Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for May 12, 2017

Happy Friday.

****

SEC New Chairman Jay Clayton Sworn In – last week Justice Anthony Kennedy swore in Jay Clayton as the new SEC Chairman.  Clayton has a long background working in the the securities industry at a large law firm and has acted as a law school professor with respect to various aspects of the securities industry.  Clayton begins the Chairmanship during rapidly changing times – technological innovation is changing both the products in the securities industry as well as how market participants interact with those products.  We are both excited and hopeful that he will be able to lead the SEC in this this environment to adequately protect investors while also encouraging innovation and growth within the industry.  More information on his background can be found in the SEC press release.

State Cybersecurity Workshop – we hear about cybersecurity threats on an almost daily basis now; last week introduced a phishing scam involving Google Docs.  As this issue continues to be a forefront issue, the regulators and states are trying to help industry participants become better prepared in this area.  As an example, Washington state just announced that it will hold a “Cyber Security Workshop for Small & Medium Businesses”  in Washington state in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).  We anticipate we will see more initiatives like this for investment managers going forward and encourage all managers to continue their education in this area.

CFTC Reduces Burden for Swap CCOs – last week the CFTC published in the Federal Register amendments to regulations applicable to certain chief compliance officers of firms that engage in swaps.  We recognize that these CCOs have a very difficult job (especially as the products become more and more complex) and we applaud the CFTC for attempting to identify areas where regulatory burdens can be lifted.  We anticipate there will be a number of comments in this area, which are due by July 7, and we will provide updates as applicable.

Other Items

AI Trend Continues – we note that a number of the legal projects we are currently working on deal with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in some way.  A service provider to the investment management industry, Orbital Insight, showcase that AI is front and center on the minds of the industry when it announced a $50M Series C round.

State Carried Interest Tax Changes? – according to this update a number of states are contemplating changes to the manner in which carried interest is taxed.  It seems like it will be a bit of a waiting game until a Federal tax bill is proposed, but it is interesting to note that there seems to be some kind of momentum toward changing the manner of taxation.

CFTC Requests Public Input on Simplifying Rules – the CFTC announced that it is asking for input on how regulations should be modified to better address regulatory items and to reduce costs.  We think this is a step in the right direction and also mirrors the initiative by FINRA (which we reported on earlier).  We believe that investor protection is paramount, but we also believe that modifications to certain investment regulations can increase efficiency and reduce costs for market participants which would be a benefit for everyone.  For more information see the CFTC’s ProjectKiss site; comments are generally due by September 30.

****

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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for April 28, 2017

Happy last Friday of April.

****

Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP 2017 1st Quarter Update – we were a little late for this first quarter but the update addresses a number of items including:

  • Trump and Dodd-Frank Reform
  • DOL Fiduciary Rule Delay
  • Bitcoin Regulatory Matters
  • California’s Public Investment Fund Disclosure Requirements
  • SEC No-Action Letter and Guidance Clarify Inadvertent Custody
  • SEC / FINRA 2017 Exam Priorities
  • Compliance Calendar

Trump Tax Plan & Financial Industry – while our quarterly update talked in part about potential future reform of the financial system, there is not really much to say yet about Trump’s one page tax plan.  We do know, obviously, that the details will be forthcoming, but this plan leaves a lot of open questions and (surprise) remains silent on the carried interest issue. One item to note is that the tax plan proposes to repeal the 3.8% Obamacare tax – this is important because many fund managers have established structures to minimize the impact of this tax to the manager.  As more information rolls out, we expect to hear from both accountants and tax planners about how any new tax plan would affect the private funds industry.

Blockchain / Cryptocurrency / Altcoin Items – there continues to be an onslaught of items dealing with blockchain technology in the financial services sector, and we included some discussion of these items in our quarterly update linked above.  On Wednesday of this week I attended EY’s Global Blockchain Summit in San Francisco (more on this coming soon). In addition, FINRA just announced a Blockchain Symposium which will be held in New York on July 13.  According to the announcement, the “half-day program is designed to bring together regulators and industry leaders to discuss the use of blockchain and related opportunities and challenges.”  It is important to note that blockchain appears to be an inevitable new structure/paradigm in business generally and investment management specifically – surprisingly, the regulators seem to be aware of this sea change and ready to work with the industry to implement appropriate regulatory structures to address investor protection concerns.

Other Items

Connecticut Hedge Fund Tax – there have been a few news articles about a potential tax on private fund managers in Connecticut.  I have not kept up on this issue in depth, but it should be interesting to see how this plays out and whether any other states will follow suit.

FINRA Insider Trading Information – FINRA has begun to take an active role in finding and dealing with insider trading.  Just recently they released an interesting video with Cam Funkhouser, Executive Vice President of FINRA’s Office of Fraud Detection and Market Intelligence (OFDMI), about insider trading and some “red flags” to look out for.

FINRA Bootcamps – FINRA announced three compliance boot camps for may – Dallas (May 11), Memphis (May 17) and Charolette (May 31).

****

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.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2017 First Quarter Update

Below is our quarterly update which went out via email today to our firm’s clients and friends.  Links coming soon.

****

April 27, 2017

Clients, Friends, Associates:

We hope that you are enjoying an auspicious start to 2017. The first quarter of the year is typically one of the busiest for fund managers from a regulatory standpoint. As a variety of filing deadlines have passed and audit work is completed (or will be soon), we enter the second quarter with a number of important regulatory issues on the horizon, as well as many other topics worthy of discussion. Below, we have prepared a short overview of some of these items.

****

Regulations and Proposed Regulations:

Trump Executive Order Could Reform Dodd-Frank. President Trump issued an executive order on February 3, 2017, setting out seven “Core Principles” which will serve as general guidelines for financial regulatory reform. The Core Principles include making regulation more efficient, effective and appropriately tailored, as well as rationalizing the Federal financial regulatory framework. The order appears implicitly targeted at reforming the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) and decreasing many of the current financial regulations, but we note that any changes to the current regulatory landscape may not be as immediate as many initial reactions assumed. According to the order, the Treasury Secretary is to meet with the various agencies that oversee and implement Dodd-Frank (including the SEC), to discuss areas that may be amended. While a repeal of Dodd-Frank is unlikely, the coming months may bring a number of deregulatory changes. We will be following any resulting changes and will discuss significant impacts of such changes in future quarterly updates.

Department of Labor Delays Fiduciary Rule. On April 7, 2017, in response to a presidential memo from President Trump, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a Final Rule delaying the applicability of the “Fiduciary Rule” until June 9, 2017, although full compliance with the Fiduciary Rule is still expected by January 1, 2018. We had previously discussed the Fiduciary Rule, which expanded the scope of who is considered a “fiduciary”, imposing fiduciary obligations on firms which were historically free from such obligations. While the DOL will use the delay to reexamine the Fiduciary Rule and consider modifications to it, if you have not already done so, we recommend that you review and speak with your counsel about whether you would be considered a fiduciary and what additional obligations and implementation processes will need to be incorporated into your business practices.

CFTC Regulation of Bitcoin and Virtual Currencies. There has been an increasing interest in investments in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as the financial and technological landscape evolves, but determining the regulations applicable to such products is less clear. While the CFTC established that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are “commodities” within the definition of the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, as amended (“CEA”), under the CEA, only commodity interests (which include futures, options, derivatives and certain spot transactions) based on the commodity are within the scope of the CFTC’s jurisdiction. Recent enforcement actions brought by the CFTC have helped clarify whether a transaction is subject to CFTC regulation. In an Order issued against the Coinflip, Inc. platform (“Coinflip”), the CFTC imposed sanctions against Coinflip for operating a facility for trading Bitcoin derivatives without being registered as a futures exchange or swap execution facility. In a contrasting enforcement action brought against the Bitfinex platform (“Bitfinex”), which did not list or permit the trading of derivatives, the CFTC asserted its jurisdiction over Bitfinex on the basis that the platform dealt in “retail commodity transactions”— leveraged, margined or financed transactions involving a commodity that are offered to persons that are not “eligible contract participants” — without being registered as a futures commission merchant with the CFTC. Certain retail commodity transactions are exempt from CFTC jurisdiction if the seller “actually delivers” the commodity to the buyer within 28 days of the date the contract was entered into; the CFTC deemed that Bitfinex did not “actually deliver” the cryptocurrencies to buyers because among other reasons, Bitfinex held the private key controlling access to the wallet where the buyers’ cryptocurrencies were held.

Managers investing in Bitcoin or other virtual currencies should consider whether and to what extent the types of transactions may subject them to CFTC jurisdiction and potential registration as a CPO or CTA. In the current regulatory landscape, we believe managers who invest purely in virtual currencies and who do not employ virtual currency derivatives or leverage are outside the scope of the CFTC’s jurisdiction, and should not be required to register as a CPO or CTA. Although further regulation is expected, firms should speak with outside counsel to confirm their status in light of the current regulatory framework.

Other Regulation of Bitcoin and Virtual Currencies. While the CFTC has been the most active regulatory authority to address investments in cryptocurrencies, managers should be cognizant that states (including New York), the SEC, FINRA and FinCEN are also deliberating the question of appropriate regulatory oversight. We will continue to monitor regulatory developments and more information about certain regulatory aspects applicable to private funds can be found in our blog post on Bitcoin / Cryptocurrency Hedge Funds.

NFA Provides Guidance on Amended CPO Financial Report Requirements. In our previous 2016 End of Year Update we discussed the CFTC’s amendments providing relief from certain financial report requirements for commodity pool operators (“CPOs”), which became effective on December 27, 2016. The NFA released a Notice setting forth instructions regarding how CPOs can file the appropriate notices with the NFA to claim any of the relief provided for in the amendments. CPOs who are eligible for the amended regulations should contact counsel or compliance consultants, or review the Notice, to determine whether any further action may be warranted to claim the appropriate relief.

U.S. and Global Regulators Relax March 1st Deadline for Swap Variation Margin Compliance. The Federal Reserve and the International Organization of the Securities Commission have provided some flexibility for swap dealers facing a March 1, 2017, deadline to implement certain variation margin compliance requirements for uncleared swaps. The rules require swap dealers to collect and post variation margin with no credit threshold unless an exception applies. Further, covered counterparties would be required to enter into new or amended credit support documentation, limit the types of collateral that may be posted and prescribe minimum transfer amounts. Compliance with the requirements can be challenging for swap entities and their counterparties as they work to implement the necessary documentation and underlying operational processes. Except for transactions with financial end users that present “significant exposures,” the Federal Reserve’s guidance directs examiners of CFTC-registered swap dealers to focus on the dealer’s good faith efforts to comply as soon as possible but by no later than September 1, 2017.

BEA Makes Changes to Direct Investment Survey Reporting Requirements for Certain Private Funds. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ (“BEA”) changes to its direct investment surveys went into effect on January 1, 2017. The reporting changes apply to investments by U.S. entities of a 10% or more voting interest in a private fund, and to investments by foreign entities of a 10% or more voting interest in a U.S. domiciled fund. Under these changes, any cross-border voting investments of 10% or more in, or by, private funds will be subject to BEA reporting only if such investments involve, directly or indirectly, a direct investment in an “operating company” that is not another private fund or a holding company. The changes will simplify reporting for private funds because certain direct investments in private funds will be re-characterized as portfolio investments depending on the nature of the private fund’s investments. Many hedge funds that were traditionally subject to BEA direct investment reporting because of cross-border voting interests will instead only be required to report on portfolio investments to the Treasury Department on Treasury International Capital (“TIC”) surveys. The BEA will notify any filers that may be potentially affected by these changes, but we recommend that advisers consult with counsel to determine what, if any, BEA and/or TIC reporting obligations they may have.

Treasury Department Proposes New Anti-Money Laundering Rules for Investment Advisers. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network previously proposed extending the requirements of maintaining a formal anti-money-laundering (“AML”) program under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 to SEC-registered investment advisers (“RIAs”). The final rule is expected to be published soon, and would require SEC RIAs to establish a robust AML program with policies and procedures to identify questionable activity, periodic testing of the program and ongoing training of appropriate personnel.

Other Items:

California’s Public Investment Fund Disclosure Requirements Now Effective. In our third quarter update, we reported that California passed a bill requiring increased disclosure by private fund managers for funds with investments by California state and local public pension and retirement systems. The legislation went into effect on January 1, 2017. All public pension and retirement systems in California must require hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and any other alternative investment vehicles in which they invest to disclose certain information regarding the fund’s fees, expenses and performance. In addition to applying to new contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2017, and pre-existing contracts with new capital commitments made on or after January 1, 2017, the legislation requires that public pension and retirement systems make “reasonable” efforts to obtain the increased disclosure information for contracts entered into prior to January 1, 2017. Fund managers with California public plan investors should review the types of information that will need to be provided to such investors and prepare to provide the required information.

SEC No-Action Letter and Guidance Clarify Inadvertent Custody. On February 21, 2017, the SEC issued a no-action letter responding to a request for clarification from the Investment Advisers Association as to whether an investment adviser has custody of a client’s assets if the adviser acts pursuant to a standing letter of instruction or other similar arrangement established between the client and its custodian (“SLOA”), that grants the adviser limited authority to direct transfers of the client’s funds to one or more third parties. The SEC’s position is that an SLOA that authorizes the adviser to determine the amount and timing of payments, but not the payee’s identity, is sufficient authority to result in the adviser having custody of the assets. However, the SEC agreed that it would not recommend an enforcement action against an adviser that does not obtain a surprise examination, if the adviser acts pursuant to an SLOA under certain specific circumstances set forth in the SEC’s letter. The SEC also reaffirmed that advisers will not be deemed to have custody of client assets if the adviser is given limited authority to transfer client assets between the client’s accounts maintained at one or more custodians.

To further clarify its views on inadvertent custody, the SEC also issued a guidance update highlighting certain circumstances where an investment adviser may inadvertently have custody of client funds or securities. An adviser may have custody because of the wording or rights of custodial and advisory agreements, even if the adviser did not intend to have custody and was not aware it was granted the authority that resulted in its having custody. We urge advisers to separately managed accounts to review their client agreements and any SLOAs they have entered into to determine whether their specific arrangements may cause them to have custody, and to evaluate their policies and practices related to custody of client assets.

SEC Published Examination Priorities for 2017. The SEC announced its Examination Priorities for 2017, which focus on themes of examining matters of importance to retail investors, focusing on risks specific to elderly and retiring investors and assessing market-wide risks. Specifically, the SEC will focus on: (i) identifying initiatives designed to assess risk in the context of retail investors, including never-examined investment advisers and exchange-traded funds, and notably, robo-advisers and other automated, electronic investment advice platforms, including the investment advisers and broker-dealers that offer them; (ii) services provided to retirement accounts, such as variable insurance products and fixed-income cross-transactions, as well as investment advisers to pension plans and other large holders of U.S. investor retirement assets; and (iii) cybersecurity, and systems and technology procedures and controls.

FINRA Published Examination Priorities for 2017. Similar to the SEC, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) recently published its 2017 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter, outlining the organization’s enforcement priorities for the current year. FINRA’s specific focus areas for 2017 will include: (i) supervisory policies and compliance controls for high-risk and recidivist brokers; (ii) sales practices and product suitability for specific investors; (iii) firm liquidity management practices; and (iv) cybersecurity issues. We recommend that you speak with your firm’s outside counsel and service providers to learn more about these specific priorities and review your firm’s compliance with the applicable regulations.

Cayman Islands Extends CRS First Notification and Reporting Deadlines. The Cayman Islands Department for International Tax Cooperation (“DITC”) has issued an industry advisory stating that it is adopting a “soft opening” to the notification and return deadlines required for Financial Institutions’ (“FIs”) compliance with the Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”). All FIs in the Cayman Islands are required to register with the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority (“TIA”) by April 30, 2017, and to submit returns to the TIA by May 31, 2017. With the DTIC’s adoption of a “soft opening,” FIs may submit CRS notifications on or before June 30, 2017, and file “accepted” CRS returns on or before July 31, 2017, without any compliance measures or penalties.

Ninth Circuit Rules Internal Reports Protected under Whistleblower Rules. On March 8, 2017, the Ninth Circuit followed a ruling by the Second Circuit in finding that an employee who makes a report internally, rather than to the SEC, is protected under Rule 21F-17 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“Whistleblower Rule”) enacted under Dodd-Frank. In contrast, the Fifth Circuit previously ruled that the provisions of the Whistleblower Rule only apply when an employee makes disclosures directly to the SEC. The Ninth Circuit and Second Circuit rulings reflect a broad interpretation of the definition of a whistleblower, and signal a split among the circuit courts on who may be considered a whistleblower for purposes of protection under the Whistleblower Rule.

Regulatory Assets Under Management. We have observed that many managers have expressed confusion regarding the calculation of assets under management (“AUM”) for purposes of filing the Form ADV and determining when the manager may be subject to SEC registration. We thought it would be helpful to clarify that investment advisers must look to their “regulatory assets under management” (“RAUM”), a specific metric designed by the SEC, which is calculated differently from the more common and more traditionally understood calculation of AUM. In calculating RAUM, managers should include the value of all assets managed without deducting for any offsetting liabilities. Managers with questions about the calculation of specific assets or managers seeking further clarification of RAUM should speak with their firm’s outside counsel or compliance consultants.

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

Deadline – Filing

  • March 31, 2017 – Deadline to update and file Form ADV Parts 1, 2A & 2B
  • April 10, 2107 – Amendment to Form 13H due if necessary
  • April 15, 2107 – 1st Quarter 2017 Form PF filing for quarterly filers (Large Liquidity Fund Advisers)
  • April 28, 2107 – Collect quarterly reports from access persons for their personal securities transactions
  • April 28, 2107 – Distribute code of ethics and compliance manuals to employees. Require acknowledgement form to be executed in connection with such delivery
  • April 28, 2107 – Annual Privacy Notice sent to all clients or fund investors (for Advisers with Fiscal Year ending December 31)
  • April 28, 2107 – Distribute audited financial statements to investors (most private fund managers, including SEC, state and CFTC registrants)
  • April 28, 2107 – Distribute Form ADV Part 2 to clients
  • April 30, 2107 – Quarterly NAV Report (registered commodity pool operators claiming the 4.7 exemption)
  • May 1, 2107 – 2016 Annual Form PF due date for annual filers (Large Private Equity Fund Advisers and Smaller Private Fund Advisers)
  • May 15, 2017 – Quarterly Commodity Trading Advisor Form PR filing
  • May 15, 2017 – File Form 13F for first quarter 2017
  • May 31, 2017 – First deadline for Cayman Islands Financial Institutions to submit their CRS returns to the Cayman Islands Tax Authority
  • May 31, 2017 – Third reporting deadline (full reporting) for Cayman Islands Financial Institutions with reporting obligations under the Cayman FATCA regulatory framework to report their U.S. Reportable Accounts to the Cayman Islands Tax Authority
  • June 30, 2017 – Distribute audited financial statements to investors (private fund managers to funds of funds, including SEC, state and CFTC registrants)

Variable

  • Distribute copies of K-1 to fund investors
  • Ongoing All Limited Non-U.S. Financial Institutions and limited branches that seek to continue such status during the 2017 calendar year must edit and resubmit their registrations after December 31, 2015, on the FATCA registration website; SEC form D must be filed within 15 days of first sale of securities

Please contact us with any questions or for assistance with any compliance, registration or planning issues on any of the above topics.

Sincerely,
Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon & Lilly Palmer

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for April 14, 2017

Happy Friday.  Markets are closed today for the holiday and it is tax day this Tuesday.  Enjoy the weekend!

****

SEC Brings Actions Against Authors on Investment Article Platforms – platforms like Seeking Alpha and SumZero have been popular places for investment managers to post articles about their investment ideas.  Managers post for a number of reasons including to hone their own investment thesis, hear counterarguments and to generally be part of a community actively involved in the discussion of ideas.  We routinely work with managers who are posting articles on these platforms and help them think about the compliance obligations they have with respect to any postings.

The SEC just announced a major series of enforcement actions against 27 individuals for posting fake and fraudulent articles on these platforms.  Settlements have already ranged from $2,200 to almost $3 million.  While the standard hedge fund manager we deal with is unlikely to be involved in the creation of fake or fraudulent articles (or using these platforms to manipulate positions), these enforcement actions show that the SEC is actively looking at information posted on the internet as a way to find persons involved in securities violations.   Most registered managers will already have social media policies in place that should deal with situations like this, including how to document the posting, but we also recommend that managers discuss articles with their attorneys or compliance personnel before posting.  We believe that (to the extent it has not already happened) the SEC will be closely scrutinizing internet postings during routine manager examinations and that managers need to make sure any such actions are not manipulating the markets (in addition to making sure there is no appearance of manipulation).

FINRA 360 Announced – FINRA just announced a new initiative to “evaluate various aspects of its operations and programs to identify opportunities to more effectively further its mission.”  The initiative is was announced as FINRA 360 in Regulatory Notice 17-14 and focuses on the following, in addition to other FINRA rules: CAB Rules, Funding Portal Rules, Numerous FINRA rules and the Trading Activity Fee.  The goal of FINRA 360 is to ”increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary burdens on the capital-raising process without compromising important protections for issuers and investors” which we think is a step in the right direction.  However, we have previously discussed two FINRA initiatives (here re CABs and here re scrapping the 7) as perhaps a bit misguided.  In any event, we think FINRA is taking a great step here and we also believe that this provides an opportunity for the industry to provide FINRA with meaningful feedback and ideas.  All are encouraged to comment and comments are due by May 30, 2017.

Greyline Solutions Expands Compliance Offering to Broker-Dealers – the regulatory compliance consulting company Greyline Solutions (editors note: I am a minority owner in this business) announced the upcoming acquisition of Vista Compliance which will add significant broker-dealer expertise to its RIA offerings.  For more information, please see the press release.

****

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.

Greyline Solutions Continues Expansion

Regulatory Compliance Consulting Company Adds Significant Broker-Dealer Practice

Below is a press release from Greyline Solutions, one of the premier regulatory consulting groups (editors note: I have an ownership interest in this company and have worked with the acquired company, Vista Compliance, and Talia Brandt for a number of years).  I’d like to send my congratulations to all on the Greyline team!

****

Greyline Solutions Expands with Addition of Vista Compliance

Greyline Solutions announces partnership with Vista Compliance. Talia Brandt to lead broker-dealer practice for Greyline.

San Francisco, Calif. – April 13, 2017 – Greyline Solutions, LLC, a premier financial regulatory and
compliance consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco, is partnering with Vista Compliance, a national compliance consulting firm based in San Francisco. The transaction, which is expected to close on May 1, 2017, will expand Greyline’s presence to the East Coast. It will also create a broker-dealer practice, which will be led by Talia Brandt, Vista’s founder.

Brandt and her team of senior consultants – who each have more than 10 years of industry experience, including experience at regulators – will reinforce Greyline’s ability to support alternative asset managers and traditional investment advisers in their compliance efforts.

“For the past nine years, Vista has been steadily growing our business by servicing investment advisers and broker dealers with a client-centric orientation and a commitment to partner with our clients to meet their compliance needs. In joining forces with Greyline, we are excited to leverage our offering by expanding our presence in other markets,” says Brandt.

“Vista’s success is impressive. Its depth of SEC and FINRA compliance experience, including experience working at regulators, has made it a top choice for managers looking for high-touch, institutional-quality services,” says Matthew Okolita, chief executive officer of Greyline. “Vista’s commitment to sustainable quality services aligns perfectly with our mission, and this partnership will allow us continue our efforts to expand nationally across all spectrums of the asset management industry.”

About Greyline Solutions

Headquartered in San Francisco, Greyline Solutions is a national compliance consulting firm offering comprehensive compliance solutions for businesses in the securities industry. Greyline prides itself on tailoring compliance management solutions to the unique needs its clients, which include private equity, venture capital, hedge fund managers, commodity pool operators and other investment managers, as well as businesses ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to multi-billion dollar international institutions. Custom technology and experienced staff are two of the hallmarks of Greyline’s offerings. The firm is comprised of securities industry
professionals with decades of experience in the financial and regulatory industries. Its mission is to simplify the process, minimize risk, and lower costs, with the core goal of helping clients focus on building and enhancing their businesses.

Contact Information
Matthew Okolita
Greyline Solutions LLC
http://www.greylinesolutions.com
415.604.9527

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for April 7, 2017

Happy Masters Friday!

****

End Game of Mini-Prime Consolidation? – earlier this week Cowen announced the acquisition of Convergex.  For Cowen, this is the second introducing prime (mini-prime) acquisition in the last two years, the earlier coming when they acquired Concept Capital in July of 2015.

There are a number of interesting things about this transaction – first, it appears that final consolidation of the introducing prime space has occurred (Cowen and BTIG).  Given the reluctance for any major prime to accept new introducing business, it seems unlikely we would see another group try to get into this space, at least in the current environment.  Second, Cowen has been very active and aggressive with its expansion activities and its efforts to rebrand.  Just last week Cowen announced it received a $100M investment from China Energy Company Limited along with a promise to provide up to $175M in debt financing (presumably this capital was for the purchase of Convergex).  Additionally, we have heard small rumors that Cowen is in the process of rebranding their Ramius division to more align with the Cowen name.

FINRA Blockchain Report Comments Posted – in January FINRA published a report entitled Distributed Ledger Technology: Implications of Blockchain for the Securities Industry.  The report provides an overview of blockchain technology and discusses, among other items, the regulatory considerations for groups who are implementing this technology in certain areas of the securities industry.  FINRA asked for comments on the report and that comment period ended last Friday.  There were a number of interesting comments from both regulatory groups as well as market participants.  In the coming weeks we are planning to provide more analysis on FINRA and other regulatory body efforts in this space.  An overview of the report and links to the comment letters can be found here.

Capital Acquisition Broker (CAB) rules effective April 14, 2017 – in our opinion, there have been a number of misguided attempts by FINRA to modernize and ease certain regulatory frameworks (see our earlier post on the proposal to scrap the Series 7 exam).  Late last year the SEC approved a new category of broker-dealer called a Capital Acquisition Broker which could engage in certain private placement, investment banking and capital raising activities and be subject to a separate set of broker-dealer rules and regulations.  In theory this might be a good thing, but there are a couple of issues with these new rules.  First, the subset of potential groups these rules apply to are very limited (only firms raising money from very large institutions and qualified purchasers can be CABs).  Second, the CAB rules really aren’t that different from the normal FINRA rules applicable to broker-dealers.  The real issue is that FINRA does not have staff who are appropriately trained to understand all the various business models that broker-dealers may have.  We do note that we (and many others) have brought these concerns to FINRA’s attention and we believe the new FINRA president is working to make this better.

In any event, the CAB rules will be effective next Friday and more information on CABs can be found here for those who are interested.  We have not heard of any groups decided to go the CAB route instead of the traditional broker-dealer route, and we will be interested to hear if this changes in the future.

SEC Increases Crowdfunding Limits – pursuant to the requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act that the SEC increase the limits proscribed in the crowdfunding regulations, the SEC increased certain limits under those regulations.  Among other increases, the maximum aggregate amount an issuer can sell in a 12-month period increases to $1,070,000 from $1,000,000 and the maximum amount that can be sold to an investor in a 12-month period increases to $107,000 from $100,000.  More information on the adjustments can be found in the SEC press release on this topic.

****

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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for March 31, 2017

Happy Friday and congrats to everyone on making it though the first quarter!  Our firm will be sending out a 2017 first quarter update sometime in the next couple of weeks – if you are not on the distribution list and would like to be, please contact us.  We will also post the update to this blog.

****

Annual ADV Updatedue TODAY by 11pm ET (when IARD system shuts down).  The ADV annual updates are due today.  Most firms have submitted their updates by now but if you have not done so, please call your legal or compliance professional immediately.  Additionally, fund managers generally will have their audits completed by today and those should be sent to investors as per the firm’s compliance procedures.

Another Bitcoin Trust Rejected by SEC – on Tuesday the SEC rejected an application by NYSE Arca to list shares of SolidX Bitcoin Trust.  The trust was set to a publicly traded vehicle designed to track the price of bitcoins as measured by an index of unregulated bitcoin exchanges (Bitfinex, Bitstamp, GDAX, itBit, and OKCoin International).  In rejecting the application, the SEC stated that it believes that the bitcoin markets are unregulated.  This is the second rejected listing of a bitcoin product for retail investors (see earlier post discussing the rejection of the Winklevoss bitcoin ETF).

SEC Focus on FinTech – it is abundantly clear that technology is beginning to change the capital markets in profound ways.  As practitioners, we are working with our clients to figure out how new ways of investing fit within the current regulatory structures applicable to both products and managers.  As these changes take deeper root, there will be growing pains and the SEC realizes this – below are recent remarks made on Monday in Washington by acting SEC Chairman Michael Piwowar about the FinTech industry and how the SEC will be working in the space in the future.  The full speech, made at the beginning of the SEC’s 27th Annual International Institute for Securities Market Growth and Development, can be found here.

Financial technology (“FinTech”) is also revolutionizing our industry. FinTech can bring tremendous benefits – streamlined market operations and more affordable ways to raise capital and advise clients.  Fifty-nine percent of all adults in developing nations do not have a bank account – but this is changing fast. With cell phones now in the pockets of many individuals in even the poorest of nations, mobile technology has greatly cut down on barriers to accessing capital. In Kenya, for example, I saw firsthand the transformative power of FinTech. Sixty-eight percent of Kenyan adults use their mobile phones for monetary transactions. In 2013, over 25% of the Kenyan GNP was transferred via M-PESA, the leading mobile money transfer service in the country. Services like M-PESA are not only for the transfer of money, but also can be used to take out micro-loans that would have been previously unavailable to small businesses.  The question for us regulators is how can we encourage this innovation and all the potential benefits that it promises, while also managing the risks? At the SEC, we started a FinTech working group. Not surprisingly, FinTech firms report that their greatest struggle is navigating a complex regulatory environment. The SEC, and other securities regulators, should take the leading role in working with the FinTech community to adapt longstanding laws and regulations to newfangled technology. (footnotes omitted)

Other Items:

  • CFTC Announces Committee Meeting on Cybersecurity – the CFTC just announced that the Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC) will meet on April 25, 2017 to discuss a number of important issues related to the futures and commodities markets.  A central focus of this meeting will be focused on cybersecurity trends in the futures markets.  The discussion will also cover “how well the derivatives markets are currently functioning, including the impact and implications of the evolving structure of these markets on the movement of risk across market participants” – we anticipate that some part of the discussion will focus on certain new instruments like cryptocurrencies and the emerging derivate products linked to such instruments.  The MRAC’s meeting will be public and be held at the CFTC’s Washington, DC, headquarters.
  • Adidas Trademark Issue – while not directly related to the investment management industry, this blog post (produced by our Of Counsel trademark attorney Bill Samuels) highlights the technical nature of the enforcement of trademarks.  It also highlights the strength of a registered mark (the sale of only two hats, which contain a trademarked phrase, are enough to implicate interstate commerce and allow a trademarked phrase to be protected under the trademark laws).  It is important for managers with questions on their trademarks and other intellectual property to discuss these matters with counsel.

****

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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for March 24, 2017

Happy Friday from rainy San Francisco. As a reminder, there is one week left for investment advisers to complete the annual ADV update.

****

Notes on cryptocurrency and blockchain – earlier this week Coinbase added a new margin product for leveraged trading in certain leading cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin. We believe that a product like this would be subject to CFTC jurisdiction and certain registration (or exemption) requirements. As we’ve had more discussions with groups in this space over the last couple of weeks we are seeing both the difficulties of running a fund strategy in this space (hard to find banks willing to support crypto managers; lack of audit firms able to audit these strategies) and the possibilities of blockchain technology (potentially uses for compliance in the hedge fund space).  These discussions have come in the wake of significant client interest in this are and our article on bitcoin hedge funds.

Cannabis Investment Management Conference – continuing on our earlier discussion of the rise of investment opportunities in the cannabis space, MedMen and IMN are putting on The Institutional Capital & Cannabis Conference next week in San Jose. The conference will take place on March 28-29 and will include a number of funds and allocators in the cannabis space.

Regulations and Tax – not as much news this week on the regulatory front applicable to hedge funds – we expect to begin hearing more next week (after the Health Care Bill vote) when/if the discussion of tax reform begins. If Trump keeps his word to eliminate the “carried interest loophole”, we may see more discussion of the issue like we did back in 2011 and 2009.

Other Items:

  • SEC Compliance Seminars – the SEC announced compliance seminars in a number of cities. Please see the release here.
  • Connecticut Reminder to Exempt IAs – the Connecticut Department of Banking sent out a regulatory reminder about managers who utilize the Connecticut IA registration exemption (more information in our post about the Connecticut ERA filing) in the state. The release can be found here.
  • SEC Adopts T+2 – the settlement cycle for securities transactions gets shorter by one day on September 5, 2017. We expect to hear more from the brokerage firms about this change in the next couple of months as systems become integrated with the new requirements. The announcement can be found here.

****

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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for March 17, 2017

Happy Friday. This week’s updates below.

****

Bitcoin ETF Rejected by SEC – an application to establish an ETF which would be based on a basket of Bitcoins was rejected by the SEC on March 10. The Winklevoss brothers, noted Bitcoin investorss, were the sponsors of the vehicle which was to be called the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. In rejecting the proposal, the SEC stated that the Bitcoin markets are unregulated and that the exchange the ETF would be traded on (Bats BZX Exchange) would not be able to enter into “surveillance-sharing” agreements that would be able combat fraudulent or manipulative acts and practices in the Bitcoin market. We expect that there will be future ETF proposals submitted to the SEC and that as the cryptocurrency industry (and specifically the exchanges hosting Bitcoin exchange) becomes more developed, a Bitcoin ETF will at some time be approved for trading. The SEC release can be found here.

Bitcoin Hedge Funds Article – we recently wrote about Bitcoin/ AltCurrency / Cryptocurrency hedge funds.  We believe that this is a burgeoning asset class and we will begin to see more private fund products launched in this space in the coming months.

FINRA Proposal to Scrap Series 7 – last week FINRA filed a proposed rule change with the SEC that would eliminate the Series 7 exam in favor of a more “streamlined” representative-level qualification exam that would include a general knowledge exam and specialized knowledge exam. We have strong thoughts about FINRA’s use of their time to create a new regulatory structure for exams when there has been no specific mandate for this update (no one is asking for this and we don’t know what problem this complete revamp is solving). We also (personally) believe that FINRA could better spend its time focused on matters that its member firms are asking to be addressed. While we are all for streamlining at Federal Agencies and self-regulatory organizations, we believe that streamlining should be reasonable and should serve a purpose – I am not sure if there was a purpose to this, but I also have not read through the entire 619 page FINRA submission to the SEC.

****

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.

Bitcoin Hedge Funds (Cryptocurrency / AltCurrency Funds)

Overview of Blockchain Based Digital Currency Investment Fund Structures

Bitcoin has recently been in the news again due to strong results over the last couple of months. Bitcoin and other digital currencies have been a bit of a fringe phenomenon in the investment management industry since inception. However, the power of the idea of distributed computing/ledgers has been evangelized in various parts of the tech industry and has attracted a significant amount of institutional investment into various digital currencies, and related infrastructure. It is not surprising then to see asset managers beginning to explore this space either through dedicated fund products, or through side pocket investments separate from more traditional products. This post discusses the various structural, regulatory, and operational issues that arise for managers who invest in these instruments.

Foundational Items – Definition

For purposes of this article, we make references to the term Bitcoin and digital currencies. These references will generally mean references to other blockchain-based currencies and/or digital tokens, which are sometimes referred to as cryptocurrencies or altcurrencies. There are various governmental agencies looking into how to define and regulate this space, and the CFTC has specifically defined the term “Bitcoin” in the following way:

Bitcoin is a “virtual currency,” defined here as a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of change, a unit of account, and/or a store of value, but does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are distinct from “real” currencies, which are the coin and paper money of the United States or another country that are designated as legal tender, circulate, and are customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance. [See note 2 of the CFTC order discussed below.]

Another foundational item of this post is whether Bitcoin is a “security” under securities laws, or a currency under commodities laws, or both, or something else. We will discuss this issue in greater depth below under regulations, but for the general purposes of this article, we will take the position that Bitcoin is not a security regulated by the SEC nor state securities regulators. We will also take the position that Bitcoin is likely a currency that is subject (in some instances) to regulation by the CFTC.

Structural Considerations for Fund Formation

Although there are unique qualities of Bitcoin (it does not act like a security and it is debatable whether it acts like a commodity/currency), the big picture structural considerations for a fund manager in this space will not be significantly different than for a traditional hedge fund investing in securities and/or commodities.

Hedge Fund or Private Equity Strategy. For the Bitcoin funds we have worked with, the strategies tend to be more hedge fund styled than private equity styled. This generally makes sense given the relatively “liquid” nature of the instrument. If a fund invests directly into operating companies in the digital currency ecosystem, or if a fund sets up operations to mine for Bitcoin, there may be the need for side-pocket private equity style sleeves within a larger liquid framework.

Fund Terms. Normally we see standard hedge fund style terms; as well as expenses and fees that are generally similar to standard securities type fund programs (if anything, there may be greater management and performance fees because of the novel strategy / managers tend to have deep backgrounds in cryptography, mathematics and coding). Contribution provisions will also be standard. However, we tend to see greater attempts to limit withdrawals. Such measures could include longer withdrawal periods with longer notice provisions (60-90 days), and the use of investor level or fund level gates. Custody is a big issue, and valuation has the potential to be an issue as well. The use of leverage does not tend to be a major part of this investment strategy.

Onshore / Offshore Structures. As with other non-traditional hedge funds, the structure will be influenced by the taxation of the underlying investments and the nature of the investors. As of right now, we are not aware of any adverse tax consequences with respect to digital currencies for U.S. based investors; therefore, a standard domestic Delaware limited partnership structure should be sufficient. If the fund will have U.S. tax exempt investors, the domestic structure should be sufficient if the fund does not utilize leverage. To the extent the tax code changes in the future to tax digital currencies specifically, the structural considerations may change.

If the fund complex intends to have non-U.S. investors, the manager will choose between a mini-master structure or a master-feeder structure. Jurisdiction of any offshore structure will likely be the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands. We have not seen and do not necessarily believe there would be a reason for a fund complex to introduce SPV structures to accommodate digital currency investment, but if that occurred, such structuring discussions would be based on normal factors like jurisdiction of the underlying asset, corporate necessity, etc.

Regulatory and Other Considerations for Bitcoin Investment Managers

There are a number of instrument-related issues which arise for fund managers who are investing in this space. Because of the relatively nascent stage of these instruments, managers and service providers are working out the below issues, and the way these issues are handled should become more standardized in the near future.

Federal & State Regulatory System.

SEC – Bitcoin and other digital currencies are most likely not securities; but, the SEC is currently examining how to deal with Bitcoin and other digital currencies. The biggest question is whether these instruments are securities or some other kind of asset subject to (or not subject to) regulation. If these digital currencies are securities, then the SEC will have jurisdiction to regulate the instruments, as well as the transfer of such instruments (including the regulation of any exchange facilitating such transfer). Because the SEC has not released any definitive guidance on the issue, Coinbase, a large Bitcoin wallet and exchange platform, has released the following discussion about how digital currencies fit into the SEC regulatory landscape (see Securities Law Framework for Bitcoin). Until we receive definitive guidance, or even informal guidance, from the SEC, the Coinbase framework discussion is probably the best reference material with respect to this particular issue.

CFTC – While it is clear that Bitcoin is fundamentally different from normal currencies traded on the Interbank or forex markets, what is less clear is whether and to what extent the CFTC has jurisdiction over the instrument and the exchanges on which they are traded on. Unfortunately, the answer is not exactly clear and the uncertainty, in part, comes from parts of the Dodd-Frank Act which provided the CFTC with new jurisdiction over parts of the currency trading systems in place in the United States. Because of certain the technical aspects of trading currencies both on the spot (interbank) and futures markets, and how those technical aspects inform the jurisdictional reach of the CFTC post Dodd-Frank, some part of this discussion is theoretical (what is delivery of a digital currency? what is custody of a digital currency and is this different from custody of a password?). While our law firm is currently in discussion with the CFTC as to whether a straight digital currency (as opposed to a digital currency forward or future) is a contract subject to CFTC jurisdiction, we currently believe that a private fund’s purchase of a Bitcoin or similar digital currency would not be subject to CFTC oversight (which would require the private fund manager to register as a CPO and CTA, or fit within exemptions). Notwithstanding the above, some types of instruments involving Bitcoin are commodities subject to CFTC oversight—please see Coinflip CFTC Order. In this order, there were a number of issues that led to the finding of regulatory oversight (products were deemed to be swaps; CFTC specifically mentioned OTC Bitcoin forward contracts as other contracts which may be subject to CFTC jurisdiction, see note 4).

CFTC and SEC? – In the future, it is likely that we will begin to see products linked to and based on Bitcoin, which have both the characteristics of a security and a futures product, thus subjecting such future instruments potentially to both CFTC and SEC jurisdiction. We would expect to see future legislation enacted both to define the nature of digital currencies, and any derivatives thereon, and also to define the scope of the CFTC and SEC’s jurisdiction over such products.

State – We have not heard of any state orders, actions or interpretations involving Bitcoin. We would expect the regulation of such assets to be driven by federal authorities, but we do not discount the fact that many state securities regulators (especially on the west coast) can take aggressive positions regarding new products.

Regulation of Management Company. Depending on where the manager fits within the regulatory spectrum discussed above, the manager may be subject to oversight and regulation. If the manager is deemed to be an investment adviser, or CTA and/or CPO, based on the above, the manager would be subject to the normal registration and compliance frameworks associated therewith. Managers who invest in other Bitcoin or cryptocurrency funds are definitely investing in securities (a private fund is a security), so a bitcoin fund of funds manager is deemed to be an investment adviser and would need to be registered (or fall within an exemption from registration) with the SEC or state securities commission. While we have seen some significant investment into the space, we acknowledge that the sector is still in its infancy and that we will probably begin to see more institutionalization among managers in this space.

Custody. Perhaps the biggest issue with respect to these instruments is how and where they are custodied, and also how and where the passwords, keys or other information related to the proof ownership are custodied. We believe that each manager needs to develop their own methods to deal with the custody issue, and that these methods will need to address the associated risks of ownership or the particular currency (as discussed in the Securities Law Framework for Bitcoin, each instrument has unique characteristics). In addition to the managers we have worked with, we have heard anecdotal stories about the many different ways managers store and protect the fund’s ownership and evidence of ownership of the digital currencies, including the use of thumb drives and bank safety deposit boxes.

Risks. A fund in this space will need to focus of the normal risks inherent for any private investment vehicle, but there are additional risks to consider related to the strategy, including: general risk of digital currencies, liquidity, ability to hedge, volatility, loss of private keys, technology and security issues, risk of exchanges (e.g. Mt. Gox), lack of FIDC or SIPC protection.

Service Providers. The typical service providers in this space (lawyers, administrators and auditors) have been working together to figure out how to deal with the novel and unique issues presented from these instruments.

Other Issues. There are a host of other issues which arise in this space that will continue to be flushed out over time. These include IT infrastructure for managers and general security over passwords. Valuation has the potential to be an issue depending on the exact nature of the digital currency, and whether the currency is fungible and traded on different exchanges that have different pricing. Valuation also may be an issue if it is determined that there is no public market or exchange for the instrument. Taxation of the gains on these instruments may also change in the future (right now, they presumably are taxed under IRC Section 988). Additionally, there may be capacity constraints as a large number of investors begin to pile into these investments, including when the derivatives markets take hold.

Conclusion

We have worked with a number of groups in this space over the past two years, and have seen an uptick in interest in managing a private fund to invest in Bitcoin and digital currencies. We believe the interest stems from the strong returns of Bitcoin, as well as the public’s growing acceptance of alternative currencies. We also think that a general increase in exposure of Bitcoin has contributed to an interest in being able to invest in digital currencies. As these investments become more standardized and regulated, we believe we will continue to see growth in this area.

Related articles:

****

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