Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2017 Third 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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October 26, 2017

Clients, Friends, Associates:

This summer saw many exciting developments in the digital assets space as well as case law evolution that may expand the liability of fund managers. We would like to provide you with a brief overview of those topics and a few noteworthy items as we move into the fourth quarter of 2017.

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SEC Matters:

SEC Adopts Amendments to Form ADV and the Books and Records Rule. SEC amendments to Form ADV went into effect on October 1, 2017, which will apply to both registered investment advisers (“RIAs”) and exempt reporting advisers. Among other technical amendments, the new Form ADV requires investment advisers to provide detailed information with regard to their separately managed accounts (“SMAs”), including aggregate level reporting of asset types across an adviser’s SMAs and reporting of custodian information under certain circumstances. Investment advisers that utilize borrowing or derivatives on behalf of SMAs will also need to report the regulatory assets under management (“RAUM”) attributable to various levels of gross notional exposure and corresponding borrowings and derivatives exposure. The SEC noted that advisers may not need to report this SMA information until its annual amendment.

The SEC concurrently adopted an amendment to the books and records rule (Rule 204-2 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (“Advisers Act”)), requiring RIAs to keep records of documentation necessary to demonstrate the performance or rate of return calculation distributed to any person as well as all written performance-related communications received or sent by the RIA. Advisers who have questions on any changes to the new Form ADV should contact their compliance groups.

SEC Provides Observations from Cybersecurity Examinations. On August 7, 2017, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published observations from its “Cybersecurity 2 Initiative” where 75 SEC registered broker-dealers (“BDs”), RIAs and investment funds were examined to assess cybersecurity preparedness. OCIE observed that all BDs and funds, and nearly all RIAs, maintained cybersecurity-related policies and procedures addressing protection of client information. OCIE also noted an increase in cybersecurity preparedness since the “Cybersecurity 1 Initiative” conducted in 2014.

However, key findings from the examinations include:

  • policies and procedures were inadequate and lacking specificity in employee guidance;
  • failure by financial firms to adhere to or enforce their policies and procedures; and
  • Regulation S-P-related issues, including failure to address security vulnerabilities or install other operational safeguards to protect client nonpublic personal information.

OCIE will continue its examination of financial firms’ cybersecurity compliance systems and we will be on the lookout for further guidance in this growing area of concern.

SEC Risk Alert Discusses Most Frequent Advertising Rule Compliance Issues. On September 14, 2017, OCIE published a risk alert based on its recent examination of 70 RIAs related to Rule 206(4)-1 under the Advisers Act (the “Advertising Rule”). The Advertising Rule generally prohibits RIAs from distributing advertisements or other communications that contain untrue, false or misleading statements. The most common Advertising Rule deficiencies observed include: (i) misleading performance results, caused by lack of sufficient disclosures, (ii) misleading one-on-one presentations, (iii) misleading claims of compliance with voluntary performance standards, (iv) cherry-picked profitable stock selections, (v) misleading selection of recommendations, and (vi) failure to implement compliance policies and procedures designed to prevent non-compliant advertising practices. OCIE encourages RIAs to consider their advertising activities within the purview of the Advertising Rule and its prohibitions.

SEC Action Against Hedge Fund Adviser.  On August 21, 2017, the SEC reached a settlement with a hedge fund adviser for failing to establish, maintain, and enforce a compliance system to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information (“MNPI”). The settlement comes after the adviser’s analysts were charged with insider trading of MNPI relating to government plans to cut Medicare reimbursement rates. The SEC alleged that analysts received tips from a third-party political intelligence analyst who had a source within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that the adviser then used those tips to generate trading profits. The $4.6 million settlement included a penalty of $3.9 million and a disgorgement of compensation.

CFTC Matters:

CFTC Grants SEF and DCO Registration to LedgerX.  The CFTC granted LedgerX registration status as both a swap execution facility (“SEF”) and a derivative clearing organization (“DCO”). Now that the exchange is live, LedgerX is the first CFTC-approved exchange to facilitate and clear options on digital assets. Previously, the CFTC granted SEF registration to TeraExchange, which offers forwards and swaps on Bitcoin. LedgerX plans to initially offer physically-settled and day-ahead swaps on Bitcoin to U.S.-based eligible contract participants (“ECPs”) and has a fully-collateralized clearing model where customers must post collateral to cover maximum potential losses prior to trading.

Digital Asset Matters:

CBOE Partners with Gemini to Launch Bitcoin Futures Exchange.  On the heels of the CFTC’s LedgerX announcement, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (“CBOE”) announced that it has partnered with Gemini, a digital assets exchange and custodian, to launch the first U.S.-regulated Bitcoin futures exchange. Gemini was founded by the Winklevoss twins, whose proposed “Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust” ETF was rejected by the SEC this past spring. Gemini granted to CBOE an exclusive license to use Gemini’s Bitcoin market data that will allow CBOE to create derivative products, including indices, to trade on a CBOE-created exchange. Although CBOE has not requested approval from the CFTC to form such an exchange, it plans to offer Bitcoin futures by the end of 2017 or early 2018. We will keep managers apprised of ongoing developments.

House Introduces Virtual Currency Tax Act.  In September, The Cryptocurrency Tax Fairness Act of 2017 was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill was introduced by co-chairs of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, Jared Polis (D-Co) and David Schweikert (R-Az), and calls for a de minimis exception from gross income for gains related to virtual currency transactions under $600. Such an exception could serve to incentivize small, day-to-day transactions. The bill also calls upon the Treasury Department to issue guidance on whether a gain or loss should be recognized in virtual currency transactions. If approved, the bill will apply to virtual currency transactions beginning January 1, 2018.

SEC Implicates Two ICOs in Alleged Fraud.  On September 29, 2017, the SEC charged a businessman who was allegedly running two fraudulent initial coin offering (“ICO”) schemes by selling unregistered securities in the form of digital tokens that did not exist. The REcoin ICO was marketed as the first token backed by real estate investments and allegedly misrepresented to investors the company’s expertise and the amount of capital raised. The second ICO was marketed similarly but with respect to the diamond industry. In July, the SEC issued an investor alert warning about the risk of ICOs. The SEC is seeking to bar the businessman from participating in any offering of digital securities in the future.

ICOs Banned in China and South Korea. The People’s Bank of China (“PBoC”), China’s central bank and financial regulator, announced an immediate ban of ICOs within China. The announcement sent shockwaves throughout the cryptocurrency industry, highlighted by declines across various token prices. Many see this ban as a temporary stop-gap measure to give PBoC time to develop industry oversight. South Korea’s Financial Services Commission made a similar announcement a few weeks later, stating that all ICO fundraising would be banned and that it would establish tighter anti-money laundering prevention policies for virtual currencies.

Other Items:

Department of Labor (“DOL”) Proposes Amendments to Fiduciary Rule Exemptions. The DOL Fiduciary Rule, discussed in our previous quarterly update, may face further delays before full implementation. Citing a concern that affected parties may incur undue expense in complying with a rule that may be further revised or repealed, the DOL submitted a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to extend the transition period from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. The proposal included amendments to a few of the Fiduciary Rule exemptions, including the best interest contract exemption, which permits investment advisers to retail retirement clients to continue their current fee practices. The OMB approved the proposal and the DOL published its proposal on August 31, 2017. Proponents for the amendments point to the SEC’s commitment to work with the DOL to harmonize the Fiduciary Rule with SEC regulations, and that the delay will give the agencies time to develop clear regulations together. Critics claim that the delay will cause more uncertainty in the market during the extended transition period, and that the delay is the first step in an attempt by opponents of the rule to eliminate it completely.

The Cayman Islands Introduce New AML Regulations.  New Cayman Islands AML regulations came into effect on October 2, 2017. The new regulations expand AML/CFT (anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism) obligations to unregulated investment entities and additional financial vehicles, which are seen to align more closely with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations and global practice. In a shift to a risk-based approach to AML regulations, there will be two separate due diligence procedures depending on the risk assessment of investors. Certain investors that are deemed to be high-risk, such as politically exposed persons, will have to go through a more extensive verification process, while low-risk investors will be able to submit to a simplified due diligence process. If you have any questions, we recommend that you reach out to your administrator or offshore counsel.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Clarifies Insider Trading Case.  In August 2017, in a long-awaited opinion, the Second Circuit upheld a former portfolio manager’s 2014 conviction for insider trading in U.S. v. Martoma, in reaction to the US Supreme Court’s intervening ruling in Salman v. United States, which we discussed in a previous update.  The Martoma Court rejected much of its earlier decision in U.S v. Newman by holding its previous requirement that there be a “meaningfully close personal relationship” between tipper and tippee was “no longer good law”.  Instead, the Martoma Court created a new standard requiring the government to prove that the tipper expected the tippee to trade on the information and the tip “resembled trading by the insider followed by a gift of the profits”.  By eliminating Newman’s “close personal relationship” requirement, the Martoma ruling has made it easier for the government to prosecute and win insider trading cases, however, it’s likely this area of law will continue to evolve.

“Group” Theory of Liability Expanded by U.S. District Court.  Continuing a trend of expanding the “group” theory of liability, the Northern District of California’s recent ruling in Sand v. Biotechnology Value Fund, L.P. may have far-reaching ramifications for managers of multiple funds. The defendants in the ongoing Sand case include a general partner and its two hedge funds (the “group funds”). The Court held that the group funds’ aggregate collective ownership of the subject security was directly relevant to the issue of beneficial ownership because the group funds shared the same general partner. Section 16 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, requires corporate insiders and beneficial owners of 10% or more of a registered security to file statements with the SEC disclosing their ownership interest. Under the Sand Court’s theory of group liability, each of the group funds would be subject to the Section 16 reporting requirements if the group collectively owned 10% or more of the security, even if an individual group fund owned less than 10%, and each group fund could also be directly liable for any Section 16 violations. Given this evolution of Section 16 liability, managers of multiple funds that hold positions in the same security should carefully monitor beneficial ownership and evaluate whether a reporting obligation may exist for their funds.

SIPC and FINRA Adopt Streamlined Reporting Process.  Effective September 1, 2017, investment advisory firms who are members of both the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) only need to file one annual report to both agencies through FINRA’s reporting portal. This will ease the reporting burden, as well as cut down on compliance costs for firms.

FCA Makes Final Policy Statement on MiFID II. The Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”), which regulates the financial services industry in the UK, has published its final policy statement regarding the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (“MiFID II”). Effective January 1, 2018, MiFID II most notably introduces the requirement for UK BDs to “unbundle” investment research from trading commissions, requiring discrete pricing for each of the services rendered. This requirement is in contrast to the “soft dollar” safe harbor currently available in the U.S. and may have implications for U.S.-based investment advisers who engage UK BDs, as the new requirement could affect pricing of services.

Cayman and BVI Update Beneficial Ownership Regimes.  Amendments to the Cayman Islands beneficial ownership laws went into effect on July 1, 2017, which require certain entities, including exempted funds, to take reasonable steps to identify their beneficial owners (generally persons holding more than 25% interests in an entity). Of interest to fund managers, the amendments exempt from its scope: funds that are regulated by Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (“CIMA”), that employ a Cayman regulated administrator, or funds that are managed by an adviser regulated in an approved jurisdiction, such as a state or SEC RIA.  The British Virgin Islands (the “BVI”) also implemented amendments to its beneficial ownership regime effective July 1, 2017, which now requires registered agents of non-exempt BVI companies, such as unregulated private funds, to input beneficial ownership information into a platform called the BOSS (Beneficial Ownership Secure Search) System. The BOSS System is accessible only to select regulators and fulfills BVI commitments to the United Kingdom under the UK Exchange of Notes agreement.

MSRB to Hold Compliance Outreach Program. In a cross-agency announcement, the SEC is partnering with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) and FINRA to sponsor the 2017 Compliance Outreach Program for Municipal Advisors, a day-long compliance forum to allow industry professionals to discuss compliance practices with regulators and to promote a more effective compliance structure for municipal advisors. The program will be held on November 8, 2017, from 9am to 4pm ET, in the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office and will be streamed live on the SEC website. The agenda for this event can be located here, and any advisors who are interested in attending can register here.

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

Deadline – Filing

  • October 1, 2017 – Revised Form ADV 1A goes into effect for all advisers
  • October 16, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable).
  • November 14, 2017 – Form PR filings for registered Commodity Trading Advisors (“CTAs”) that must file for Q3 within 45 days of the end of Q3 2017.
  • November 29, 2017 – Form PF filings for Large Hedge Fund Advisers with December 31 fiscal year-ends filing for Q3 2017.
  • November 29, 2017 – Registered Commodity Pool Operators (“CPOs”) must submit a pool quarterly report (“PQR”).
  • December 31, 2017 – Cayman funds regulated by CIMA that intend to de-register (i.e. wind down or continue as an exempted fund) should do so before this date in order to avoid 2018 CIMA fees.
  • 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.

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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.

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