater of €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover. GDPR requires that any personal data breach must be reported within 72 hours and justification must be given for any delays.

One of the key aspects of GDPR is that it requires organizations to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) in the following three situations: (1) if the organization is processing public data as a public authority; (2) the organization’s processing operations require regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale; and (3) the organization has large scale processing of personal data relating to criminal convictions or special categories that reveal identity of a natural person (including physical, physiological, genetic, etc.).  Although private fund managers may not fall into any of the above categories, it is encouraged under Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (“WP29”) for organizations to appoint a DPO as part of good practice procedures and to demonstrate compliance with GDPR.

Who is regulated?

The requirements of GDPR applies to controllers (the person(s) or entity that determines the purposes and means of processing personal data) or processors (the person(s) or entity that processes personal data on the controller’s behalf) of personal data.  It also applies to the processing activities related to offering goods or services to the data subjects from the EU or monitoring behaviors that take place within the EU.

*** Practically, for private fund managers, GDPR is applicable if you have European investors in a fund or actively solicit or market to European investors.  

What are the initial steps a private fund manager should take?

Depending on the scope of activity, we believe that managers should think about implementing a full GDPR compliance program.  In the meantime, managers subject to the directive should take immediate actions:

  • Send a disclosure statement to EU investors regarding GDPR and the fund’s obligations under GDPR.
  • Attach the disclosure statement regarding GDPR to the fund subscription documents moving forward to ensure that all new investors receive it.
  • Update the fund’s offering documents with a GDPR disclosure.
  • Amend agreements with service providers who processes EU investors’ personal data on the fund’s behalf.
  • Determine whether the fund needs to establish an EU Representative.

How do you create a GDPR compliance program?

Managers with data subject to GDPR will need to take inventory of their data which is covered by the regulation and should create certain procedures and controls with respect to the data.  We believe that initial steps should include the following:

  • Create a list of all types of personal information your fund holds, the source of that information, with whom you share it, what you do with it and how long you will keep it.
  • Create a list of places where your fund keeps personal information and the ways data flows between them.
  • Create a publicly accessible privacy policy, which includes a lawful basis to explain why the fund needs to process personal information, that outlines all processes related to personal data.
  • Appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) if necessary.
  • Create awareness among decision makers about GDPR guidelines.
  • Review and/or update the fund’s security technology that is used to process personal data (i.e. firewalls, security verification tools, etc.).
  • Update e-mail security to reduce the risk of phishing and other attacks on protected information.
  • Create a compliance program that includes staff training on data protection items.
  • Create a list of third parties that process personal data for you and update your privacy policy to disclose your use of these third parties.
  • Put a contract in place with any data processors with whom you share data containing explicit instructions for the storage or processing of data by the processor.

Conclusion

Managers should begin this process of exploring the impact of GDPR on their operations immediately if they have not already done so.  Managers should also consult with offshore counsel, compliance consultants, and/or GDPR specialists for guidance on how to best comply with GDPR to meet the fund’s particular needs.  GDPR has radically changed how personal data is processed in the EU and abroad.  The sooner a manager enacts GDPR compliant policies, the sooner the manager can cater to EU citizens and the less likely it will be subject to penalties.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has is a leader in the hedge fund space and routinely works with managers on legal, regulatory and compliance issues. If there are any questions on this post, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

CoinAlts Fund Symposium East – New York, April 19th

Cryptocurrency Fund Conference Sponsored by Cole-Frieman & Mallon

As we have recently announced in our firm’s first quarter legal update, we are one of the founding sponsors of the second CoinAlts Fund Symposium which will be held in Midtown Manhattan on April 19th.  The agenda for the day is as follows:

  • Opening Remarks by Cory Johnson of Ripple
  • Legal & Regulatory Panel featuring Bart Mallon (moderator) and Karl Cole-Frieman (panelist)
  • Industry Keynote by Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management
  • Featured Keynote by John Burbank of Passport Capital
  • Best Practices in Tax, Accounting and Operations
  • Trading & Execution in Digital Assets
  • Allocators to Digital Asset Funds
  • Cryptocurrency Trends and Innovations featuring Laura Shin (moderator) and Marco Santori (panelist)

The event is preceeded by a networking event for women in the blockchain/digital asset space on Wednesday evening sponsored by CoinAlts and Circle.  Attendance at the main event is expected at around 400 people and will include digital asset managers, investors, students and service providers.

For more information on the event please see the CoinAlts East press release.

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For more information on this topics related to the digital asset space, please see our collection of cryptocurrency fund legal and operational posts.

Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first cryptocurrency focused hedge funds. If there are any questions on this post, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

CoinAlts East Announced – April 19, 2018 (Press Release)

Below is the press release on our CoinAlts East event.  We hope to see you there.

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CoinAlts Fund Symposium Announces East Coast Event

NEW YORK (PRWEB) MARCH 30, 2018

The CoinAlts Fund Symposium is announcing its second event, called CoinAlts East, in New York on April 19, 2018. The event will be headlined by the keynote speaker John Burbank of Passport Capital in a fireside chat format. Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management will be the featured industry speaker. Additional speakers include Cory Johnson of Ripple and Donald R. Wilson of DRW. The all-day conference will address issues that digital asset managers face on the legal and regulatory front, as well as issues related operation items, trading and fund raising from institutional investors.

“We are so fortunate to have such high-quality speakers and panelists. Our goal has always been to foster a community of the best minds in the crypto space and I think you see that in both our speaker list and the attendees of the conference,” said conference co-chair Bart Mallon of the law firm Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. CoinAlts East comes on the heels of the first full day conference for digital asset managers held in September in San Francisco and attended by over 400 industry professionals. CoinAlts East is expected to sell 500 tickets to the all-day event.

“The first CoinAlts event had such an overwhelmingly positive response that we knew we needed to bring the event to New York. The asset class is maturing and traditional investment managers are beginning to be very much involved in the space,” said Corey McLaughlin of Cohen & Company, one of the conference’s founding sponsors. Lauren Colonna of Ovis Creative, a marketing and consulting firm and sponsor of CoinAlts East, echoed Corey’s comments saying that “in addition to the standard alternative asset management work we continually see, we are experiencing a significant increase in the demand for institutional quality marketing materials and messaging for managers in the cryptocurrency and digital asset space.”

Current early bird pricing for investment managers is $500 per person and $750 per person for service providers. Early bird pricing ends on March 30, 2018, after which the price will be $750 and $1,000 respectively. The conference is also the sponsor of a Women in Crypto networking event which will be held on April 18, 2018.

About the CoinAlts Fund Symposium

The CoinAlts Fund Symposium was established by four firms with significant practices devoted to fund managers in the cryptocurrency and digital asset space. Cohen & Company specializes in the alternative investment industry and advises cryptocurrency funds on important tax, audit and operational matters. Harneys Westwood & Reigels LLP is a leading international offshore law firm that advisers fund managers on all aspects of the life of a Cayman or BVI fund including formation, restructuring and closure. MG Stover & Co. is a full service fund administration firm built by former auditors and fund operators to deliver world class solutions to the global alternative investment industry. Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a premier boutique investment management law firm, providing top-tier, responsive and cost-effective legal solutions for cryptocurrency fund managers.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first cryptocurrency focused hedge funds. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.