Tag Archives: Bitcoin hedge fund

California BitLicense

Overview of the Cryptocurrency Licensing Regime in California

As we discussed in a recent post, New York has already implemented a statute that requires those engaged in certain virtual currency business activities to obtain a license from the state. In a similar fashion, California has proposed A.B. 1123 (the “Bill” or “Virtual Currency Act”)  that would allow the state to begin regulating the industry. This post focuses on California’s proposed version of a “BitLicense”, which like New York, would prohibit a person from engaging in a virtual currency business activity unless they receive a license from California’s Commissioner of Business Oversight (“Commissioner”).

California Virtual Currency Act – A.B. 1123

Pursuant to the Virtual Currency Act, any persons involved in a “virtual currency business” in California must register with the Commissioner.   The Act defines a “virtual currency business” as “maintaining full custody or control of virtual currency in this state on behalf of others.”  The definition of “virtual currency” is very broad (“any type of digital unit that is used as a medium of exchange or a form of digitally stored value”) although there are some carveouts for gaming platforms and for consumer reward programs.

The above definition seems to capture those groups who are offering exchange and wallet services for persons who are buying, selling and holding bitcoin and other digital currencies. Right now we don’t believe that a cryptocurrency hedge fund entity or its manager/general partner would need to obtain the license – a fund would simply be holding virtual currency on behalf of itself and therefore the general partner entity would not need to be registered.  

California Application Process

In the event an entity needs to register, there is an application process where the Commissioner will engage in an extensive review of the applicant’s background and services offered. California would also require an initial $5,000 application fee, a renewal fee of $2,500, and the maintenance of a minimum amount of capital as determined by the Commissioner. The licensee would be required to have an annual audit and would need to provide balance sheets, income statements, and other financial verification forms on a periodic basis.  A provisional license may be granted for a $500 fee to those engaged in a virtual currency business with less than $1,000,000 in outstanding obligations, and if the business model represents a low or no risk to consumers (as determined by the Commissioner). The provisional licensee may also be required to register as a money services business.

Looking Forward

As the definition of a virtual currency business is very broad, this Bill (like a predecessor bill which was abandoned) is heavily opposed by digital non-profit organizations, as well as many others in the space. It is yet to be seen whether this Bill will be passed or amended once again. However, the Bill’s reintroduction does demonstrate that lawmakers are still eager to regulate the industry. If passed, the Virtual Currency Act would become effective July 1, 2018. We will continue to follow the developments surrounding California’s Virtual Currency Act, and any potential impact this may have on investment managers in the state.

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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.

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

ICO Overview and Securities Law Analysis

After a number of recent, high-profile and wildly successful Initial Coin Offerings or “ICOs”, the blockchain-based asset industry has been abuzz about new ICOs as well as the regulatory issues that surround the space.  This post provides a quick overview of the big securities laws issues surrounding these assets and discusses the regulatory structure currently applicable to the space.

Initial Background

An initial coin offering is the first distribution of a digital currency or digital token, normally offered exclusively through an online offering.  These coins or tokens, like many existing cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ether, may represent some sort of fractional ownership in something (working similar to a security) or may represent a form of payment (like a currency).  These tokens may be pre-launch (to raise money to develop the use case, similar to crowd-funding) or post-launch (use case already exists).

Are ICOs Securities?

The first and biggest question related to ICOs is whether they are securities offerings (essentially digitized IPOs).  For any inquiry into whether something is a security or not, the starting point is the Howey Test.  Howey is a basic four-part test that is used to determine whether a contract, a transaction, or a series of actions constitutes a security under the Securities Act of 1933. The very broad overview of the Howey prongs are:

  • It is an investment of money
  • There is an expectation of profits from the investment
  • The investment of money is in a common enterprise
  • Any profit comes from the efforts of a promoter or third party

For many ICOs the answers to all of the above are usually “yes”.  We do, however, believe that some ICOs are not securities under the test and, although we start with Howey, that is not where the analysis stops.  As mentioned before in our post dealing with Bitcoin Hedge Funds, we believe that Debevoise’s Securities Law Framework provides a thoughtful approach to think about and analyze this question.  We also believe that the SEC will clarify its position regarding ICOs in the next several months.

Use Case – Blockchain Capital

One of the more interesting ICOs recently has been the ICO for the Blockchain Capital Token (BCAP Token, on TokenHub), which was placed by Argon Group, a blockchain asset investment bank.  Here the value of the BCAP Token is linked to the value of a newly created venture capital fund (which initial assets were received through the BCAP Token ICO process).  The subscription process of the ICO was conducted through a Regulation D 506(a) offering (see Blockchain Capital Token Form D), so there are a number of regulations that the group has already gone through, although none specifically dealing with the ICO itself.  What is particularly amazing is that the offering of $10M was oversubscribed and closed in only 6 hours.  The power of the ICO is apparent – what investment fund manager would not want to raise money in a very quick and efficient manner?

Blockchain Capital paved the way for ICOs linked to private investment funds – we would expect to see tokens linked to hedge funds and private equity funds in the near future.  While the Blockchain Capital offering was limited to accredited investors, the offering still presents questions about regulations, including the potential for fraud.  We liken the ICO process to something akin to the crowdfunding process and believe there are similar risks, in addition to the normal risks associated with the linked asset (in this case, a VC fund).

Future Regulation?

There is no doubt that the regulators will begin to figure out a regulatory regime for ICOs and cryptocurrencies, and this is likely to happen before any sort of Congressional action to change the laws of any of the securities or commodities acts.  The CFTC has already been active in the space (see our previous notes in our Client Update here) and it is very likely that the SEC will be starting the process to issue regulations as well (see here where a group has petitioned the SEC to begin that process).  We believe that during that comment and rulemaking process, the regulators will need to address a number of items, including the process with respect to ICOs.  The SEC needs to move with a deft hand, however, because any onerous regulations will just push business offshore – there are already exchanges who discriminate against potential market participants based on domicile (either with respect to U.S. domicile, or in some cases, New York domicile for fear of issues around the New York BitLicense regulations).

The crowdfunding space became regulated fairly quickly and there are now specific crowdfunding broker-dealers and I believe the same will be the case with the ICO regime.  We believe that any cryptocurrency regulatory regime will include requirements with respect to ICOs and ICO investment banks.

Conclusion

The ICO market is white hot and getting hotter.  It will undoubtedly create both winners and losers (and the winners are likely to be massive winners) and in some cases will usher in new ideas and technologies that will help define the landscape of Web 3.0.  The most important thing for regulators (and lawmakers) is to make sure all investors in these offerings are protected and provided with all necessary information and opportunities as provided through the current securities and commodities laws.  We believe that such regulation will come sooner rather than later.

Related articles:

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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.

Bitcoin Hedge Fund FAQs

Common Questions Related to Cryptocurrency Funds

[Note: information posted on May 19, 2017.  Certain areas below will be updated periodically and we will update the timing of the information in each particular section.]

We recently wrote an overview of bitcoin/altcoin hedge funds.  That post led to a number of conversations with current and future cryptocurrency managers which yielded a number of questions regarding the business and regulatory issues applicable to these fund structures.  Some of the items we discussed are issues of first impression.  Some of the items probably don’t have “for sure” answers and instead we look to industry best practices for guidance.  While there will be a lot of “grey areas” and “probablys” and “I don’t knows” in this space as the regulators start to become more involved, I have tried my best to address these items below in my answers to these common questions.

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Are Bitcoins and other Cryptocurrencies “securities” under the Securities Act of 1933?

Many of the very large cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are probably not “securities”, and can probably be classified as “digital currencies” for now.  Other cryptocurrencies or tokens would need to be examined on a facts and circumstances basis.  For such an inquiry, I believe the Coinbase Securities Law Framework (See Appendix A) is a great place to start.

Why does it matter?

If a hedge fund invests in or buys a cryptocurrency, and that cryptocurrency is deemed to be a security, then the fund’s management company (general partner) will be, by definition, an investment adviser under federal law and most likely the laws of the state where the management company operates (where the sponsor/owner of the management company is physically located).  If the management company is an investment adviser, then the management company will need to register with the SEC (upon reaching certain asset levels, generally $150M) or with a state securities commission.  Some states may have exemptions from registration, like the Exempt Reporting Adviser (ERA) regime.  (See here for information on the SEC ERA regime and here for California’s ERA regime.)  If a management company registers as an investment adviser or ERA, the manager will be required to have the fund undergo an annual audit, and there will also be a requirement that performance fees be charged only to qualified clients.  Additionally, regardless of manager’s registration status (SEC, state or is an ERA) the manager will be subject to the anti-fraud provisions of Section 206-4 of the Investment Advisers Act which generally governs the manner in which the adviser communicates with the public.

If a cryptocurrency is deemed to be a security, then the fund would also technically be subject to the Investment Company Act of 1940.  Most hedge funds utilize either the 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) exemption from registration under the ICA.  In general this will not wildly change the fund’s offering documents, but it will be an item that needs to be addressed.

What if the cryptocurrencies are not deemed to be securities?

If the fund only invests in assets that are not securities, then the investment advisory regulatory regime does not apply.  This means there would be no regulatory requirement for an audit (assuming no CFTC regulations apply) and the manager could charge performance fees to non-qualified clients.  The Investment Company Act would also not apply which means that the fund would be able to have more than 99 investors.  The fund would, however, still be limited to 35 non-accredited investors over the life of the fund to maintain the 506 exemption under the Securities Act.

What about state regulations and New York’s BitLicense registration requirement?

Outside of the investment advisory regulations that would be applicable to a manager if the cryptocurrency or token was deemed to be a security, the states don’t really have regulations applicable to bitcoin managers.

With respect to New York’s BitLicense requirement, we believe that currently these regulations are not applicable to the standard bitcoin hedge fund manager who is only buying and selling bitcoin (and other tokens/altcoins) for the fund’s account.  The BitLicense requirements may apply (depending on facts and circumstances) to managers who engage in other aspects of the cryptocurrency industry – such as issuing coins or otherwise acting as an exchange platform.  We expect other states to develop legal and regulatory frameworks similar to New York in the future, and in the event the SEC attempts to shoehorn bitcoin managers into the definition of investment adviser, we believe the states would shortly follow suit.

What about an auditor?  If I have to have an audit, what will that be like and how much will it cost?

In the event a manager engages an auditor, the auditor will be able to discuss the process and procedures that will be employed.  Because there is additional work involved in a bitcoin launch, it is likely that an audit will be more expensive than for a similarly sized fund investing only in publicly traded securities.

There are not many groups who can audit funds in this space.  Some groups can audit in this space, but can only audit major cryptocurrencies. As more groups get into the space and procedures become more defined, we expect that audit prices will eventually come down a bit.

Cryptocurrencies present a number of issues for audit firms including: (1) existence of the asset/currency, (2) control of the asset/currency, and (3) custody.  For many altcoins, the first two issues can be addressed with a review of the blockchain and the manager showing control of the asset by moving it on the blockchain in some manner.  The last issue is potentially more problematic in that the investment management industry is used to a certain definition of custody (holding something) that may not fit within the digital asset space, where control and the ability to utilize an asset is really more of the applicable context.

What about an administrator?

A hedge fund administrator provides certain accounting and other operational functions for the fund like subscription document processing.  Normally the fund administrator will be responsible for calculating NAVs on a monthly/quarterly basis and when investors enter and exit the fund.  They also compute management and performance fees.  Having an administrator is not a regulatory requirement for a cryptocurrency fund, but it is a best practice.  We will note that all of the cryptocurrency funds we have worked with have decided to engage an administration firm.

What about bank accounts?

One to two years ago, there was no issue for a manager to get a bank account for a bitcoin hedge fund.  Since then, bitcoin has become a risk for banks and over the last six months we’ve seen banks fully eschewing this space.  Groups who previously banked bitcoin funds will not bank new funds (although they would continue to maintain existing accounts) and groups who were not in the space are completely staying away.  We have fortunately been introduced to a couple of banks who are now more comfortable with banking cryptocurrency clients.  While these banks can provide the very basic subscription account for funds, there also may be value-added services, especially with respect to transfers to and from exchanges, as well as API integration.

The process to get a bank account is going to be a little longer than for a traditional hedge fund because the bank will complete more due diligence than for a normal fund (i.e., look into the business background of the manager, the proposed investment program, who the investors are, etc).  While these groups are comfortable with the cryptocurrency space in general, they likely will not bank groups who pose even the slightest reputational risk or groups who have had regulatory issues in the past.

What about compliance and outside compliance consultants?

Right now compliance really only applies to the fund structure (as opposed to the manager as would be the case if the manager was an investment adviser).  Fund compliance really just involves the legal requirements related to the Regulation D 506 offering applicable to the issuance of fund interests (e.g. Form D filings, annual updates and amendments, blue sky filings, etc).

Compliance related to the management of a cryptocurrency portfolio is really nonexistent.  We would expect that the managers would adhere to normal anti-fraud provisions, and a best practice would be to have certain business continuity plans and other standard fund management policies and procedures, even if there is no outside regulatory requirement.  Some groups have asked us about setting up compliance programs in anticipation of future compliance needs and we think this is a good idea.  Either a law firm or a compliance consulting firm would be able to draft a compliance manual for the needs of a cryptocurrency fund manager.

What about ICOs?

As of right now, there are no extra regulatory requirements around participation in initial coin offerings (ICOs).  We believe that this will change in the future.

What are some common terms of bitcoin funds?

The biggest questions are around lock ups and liquidity.  In general most managers will tend to want to provide less liquidity than investors are looking for and some managers have thought about instituting gate provisions, especially if the investment program is focused on smaller altcoins that may have less liquidity.  We are also seeing a number of managers who would like to allow in-kind contributions and distributions, which will implicate certain tax regulations.

How is bitcoin taxed?

The IRS addressed this issue in 2014 when it released Notice 2014-21, IRS Virtual Currency Guidance.  Right now most cryptocurrencies (and other “virtual currencies”) are treated as property and subject to the normal tax principles regarding property.  This means that dispositions of virtural currencies will result in short-term or long-term capital gains or losses and not foreign currency gains or losses.  Standard ways to determine gain or losses at disposition will apply (for most cryptocurrencies), and we would look to the various exchanges to determine a price of a cryptocurrency at any particular point in time.  This would be important if a manager or other investor in a fund decided to invest in a fund through an in-kind cryptocurrency contribution.

According to Notice 2014-21, bitcoin is deemed to be a “convertible” virtual currency because it has an equivalent value in real currency.  Early this year bitcoin became legal tender in Japan.

What about separately managed accounts or prop trading?

As of right now we do not know of any way to create a traditional separately managed account structure for an investment in cryptocurrencies.  In a SMA structure in the traditional securities space the client will typically establish a brokerage account at a large broker (Schwab, Fidelity, etc) and the manager will be given power of attorney to trade the account.  The relationship is governed by some kind of advisory agreement laying out the fees and term of the relationship.  Typically the brokers will have a way for the manager to have trading only access to the client’s account.  We do not believe that any of the exchanges currently have this functionality.  We anticipate that sometime after the regulatory agencies implement a regulatory structure that the exchanges will create mechanisms to implement such relationships on their platforms.

Other Items 

We anticipate writing about the following soon in some fashion:

  • Creating structures to allow funds to invest on exchanges that do not allow U.S. persons
  • Creating structures to allow funds to invest on exchanges that do not allow New York persons
  • Third party marketing in the cryptocurrency space
  • Using the ICO process to launch a private fund
  • Issues around Regulation D, including the Bad Actor regulations

Final Notes

Please reach out if you have questions on any of the above.  We will continue to update as we run into more issues and common questions.

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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.

 

New York BitLicense

Overview of the Cryptocurrency Licensing Regime in New York

As cryptocurrencies continue to make headlines, questions continue to arise about the regulatory landscape applicable to market participants. While there have been no new laws or regulations related to the cryptocurrency space from federal agencies (although in the Coinflip order, the CFTC stated that bitcoin is a virtual currency), some states are beginning to examine cryptocurrencies with New York as a forerunner in this space.  In 2015, New York created a BitLicense Regulatory Framework whereby certain cryptocurrency market participants were required to obtain a license to transact business within New York (and/or with New York residents).  This post focuses on New York’s regulatory action regarding cryptocurrencies with the issuance of the BitLicense, and the potential impact this may have on investment managers.

New York BitLicense

Pursuant to the Part 200. Virtual Currencies regulations, any persons involved in “virtual currency business activity” in New York must obtain a license known as the “BitLicense.”  The regulation defines a “virtual currency business activity” as:

  • receiving virtual currency for transmission or transmitting virtual currency, except where the transaction is undertaken for non-financial purposes and does not involve the transfer of more than a nominal amount of virtual currency;
  • storing, holding, or maintaining custody or control of virtual currency on behalf of others;
  • buying and selling virtual currency as a customer business;
  • performing exchange services as a customer business; and
  • controlling, administering, or issuing a virtual currency.

The above categories really seem to apply to those groups who are acting as cryptocurrency exchanges and/or are offering “wallet” type services.  For most fund managers who are simply managing a fund which is investing in virtual currencies, the above items would not implicate such managers and such managers would not need to obtain the BitLicense.  However, if a manager (or an investment fund) was engaged in activity other than simply buying/selling/holding cryptocurrencies, the manager should be aware of the above items.

BitLicense Application

In order to receive the license, an applicant must complete a 30-page Application for License to Engage In Virtual Currency Business Activity and pay a $5,000 application fee.  The application requires information on the history of the business, its owners and operators, operational items, financials, information on AML procedures, and information on its general compliance processes.  In total the application is fairly onerous and costly and will likely deter many potential companies for applying for the license.  Few BitLicenses have actually been granted to date, and those that have been granted were to major players in the industry such as Coinbase and Ripple.

Other Related Items

There are a number of interesting related items and a discussion about these can be found on the BitLicense FAQs page.  A couple of the more interesting items:

  • Chartered New York Bank – if a group is already chartered under the New York Banking Law, that entity does not need to apply for the BitLicense but must first receive prior approval from the New York Department of Financial Services to engage in the activity.
  • Money Transmitter License – groups who engage in certain activities may also need to apply for a money transmitter license in New York.  Groups who are applying to engage in both activities only need to submit one application.

The two items above are most likely not applicable to fund managers.

Looking Forward

The establishment of a BitLicense demonstrates that states are trying to figure out how to assert authority over a space that prides itself on decentralization. The New York BitLicense has been seen as controversial, along with similarly proposed licenses in other states. Although this appears to not have a direct impact on investment managers yet, investment managers that engage in certain kinds of virtual currency activity may fall within the scope of requiring a license.

Related articles:

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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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for April 28, 2017

Happy last Friday of April.

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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).

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for March 17, 2017

Happy Friday. This week’s updates below.

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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.

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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.

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:

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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.