Below is our quarterly update which went out via email today to our firm’s clients and friends.
August 23, 2017
Clients, Friends, Associates:
We hope you are enjoying the summer. Although the second quarter is typically not as busy as the first quarter from a regulatory/compliance standpoint, we saw many regulatory developments this quarter, as well as a surge in digital asset investment activity. Below is an overview of noteworthy items, as well as what to expect as we move into the third quarter.
Proposed SEC Amendment to Advisers Act for VC and Private Fund Advisors. On May 3, 2017, the SEC proposed a rule to amend the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Advisers Act”), that would amend the definition of a “venture capital fund” and the definition of “assets under management” with respect to the private fund adviser exemption. For purposes of the exemption for advisers to venture capital funds, small business investment companies (“SBIC”) would be included in the definition of a venture capital fund. This would expand exemption coverage for advisers solely relying on the SBIC adviser’s exemption. Eligible advisers would file as an “exempt reporting adviser,” reducing the extra costs and burdens of recordkeeping required of registered investment advisers. Additionally, with respect to the private fund adviser exemption, currently firms that advise solely private funds and that have less than $150 million of regulatory assets under management are exempt from registration with the SEC. The proposed rule would exclude SBIC assets from the calculation of private fund assets used to determine if the $150 million threshold has been crossed. The SEC closed requests for comment on the proposal on June 8, 2017.
SEC Seeks Input Regarding Department of Labor (“DOL”) Fiduciary Rule. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement on June 1, 2017 welcoming public input to help the SEC formulate its assessment of the impact the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule (as discussed further below) may have on investors and entities regulated by the SEC. The statement was released in anticipation of a DOL request for information from the SEC to promote consistency and clarity with respect to implementation of the rule between the two agencies. Interested individuals can respond to SEC questions about the rule’s impact on investment advisers and broker-dealers via email or an online webform. Public submissions remain open and are currently available for review.
SEC Action Against Outsourced CCO. On August 15, 2017, the SEC reached a settlement with an outsourced CCO and his consulting firm, which offered compliance consulting and outsourced CCO services to investment advisory firms. The outsourced CCO served as CCO for two registered investment advisers (collectively, “Registrants”). The SEC found the Registrants either filed their Form ADV annual amendments late or not at all, and the outsourced CCO relied on estimates provided by the Registrants’ CIO. It was established the AUM and number of advisory accounts reported on the Form ADV were greatly overstated, and the outsourced COO did not confirm the accuracy of the information. The SEC held the outsourced CCO violated the Investment Advisers Act by failing to amend the Form ADV annually and willfully submitting a false statement. The SEC suspended the outsourced CCO from association or affiliation with any investment advisers for one year and ordered him to pay a $30,000 civil penalty. The action indicates that outsourced compliance persons solely relying on internal estimates of AUM and number of advisory contracts, without further confirmation, are at risk of filing false reports and subject to enforcement with the SEC.
CFTC Requests Input to Simplify and Modernize Commission Rules. In response to President Trump’s executive order to reform regulations to stimulate economic growth, the CFTC is requesting public input in an effort to simplify and modernize CFTC rules and make complex CFTC regulations more understandable for the public. Rather than rewrite or repeal existing rules, a primary goal of Project Keep it Simple Stupid (“Project KISS“) is to find simpler means of implementing existing rules. The CFTC will review rules with an ultimate goal of reducing regulatory burdens and costs for industry participants. The solicitation period for comments began on May 3, 2017 and will close on September 30, 2017. Comments can be submitted via the Project KISS portal on the CFTC’s website.
CFTC Approves Amendments to Strengthen Anti-Retaliation Whistleblower Protections. The CFTC unanimously approved new amendments to the “Whistleblower Incentives and Protection” section of the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, as amended (the “CEA”) on May 22, 2017. The amendments provide for greater anti-retaliation measures against employers who attempt to retaliate against employees that report employer CEA violations. Further, the amendments help clarify the process of determining whistleblower awards. The amendments will become effective July 31, 2017.
CFTC Unanimously Approves Recordkeeping Amendment Requirements. On May 23, 2017, the CFTC unanimously approved amendments to Regulation 1.31 to clarify the rule and modernize the manner and form required for recordkeeping. Specifically, the amendment will allow the manner and form of recordkeeping to be technology-neutral (i.e. not requiring or endorsing any specific record retention system or technology, and not limiting retention to any format). The amendments do not expand or decrease any existing requirements pertaining to regulatory records covered by other CFTC regulations.
Digital Asset Matters:
CoinAlts Fund Symposium. Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is pleased to announce that it is hosting, along with fellow symposium sponsors Arthur Bell CPAs, MG Stover & Co., and Harneys Westwood & Riegels, the CoinAlts Fund Symposium on Thursday, September 14, 2017, in San Francisco. This one-day symposium is for managers, investors and service providers in the cryptocurrency space and discussion points will include cryptocurrency investment, as well as legal and operational issues pertaining to this new asset class. The key-note speaker will be Olaf Carlson-Wee, Founder and CEO of Polychain Capital, and the symposium will include a number of other speakers representing the perspectives of investment management, fund administration, audit and tax, custody of funds, offshore fund formation and compliance. Early bird registration for investors, manager and students ends August 31st.
California Proposes a BitLicense via the Virtual Currency Act. Following in New York’s footsteps with its implementation of a BitLicense to regulate virtual currency activity in New York, California has proposed A.B. 1123 (or the “Virtual Currency Act”), its own version of a BitLicense. If passed, any persons involved in a “virtual currency business” must register with the California Commissioner of Business Oversight (the “Commissioner”). Under the Virtual Currency Act, a “virtual currency business” is defined as maintaining full custody or control of virtual currency in California on behalf of others. The application and registration process includes an extensive review of the business by the Commissioner, maintenance of a minimum capital amount, annual auditing, and an application fee of $5,000 with a $2,500 renewal. Currently aimed at those offering exchanges or wallet services we do not believe digital asset fund managers will need to obtain this licence. More information can be found here.
SEC Grants Review of Initial Rejection of Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Fund. In March, the SEC rejected a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust as commodity-based trust shares on the Bats BZX Exchange. In the disapproval order, the SEC claimed that the bitcoin market was too unregulated at the time, and the BZX Exchange would therefore lack the capability of entering into necessary surveillance-sharing agreements that are required of current commodity-trust exchange traded products. Bats BZX Exchange filed a petition for review of the disapproval order. The SEC granted the petition in April and has yet to release any further comments. As digital asset trading has increased over the past few months, many are looking at the review of the petition as a potential indicator of future cryptocurrency regulation to come.
SEC Petitioned for Proposed Rules and Regulation of Digital Assets and Blockchain Technology. A broker-dealer operating an alternative trading system (“ATS”) for unregistered securities, petitioned the SEC for rulemaking regarding guidance on digital assets. The Petitioner argued that some digital assets should be considered securities, and that current regimes in the United Kingdom and Singapore can be modeled domestically to successfully facilitate the issuance and trading of digital assets. The model currently used by those countries is known as a “regulatory sandbox,” in which companies are allowed to operate without significant regulatory interference, so long as they do so within a set of established rules. As of today, the SEC has not responded to the petition, but we expect the frequency of petitions and requests for no-action letters to increase as this space continues to grow.
Department of Labor (“DOL”) ‘Implements’ Fiduciary Rule. On June 9, 2017, the DOL partially implemented its amended fiduciary rule (the “Fiduciary Rule”), which expands the definition of a “fiduciary” subject to important exemptions. On August 9, 2017 the DOL submitted proposed amendments to these exemptions thereby delaying enforcement; and extending the transition period and uncertainty over the ultimate fate of the fiduciary rule by another eighteen months to July 1, 2019. Managers with questions regarding the applicability of these exemptions should discuss with counsel.
Generally, anyone that makes a “recommendation” as to the value, disposition or management of securities or other investment property for a fee or other compensation, to an employee benefit plan or a tax-favored retirement savings account such as an individual retirement account (“IRA”) (collectively “covered account”) will be deemed to be providing investment advice and, thus, a “fiduciary,” unless an exception applies. Many fund managers and other investment advisers may unintentionally be deemed to be fiduciaries to their retirement investors under the amended rule. Fund managers with investments from covered accounts or that wish to accept contributions from covered accounts will need to consider whether their current business activities and communications with investors could constitute a recommendation, including a suggestion that such investors invest in the fund. Under certain circumstances, fund managers may be deemed fiduciaries. Notably, the Fiduciary Rule provides an exception for activity that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules which is applicable to investments made by plan investors who are represented by a qualified independent fiduciary acting on the investor’s behalf in an arms’ length transaction (typically for larger plans). For clients or investors that do not have an independent fiduciary, managers must evaluate whether they are fiduciaries and what actions must be taken to comply with ERISA’s fiduciary standards or the prohibited transaction rules. The Fiduciary Rule also contemplates a Best Interest Contract (“BIC”) Exemption, which permits investment advisers to retail retirement investors to continue their current fee practices, including receiving variable compensation, without violating prohibited transactions rules, subject to certain safeguards.
We recommend that investment advisers contact their counsel regarding making any necessary updates to the applicable documents.
MSRB Establishes Continuing Education Requirements for Municipal Advisors. Beginning January 1, 2018, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) will implement amendments requiring municipal advisors to have a continuing education program in place for “covered persons” and require such persons to participate in continuing education training. The amendment will require an annual analysis to evaluate training needs, develop a written training plan, and implement training in response to the needs evaluated. The amendments also provide for record-keeping of the plans and analysis to promote compliance. Municipal advisors will have until December 31, 2018 to comply with the new requirements. To further clarify the requirements, the MSRB will be hosting an education webinar for municipal advisors on Thursday October 12, 2017, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT.
Full Implementation of MSRB Series 50 Examination. The grace period for municipal advisor representatives and municipal advisor principals that have not passed the Series 50 examination to qualify as a municipal advisor representative or principal will be ending on September 12, 2017. Thereafter, all municipal advisor professionals who either engage in municipal advisory activities or engage in the management or supervision of municipal advisory activities will be required to pass the Series 50. The MSRB has a content outline which specifies eligibility, the structure of the exam, and the regulations to be tested.
Form ADV Technical Amendment Including Wyoming for Mid-Size Advisers. On July 1, 2017, a technical amendment to Form ADV was implemented to reflect a new Wyoming law that now requires investment advisers with $25 million to $100 million in AUM and a principal place of business in Wyoming to register with the state as an investment adviser instead of the SEC. The technical amendment will also appear on Form ADV-W.
Further Updated CRS Guidance Notes. The Cayman Islands Department for International Tax Cooperation (“DITC”) and the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority (“TIA”) issued further guidance notes on April 13, 2017 for compliance with Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) obligations. Among some of the more important notes are the following:
- US FATCA notification and reporting deadlines will now parallel the Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”) deadlines. The notification deadline was June 30, 2017, and the reporting deadline will be July 31, 2017.
- The deadline for correcting any FATCA report errors for 2014 and for 2015 will be July 31, 2017.
- CRS reporting must be completed with the CRS XML v1.0 or a manual entry form on the AEOI portal.
We recommend contacting your tax advisors to discuss any potential issues regarding the above updates and deadlines.
Compliance Calendar. As you plan your regulatory compliance timeline for the coming months, please keep the following dates in mind:
Deadline – Filing
- July 15, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable).
- July 30, 2017 – Collect quarterly reports from access persons for their personal securities transactions.
- August 14, 2017 – Form 13F filing (advisers managing $100 million in 13F Securities).
- August 29, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large hedge fund advisers (if applicable).
- September 30, 2017 – Review transactions and assess whether Form 13H needs to be amended.
- October 2017 – Revised Form ADV 1A goes into effect for advisers filing an initial ADV or an annual updating amendment.
- October 16, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable).
- November 14, 2017 – Form 13F filing (advisers managing $100 million in 13F Securities).
- November 29, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large hedge fund advisers (if applicable).
- Ongoing – Amendment due on or before anniversary date of prior Form D filing(s), or for material changes.
- Ongoing – Due on or before anniversary date, and promptly when material information changes
Please contact us with any questions or for assistance with any compliance, registration or planning issues on any of the above topics.
Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon & Lilly Palmer
Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Mr. Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.