Private Equity Fund Manager Registration Exemption Approved by House Committee

Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act Moves Toward Vote

The SEC recently finalized the new investment adviser registration regulations and under those regulations private equity fund managers will be required to be registered with the SEC.  However, Congress has recently been taking steps that may ultimately mean that private equity fund managers will escape registration requirements.

The Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act (the “Bill”) proposed in March, would amend the Investment Advisers Act to provide an exemption from registration for some private equity fund managers.  Recently the House Committee on Financial Services (“Committee”) amended and approved the Bill which will ultimately need to be passed by the full House and Senate before being presented to the President for signature. The amended text makes an exemption from registration available to advisers of private funds that have outstanding debt that is less than twice the amount investors have committed to the private funds (less than a 2-1 leverage ratio).

Proposed Requirements for Private Equity Fund Managers

The amended Bill would require the SEC to define “private equity fund” and to promulgate reporting and record-keeping requirements for those private equity fund managers who utilize the exemption. Specifically, the SEC would have to enact rules that require the managers “to maintain

such records and provide to the Commission such annual or other reports as the Commission taking into account fund size, governance, investment strategy, risk, and other factors, as the Commission determines necessary and appropriate in the public interest and for the protection of investors….”  The SEC will be required to issue any regulations within 6 months of the date the Bill is signed into law.

This means that while PE fund managers would be exempt from registration, there would still be fairly significant compliance responsibilities.  Essentially these managers would face a regulatory regime similar to exempt reporting advisers.

Support for the Bill

Supporters of the Bill essentially assert that because private equity funds neither caused nor contributed to the financial crisis, it would be unduly burdensome for these fund managers to register with the SEC. Specifically, supporters point to the costs associated with registration, the jobs created by the funds, and the general lack of systemic risk posed by the funds.

According to the Committee report, registration would be burdensome because:

“advisers to private equity funds will be required to calculate the value and performance of each of their funds on a monthly basis, which will in turn require advisers to private equity funds to calculate the value of each company in which the fund has invested on a monthly basis as well. Such valuations are time consuming and costly, and they divert much-needed capital and effort away from job creation and investment activities.”

The Committee received testimony stating:

“As of June 30, 2009, companies that received backing from private equity investment funds employed more than 6 million people. Studies show that the workforces of companies acquired by private equity firms increased by an average annual rate of 5.7 percent, compared to 1.1 percent for all U.S. companies. The Committee also received testimony about the costs of registering with the SEC, which some have estimated to be as high as $500 million industry-wide…”

The concerns were primarily that the burden imposed by the registration requirements could inhibit the creation of more jobs, with struggling or growing companies receiving less capital from such funds. The amended Bill would provide relief from registration for advisers to private equity funds that are levered by less than a 2-1 ratio.

Final Thoughts

Private equity fund managers should not stop beginning preparations to register as investment advisers with the SEC.

The Bill is a long way from being enacted into law – it still must be passed by the full House, the full Senate, and signed by the President. It will then take (at least) another 6 months for the SEC to issue final rules regarding record-keeping and reporting and to clarify the definition of “private equity fund.” Even with the Dodd-Frank registration deadline pushed back to March 30, 2012, waiting until the Bill and its accompanying rules and regulations are finalized would leave managers of these funds with little time to register in the event they ultimately do not fall within the exemption in its final form.

The Committee’s report is available here.

The full text of the Bill is available here.

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Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a law firm which provides adviser registration, compliance and legal support to SEC registered fund managers.  Bart Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345; Karl Cole-Frieman can be reached at 415-352-2300.

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