Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2021 Half Year Update

July 13, 2021

Clients, Friends, Associates:

We hope that this message finds you well and that you are enjoying the first months of summer. As we move into the third quarter, we would like to provide you with a brief overview of some items that we hope will help you stay on top of the business and regulatory landscape in the coming months. We are also delighted to report our firm and Co-Managing Partner, Karl Cole-Frieman, were highlighted as leading crypto and blockchain lawyers by Business Insider. For additional firm updates, please follow us on LinkedIn

****

SEC Matters

SEC Revises Qualified Client Threshold. The SEC recently published an order approving adjustments to the tests which define a “Qualified Client” under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”). Specifically, the “net worth” threshold has been increased from $2,100,000 to $2,200,000 and the dollar amount for the “assets-under-management” test has been raised from $1,000,000 to $1,100,000. The Qualified Client threshold is critically important for investment advisers because in nearly all jurisdictions, including for SEC registered investment advisers, performance fees and incentive allocations can only be charged to investors who are Qualified Clients. The new definitions become effective August 16, 2021 (the “Effective Date”), but will not be applied retroactively to contractual relationships existing as of such date. Additionally, an investor who satisfied the previous Qualified Client test and who subscribed for interests in a private fund prior to the Effective Date will remain subject to any applicable performance fees, and may make additional subscriptions (subject to performance fees) without needing to satisfy the new threshold amounts.

All investment advisers should promptly update their subscription documents to ensure that new investors who agree to make investments on or after the Effective Date have provided accurate representations regarding their Qualified Client status.

SEC adopts Marketing Rule (replaces Advertising Rule and Cash Solicitation Rule). On May 4, 2021, the SEC adopted new marketing rules for investment advisers. The new rules drastically overhaul and replace the prior cash solicitation and advertising rules applicable to investment advisers, their marketing materials, and their advertising practices to replace. SEC no-action letters pertaining to the prior cash solicitation rule will be nullified as the rule is being rescinded in practice. The most significant changes include the allowance of testimonials and endorsements, which under the prior rules were conditionally permitted to be used in advisers’ marketing materials. The new marketing rule now permits such use only if the adviser complies with specific disclosure, oversight, and disqualification provisions. Third-party ratings are now also permitted, though, just like testimonials and endorsements, they are subject to detailed disclosure and other presentation criteria.

The new marketing rule also overhauls how investment advisers can utilize social media. The SEC created concepts of “adoption” and “entanglement” with respect to posts on social media and, depending on whether an investment adviser has “adopted” a social media post or “entangled” itself in one, there are a series of rules applicable to each such post. More importantly, social media posts of persons associated with an investment adviser can also be viewed as the investment adviser’s communication or advertisement. Thus, investment advisers should adopt policies and procedures which distinguish their associated persons’ personal social media posts from those of the investment adviser. 

Specific rules and guidance now apply to various types of performance advertising, including gross, net, hypothetical, related, and extractive performance. Many of these rules now codify prior SEC no-action letter guidance on these topics. 

Investment advisers have some room to breathe since the compliance period for these new marketing rules begins on November 4, 2022.

SEC Brings Action for Defrauding Investors in Scheme Involving Pre-IPO Shares. On April 27, 2021, the SEC charged a former broker barred by FINRA with fraudulently raising funds. The complaint alleges that the defendant solicited investors by claiming to purchase shares of notable “unicorn” companies prior to their initial public offerings. However, the defendant failed to invest the funds and instead stole the money, using it to pay family members and purchase a Maserati. The defendant is charged with violating the antifraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. 

SEC Announces Partially Settled Charges After Investment Adviser Fails to Report Bad Investments. On April 15, 2021, the SEC filed a complaint against the co-founder and COO of an investment adviser for violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933. The SEC alleges the defendant defrauded hedge fund clients by creating fake “performing” loans to replace defaulted loans in order to hide losses. The SEC further alleges that the defendant created liquidity or met redemption requests by selling overvalued loans to new investors to pay off earlier investors. Collectively, the series of fraudulent acts hid tens of millions of losses. The SEC has already obtained final judgement against the investment adviser itself, requiring it to pay in excess of $35 million in prejudgement interest and disgorgement.

SEC Brings Action for Failure to Follow Stated Investment Criteria. In a recent enforcement action, the SEC has alleged that a Texas-based registered investment advisor (“RIA”) defrauded investors by failing to follow stated investment criteria. The complaint alleges that the principal along with its investment adviser representative (“IAR”) targeted older and unsophisticated investors with promises of high returns from secure investments in “proven” companies which met the firm’s stated investment criteria. However, the complaint goes on to allege that the firm only invested in high-risk and fraudulent companies which were affiliated with and owned by the firm’s principal and/or his older brother. The SEC alleges that this Texas-based RIA made materially false and misleading statements to investors about expected financial returns and the financial health of these companies. Moreover, the principal and his older brother allegedly falsified the financial documents of their companies to inflate their assets, misused funds for their own benefit, failed to make adequate disclosures of the conflicts of interests, failed to comply with rules governing the custody of client assets, and overall violated federal securities laws, including antifraud provisions. The SEC is seeking permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgement interest, civil penalties, and any equitable and ancillary relief deemed necessary by the court.

SEC Obtains Asset Freeze After Uncovering Cherry-picking Scheme. On June 17, 2021, the SEC announced that it obtained an asset freeze and filed fraud charges in connection to a cherry-picking scheme where a Miami-based investment professional and two investment firms allegedly funneled trading profits to preferred accounts. The complaint alleges defendants engaged in a long-running fraudulent trade allocation scheme. Approximately $4.6 million in profitable trades were allocated to accounts held by relatives of the defendants while several other investment advisory clients bore first day losses totaling more than $5.5 million. This investigation originated in the Market Abuse Unit’s Analysis and Detection Center, which uses data analysis to detect suspicious activity such as impossibly successful trading. The SEC is currently seeking permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties. It also intends to recover any unlawful gains and prejudgment interest from the preferred accounts.

****

Digital Asset Matters

Update on BitMEX Lawsuit. On October 1, 2020, the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint against specific individuals associated with BitMex for violating and conspiring to violate the Bank Secrecy Act. The CFTC also filed a civil complaint against BitMEX, alleging failure to register with the CFTC and violation of various laws and regulations under the Commodity Exchange Act. Both actions are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. On February 10, 2021, the Department of Justice intervened in the CFTC case and sought a stay of discovery pending the criminal case’s resolution. On February 11, the CFTC submitted a letter not to oppose the DOJ’s stay. On March 24, United States District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil granted the motion to permit the DOJ to intervene in the CFTC case for the purpose of seeking a stay of discovery, further noting that the DOJ is permitted to file a motion to stay discovery after the defendants have responded to the complaint. Both cases remain pending. These two lawsuits signal that the DOJ and the CFTC has and will continue to monitor the digital asset market. 

SEC Files Action Against Ripple for Unregistered Securities Offering. In December 2020, the SEC filed an action against Ripple Labs Inc. (“Ripple”) and two of its executives in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that they raised over $1.3 billion through an unregistered, ongoing digital asset securities offering. The SEC’s case rests on the proposition that XRP is a security because investors who purchased XRP anticipated that profits would be dependent upon Ripple’s efforts to manage and develop the market for XRP. The case remains pending. The outcome of this lawsuit, although uncertain at this point, may have significant impact on the future regulation on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies.

South Korea to Introduce 20% Tax on Crypto Trading Profits. South Korea will implement a 20% capital gains tax on Bitcoin (BTC) and cryptocurrency profits starting January 1, 2022. The tax is expected to be triggered when profits exceed 2.5 million Won, with gain made up to this point being tax-exempt.

Yield Farming Strategies. As decentralized finance (“DeFi”) applications continue to develop, the interest in yield farming has grown exponentially. At a high level, the goal of yield farming is to maximize returns by leveraging various DeFi protocols, and this can be done in a few different ways. To employ a yield farming strategy, a liquidity provider essentially locks its digital assets in a liquidity pool (where users can lend, borrow, or exchange tokens), thus providing liquidity to that pool. In return, the liquidity provider receives an annual percentage return. Liquidity mining, a type of yield farming, provides liquidity providers with reward tokens on top of that annual return. Liquidity providers can then deposit reward tokens into other liquidity pools to earn more rewards and repeat this process countless times. To increase the potential return of an investment, yield farmers can also deposit tokens as collateral to a liquidity pool, then use the borrowed tokens as further collateral to then borrow more tokens, and so on. It is important to note that if a position becomes undercollateralized, there is a risk that the DeFi protocol may liquidate the collateral which could result in a total loss to the liquidity provider. While the potential of impressive returns is enticing, those interested in yield farming strategies should consider the many risks inherent in such strategies, including impermanent loss, price slippage, smart contract code bugs leading to hacks or fraud, “rug pulling” scams, as well as the risk of under collateralization, which can incidentally result from price movements of the borrowed token.

El Salvador Adopts Bitcoin Legal Tender. On June 8, 2021, the Salvadorian Congress approved new legislation, making it the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. “The purpose of this law is to regulate Bitcoin as unrestricted legal tender with liberating power, unlimited in any transaction, and to any title that public or private natural or legal person require carrying out,” the law reads. Under the new law, prices can be displayed in Bitcoin, taxes can be paid in Bitcoin, and transactions conducted using the digital currency will not be subject to a capital gains tax. The exchange rate with the U.S. Dollar (El Salvador’s current official currency) will be established by the market. The law also adds that the Salvadorian government will implement trainings and other mechanisms to ensure that its citizens can access Bitcoin transactions.

DeFi “Raises Challenges” for Investors, Regulators, SEC’s Gensler Says. In a written testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler discussed the challenges posed by decentralized finance. Examples of the challenges of DeFi given include market volatility and novel product offerings. Gensler’s concerns surrounding DeFi did not come as a surprise. In January, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce offered the following quote: “It’s going to be challenging to us because most of the way we regulate is through intermediaries and when you really build something that’s decentralized, there’s no intermediary…. It’s great for resilience of a system but it’s much harder for us when we’re trying to go in and regulate to figure out how to do that”. Gensler has also previously suggested establishing a dedicated market regulator for cryptocurrency in order to provide protection against market manipulation and fraud. As DeFi continues to grow, it will be interesting to watch regulator’s approach to DeFi as it may have a large impact on the emerging space. 

SEC Petitioned on NFTs as NFT Platform is Sued in Class Action. On April 12, 2021, a broker-dealer registered with the SEC and FINRA issued a petition to the SEC, calling for a concept release of regulations for nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and rules addressing when NFTs are considered securities. The petitioner notes that the existing definition of a security does not explicitly include NFTs, but NFTs that promise a “return on investment from the efforts of others”, could be deemed a security under the Howey test. The petitioner further clarifies that if an NFT “relates to an existing asset and is marketed as a collectible with a public assurance of authenticity on the blockchain, it should not be deemed a security.” To date, the SEC has not issued interpretive guidance on NFTs and has not initiated any enforcement actions against an NFT creator or NFT trading platform.

This petition arrives as Dapper Labs, the creator of the popular NFT marketplace NBA Top Shot, faces a class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs assert that NBA Top Shot’s “moments”, NFTs sold as collectable video highlights, are securities. These allegations center on the argument that moments increase in value as NBA Top Shot rises in popularity, therefore satisfying the Howey Test. The complaint also alleges that Dapper Labs has controlled the marketplace in way that prevents users from “cashing out” their purchases, keeping their value artificially high. It will be interesting to see how these issues are resolved by the SEC and the courts, as if NFTs are determined to be a security either by the SEC or the courts, NFT marketplaces and issuers may be forced to register with the SEC.

****

CFTC Matters

Changes for Form CPO-PQR. Beginning with the March 31, 2021 reporting date, a revised and streamlined Form CPO-PQR will be used based on recent CFTC amendments. The revised Form CPO-PQR has been reduced to one schedule (Schedule A), and all reporting commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) will file the revised Form CPO-PQR every quarter, regardless of size. Technical updates have also been made, which make the form easier to fill out. 

Default Judgment Entered Against Operator of Cryptocurrency Pool. On March 29, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada entered a default judgement against an Australian national and his Nevada corporation in connection with a cryptocurrency fraud and misappropriation scheme. The court concluded that the defendants made false claims about the individual’s trading acumen and baselessly guaranteed high rates of return in soliciting investors into a pool operated by the Nevada corporation. The pool engaged in off-exchange binary options trading on forex and cryptocurrency pairs; however, the defendants also stole participants’ funds and comingled assets in the individual’s personal cryptocurrency wallet. Additionally, the defendants effected a Ponzi scheme by paying investor redemptions with funds from other investors. Although the default judgment orders the defendants to pay restitution, disgorgement of profits and penalties totaling more than $32 million, the CFTC cautions investors that such order does not guarantee participants a full recovery.

CFTC Establishes Climate Risk Unit. In March, Acting CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam announced the establishment of the Climate Risk Unit (“CRU”), which will assess the efficacy of derivatives products in addressing climate and weather-related risks in the financial system. Also, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions world-wide, the CRU will represent the CFTC in industry discussions in furtherance of this mission. The CRU also intends to, inter alia, facilitate dialogue regarding emerging climate risks, develop new products to help transition to a “net-zero” economy, support development of climate-related market risk data, and evaluate the utility of other tools (e.g., regulatory sandboxes) in accelerating such products and services.

NFA’s New Notice Requirements for CPOs Became Effective as of June 30, 2021. The NFA’s newly adopted Compliance Rule 2-50 requires CPOs to notify the NFA upon the occurrence of certain events such as a commodity pool’s ability to fulfill its obligations to investors or a potential unplanned liquidation of the pool. CPOs are now required to notify the NFA if they: (1) operate a pool that cannot meet a margin call, (2) operate a pool that cannot satisfy redemption requests in accordance with their subscription agreements, (3) operate a pool that has stopped redemptions unrelated to existing lockups or gates, and pre-planned cessation of operations or (4) receive notice from a swap counterparty that a pool operated by the CPO is in default. This rule applies to all pools operated by a CPO, including pools that meet the “de minimis” threshold pursuant to CFTC Regulation 4.13(a)(3). Generally, notice of a specified event must occur no later than 5:00 pm CT of the next business day; provided that, Interpretive Notice 9080 gives examples of when notice is not required (e.g., if a CPO reasonably expects to meet the margin call within the time prescribed by its FCM).

****

Other Matters

Corporate Transparency Act Requires Disclosure of Ownership Information of Certain Entities. Overriding President Trump’s veto, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 on January 1, 2021, which, among other things, includes the Corporate Transparency Act (the “CT Act”) requiring certain ‘reporting companies’ to report their beneficial ownership information to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”). Today, the CT Act excludes from the definition of ‘reporting companies’ registered investment advisers, venture capital fund advisers that file Form ADV, and private investment funds advised by investment advisers and identified by name on such advisers Form ADV. However, investment advisers relying on the private fund exemption are not exempt from the CT Act and, absent changes in the regulations adopted by the U.S. Treasury, will be required to report their beneficial ownership information to FinCEN. The CT Act goes into effect on the date regulations are issued by the U.S. Treasury, which shall occur no later than January 1, 2022. FinCEN is currently soliciting public comment on questions about the new reporting requirements.

Executive Orders Prohibit the Purchase of Publicly Traded Communist Chinese Military Company Securities by U.S. Persons. President Trump signed Executive Order 13959 on November 12, 2020, and subsequently amended it with Executive Order 13974 on January 13, 2021, to prohibit the purchase of publicly traded Communist Chinese Military Company (“CCMC”) securities, including securities that are derivative of or designed to provide investment exposure to such CCMC securities. The orders prohibit the purchase by U.S. persons of any such securities beginning 60 days after an entity is designated as a CCMC, and require U.S. persons to divest from those securities within one year of such designation. Therefore, for the CCMCs initially designated on November 12, purchase of such securities was prohibited beginning January 11, 2021, and all U.S. persons must divest by November 11, 2021. While the Office of Foreign Asset Control has issued an FAQ clarifying the orders, neither the orders nor the FAQ provide clarity on whether U.S. persons must divest from foreign private funds that hold CCMC securities, and it remains to be seen if the new administration will seek to amend the order before divestment is required. A list of entities designated CCMCs as of June 16, 2021 can be found here.

New York Eliminates Pre-Offer Filing Requirements for Rule 506 Offerings under Regulation D. The New York Attorney General announced on December 1, 2020, an amendment to New York’s antiquated and controversial securities regulations applicable to offerings made under Rule 506 of Regulation D. The old rule required issuers to file a Form 99 prior to any sale or offering of such “covered securities” in the state. Beginning on December 2, 2020, the updated rule eliminated the Form 99 requirement and provided that notice filings shall be made within 15 days following the date of the first sale of applicable securities via the North American Association of Securities Administrators electronic filing depository system. The filing fee continues to be based on the offering amount and is unchanged from the fees required prior to the adoption of the new rule.  

Registration of New York IARs. Starting February 1, 2021, IARs who engage in business within or from New York and principals or supervisors of New York-state registered investment advisers must register with the New York Investor Protection Bureau (the “NYIPB”) by filing a Form U4 or updating an existing Form U4, and must also meet certain exam requirements. IARs with a place of business in New York that represent SEC-registered investment advisers that notice-file in New York must also register with the NYIPB. The new regulations grant IARs operating in New York prior to February 1, 2021, a grace period to submit their Form U4 until August 31, 2021, and such IARs may continue such service without an approval until December 2, 2021.

Employers can Inquire about the Vaccination Status of Employees. On May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its guidelines on the COVID-19 vaccine and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) compliance. The guidelines reaffirmed the EEOC’s previous position that employers can ask their employees whether or not they have received the COVID-19 vaccine but added that any vaccination status documentation must be kept confidential and stored separately from the employee’s personnel file. It is recommended for employers to only ask for the bare minimum, such as a vaccination card or survey response, to prevent employees from providing additional medical information and implicating the ADA. Additionally, employers can “encourage” employee vaccinations by providing information on approved vaccines, addressing common questions and concerns, or by offering incentives to employees who receive the vaccine. As of the date of publication, there are no examples of states passing laws conflicting with EEOC guidance, but this may change as companies continue to return to the office.

****

Compliance Calendar

Please consult our Compliance Calendar for key dates as you plan your regulatory compliance timeline for the coming months and contact us with any questions for assistance with any of the above topics.

We wish you and yours a safe and healthy summer.

Sincerely, Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon, Lilly Palmer, David Rothschild, & Scott Kitchens

****

Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is one of the top investment management law firms in the United States, known for providing top-tier, innovative, and collaborative legal solutions for complex financial services matters. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP services both start-up investment managers and multi-billion-dollar firms. The Firm provides a full suite of legal services to the investment management community, including hedge fund, private equity fund, venture capital fund, mutual fund formation, adviser registration, counterparty documentation, SEC, CFTC, NFA and FINRA matters, seed deals, hedge fund due diligence, employment and compensation matters, and routine business matters. The Firm also publishes the prominent Hedge Fund Law Blog, which focuses on legal issues that impact the hedge fund community. For more information, please add us on LinkedIn and visit us at colefrieman.com.   

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2020 End of Year Update

December 16, 2020

Clients, Friends, Associates:

As we prepare for a new year, we also reflect on an eventful, sometimes chaotic, 2020, dominated by the emergence of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”). The COVID-19 pandemic, the global response to it, and other worldwide events created a great deal of market volatility. Despite that volatility, we saw robust investment funds activity in the second-half of the year, particularly in the digital asset space.

Especially in these turbulent times, year-end administrative upkeep and planning for the next year are crucial, particularly for general counsels, Chief Compliance Officers (“CCOs”), and key operations personnel. As we head into 2021, we have put together this checklist and update to help managers stay on top of the business and regulatory landscape for the coming year.

This update includes the following:

  • Sexual Harassment Training Required under California Law
  • Annual Compliance & Other Items
  • Annual Fund Matters
  • Annual Management Company Matters
  • Regulatory & Other Items from 2020
  • Items from 2021 Compliance Calendar

****

CFM & Aspect January Compliance Update Event

We would like to invite you to our next compliance-focused event. Last year, Cole-Frieman & Mallon hosted a well attended presentation and networking event with regulatory compliance firm Aspect Advisors. The event was so popular we’re bringing it back for 2021 as a webinar and we hope to see you there!

Please save the date on your calendar: January 21, 2021 @10:00am PT
You can also Register Here

Topics will include:

  • Trends and happenings in the industry impacting fintech companies, broker dealers, investment advisors and fund managers
  • Major issues from the SEC and courts in 2020
  • The year of Bitcoin and DeFi
  • Fintech regulations and best practices
  • Other hot topics

****

Sexual Harassment Training Required under California Law

California state law now requires all employers with five or more employees to provide interactive sexual harassment training to their employees. The law formerly only applied to employers with 50 or more employees but was expanded under Senate Bill No. 778, approved by the governor of California on August 30, 2019. Notably, covered employers must provide at least two hours of interactive training to all supervisory employees and at least one hour to all nonsupervisory employees in California. The first training must be held by January 1, 2021 and thereafter must be held every two years. The State of California is providing free training resources, which you can access here.

****

Annual Compliance & Other Items

Annual Privacy Policy Notice. On an annual basis, registered investment advisers (“RIAs”) are required to provide natural person clients with a copy of the RIA’s privacy policy if (i) the RIA has disclosed nonpublic personal information other than in connection with servicing consumer accounts or administering financial products or (ii) the RIA’s privacy policy has changed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) has provided a model form and accompanying instructions for firm privacy policies.

Annual Compliance Review. On an annual basis, the CCO of an RIA must conduct a review of the adviser’s compliance policies and procedures. This annual compliance review should be in writing and presented to senior management. We recommend firms discuss the annual review with their outside counsel or compliance firm, who can provide guidance about the review process and a template for the assessment and documentation. Conversations regarding the annual review may raise sensitive matters, and advisers should ensure that these discussions are protected by attorney-client privilege. CCOs may also want to consider additions to the compliance program. Advisers that are not registered may still wish to review their procedures and/or implement a compliance program as a best practice.

Form ADV Annual Amendment. RIAs or managers filing as exempt reporting advisers (“ERAs”) with the SEC or a state securities authority must file an annual amendment to their Form ADV within 90 days of the end of their fiscal year. For most managers, the Form ADV amendment will be due on March 31, 2021. RIAs must provide a copy of the updated Form ADV Part 2A brochure and Part 2B brochure supplement (or a summary of changes with an offer to provide the complete brochure) to each “client” and, if applicable, Part 3 (Form CRS client relationship summary) to each “retail investor” with which the RIA has entered into an investment advisory contract. Note that for SEC RIA’s to private investment vehicles, a “client” for purposes of this rule refers to the vehicle(s) managed by the RIA and not the underlying investors. State-registered advisers need to examine their states’ regulations to determine who constitutes a “client”. For purposes of the Form ADV Part 3, a “retail investor” means a natural person, or the legal representative of such natural person, who seeks to receive or receives services primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.

Switching to/from SEC Regulation.

SEC Registration. Managers who no longer qualify for SEC registration as of the time of filing the annual Form ADV amendment must withdraw from SEC registration within 180 days after the end of their fiscal year (June 30, 2021, for most managers), by filing a Form ADV-W. Such managers should consult with legal counsel to determine whether they are required to register in the states in which they conduct business. Managers who are required to register with the SEC as of the date of their annual amendment must register with the SEC within 90 days of filing the annual amendment (June 30, 2021, for most managers, assuming the annual amendment is filed on March 31, 2021).

Exempt Reporting Advisers (“ERAs”). Managers who no longer meet the definition of an ERA will need to submit a final report as an ERA and apply for registration with the SEC or the relevant state securities authority, as applicable, generally within 90 days after the filing of the annual amendment.

Custody Rule Annual Audit.

SEC RIAs. SEC-registered investment advisers (“SEC RIAs”) must comply with specific custody procedures, including (i) maintaining client funds and securities with a qualified custodian; (ii) having a reasonable basis to believe that the qualified custodian sends an account statement to each advisory client at least quarterly; and (iii) undergoing an annual surprise examination conducted by an independent public accountant.

SEC RIAs to pooled investment vehicles may avoid both the quarterly statement and surprise examination requirements by having audited financial statements prepared for each pooled investment vehicle in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles by an independent public accountant registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”). Statements must be sent to investors in the fund within 120 days after the fund’s fiscal year-end. SEC RIAs should review their custody procedures to ensure compliance with the rules.

California RIAs. California-registered investment advisers (“CA RIAs”) that manage pooled investment vehicles and are deemed to have custody of client assets are also subject to independent party and surprise examinations. However, CA RIAs can avoid these additional requirements by engaging a PCAOB-registered auditor to prepare and distribute audited financial statements to all beneficial owners of the pooled investment vehicle, and the Commissioner of the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (“DFPI”). Those CA RIAs that do not engage an auditor must, among other things, (i) provide notice of such custody on the Form ADV; (ii) maintain client assets with a qualified custodian; (iii) engage an independent party to act in the best interest of investors to review fees, expenses, and withdrawals; and (iv) retain an independent certified public accountant to conduct surprise examinations of assets.

Other State RIAs. Advisers registered in other states (collectively with CA RIAs, “State RIAs”) should consult their legal counsel about those states’ specific custody requirements.

California Minimum Net Worth Requirement and Financial Reports.

CA RIAs with Discretion. Every CA RIA that has discretionary authority over client funds or securities, whether or not they have custody, must maintain at all times a net worth of at least $10,000 (CA RIAs with custody are subject to heightened minimum net worth requirements).

CA RIAs with Custody. Generally, every CA RIA that has custody of client funds or securities must maintain at all times a minimum net worth of $35,000. However, a CA RIA that (i) is deemed to have custody solely because it acts as the general partner of a limited partnership, or a comparable position for another type of pooled investment vehicle, and (ii) otherwise complies with the California custody rule described above (such advisers, “GP RIAs”) is exempt from the $35,000 minimum (and thus must maintain at all times a minimum net worth of $10,000).

Financial Reports. Every CA RIA subject to the above minimum net worth requirements must file certain reports with the DFPI.

  • In the event a CA RIA breaches its minimum net worth requirement, it must file a report of its financial condition with DFPI by the close of business on the business day immediately following the date of the breach.
  • If a CA RIA’s net worth is less than 120% of its minimum net worth requirement, it must file at least three “interim reports” with DFPI. The first such report is due within 15 days of the date on which the CA RIA’s net worth was less than 120% of its minimum net worth and then within 15 days of each monthly accounting period thereafter until three consecutive interim reports show a net worth that is greater than 120% of the required minimum net worth.
  • Annually, within 90 days of a CA RIA’s fiscal year-end, the CA RIA must file a financial report with DFPI containing a balance sheet and income statement (prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles), supporting schedule, and verification form. If the CA RIA has custody (and is not a GP RIA), the financial report must be audited by an independent public accountant.

Annual Re-Certification of CFTC Exemptions. Commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) and commodity trading advisers (“CTAs”) currently relying on certain exemptions from registration with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) are required to re-certify their eligibility within 60 days of the calendar year-end. CPOs and CTAs currently relying on relevant exemptions will need to evaluate whether they remain eligible to rely on such exemptions.

CPO and CTA Annual Updates. Registered CPOs and CTAs must prepare and file Annual Questionnaires and Annual Registration Updates with the National Futures Association (“NFA”), as well as submit payment for annual maintenance fees and NFA membership dues. Registered CPOs must also prepare and file their fourth-quarter report for each commodity pool on Form CPO-PQR, while CTAs must file their fourth-quarter report on Form CTA-PR. For more information on Form CPO-PQR, please see our earlier post. While not applicable for this filing, we note that Form CPO-PQR is changing (as discussed in more detail below), which will apply to the filing relating to Q1 2021. Unless eligible to claim relief under Regulation 4.7, registered CPOs and CTAs must update their disclosure documents periodically, as they may not use any document dated more than 12 months prior to the date of its intended use. Disclosure documents that are materially inaccurate or incomplete must be promptly corrected, and redistributed to pool participants.

Trade Errors. Managers should ensure that all trade errors are properly addressed pursuant to the manager’s trade errors policies by the end of the year. Documentation of trade errors should be finalized, and if the manager is required to reimburse any of its funds or other clients, it should do so by year-end.

Soft Dollars. Managers that participate in soft dollar programs should make sure that they have addressed any commission balances from the previous year.

Schedule 13G/D and Section 16 Filings. Managers who exercise investment discretion over accounts (including funds and separately managed accounts (“SMAs”)) that are beneficial owners of 5% or more of a registered voting equity security must report these positions on Schedule 13D or 13G. Passive investors are generally eligible to file the short-form Schedule 13G, which is updated annually within 45 days of the end of the year. Schedule 13D is required when a manager is ineligible to file Schedule 13G and is due 10 days after acquiring more than 5% beneficial ownership of a registered voting equity security. For managers who are also making Section 16 filings, this is an opportune time to review your filings to confirm compliance and anticipate needs for the first quarter.

Section 16 filings are required for “corporate insiders” (including beneficial owners of 10% or more of a registered voting equity security). An initial Form 3 is due within 10 days after becoming an “insider”; Form 4 reports ownership changes and is due by the end of the second business day after an ownership change; and Form 5 reports any transactions that should have been reported earlier on a Form 4 or were eligible for deferred reporting and is due within 45 days after the end of each fiscal year.

Form 13F. A manager must file a Form 13F if it exercises investment discretion with respect to $100 million or more in certain “Section 13F securities” within 45 days after the end of the year in which the manager reaches the $100 million filing threshold. The SEC lists the securities subject to 13F reporting on its website.

Form 13H. Managers who meet one of the SEC’s large trader thresholds (generally, managers whose transactions in exchange-listed securities equal or exceed two million shares or $20 million during any calendar day, or 20 million shares or $200 million during any calendar month) are required to file an initial Form 13H with the SEC within 10 days of crossing a threshold. Large traders also need to amend Form 13H annually within 45 days of the end of the year. In addition, changes to the information on Form 13H will require interim amendments following the calendar quarter in which the change occurred.

Form PF. Managers to private funds that are either registered with the SEC or required to be registered with the SEC and who have at least $150 million in regulatory assets under management (“RAUM”) must file Form PF. Smaller private advisers (fund managers with less than $1.5 billion in RAUM) must file Form PF annually within 120 days of their fiscal year-end. Larger private advisers (fund managers with $1.5 billion or more in RAUM) must file Form PF within 60 days of the end of each fiscal quarter.

Form MA. Investment advisors that provide advice on municipal financial products are considered “municipal advisors” by the SEC and must file a Form MA annually, within 90 days of their fiscal year-end.

SEC Form D. Form D filings for most funds need to be amended annually, on or before the anniversary of the most recently filed Form D. Copies of Form D are publicly available on the SEC’s EDGAR website.

Blue Sky Filings. On an annual basis, a manager should review its blue sky filings for each state to make sure it has met any initial and renewal filing requirements. Several states impose late fees or reject late filings altogether. Accordingly, it is critical to stay on top of filing deadlines for both new investors and renewals. We also recommend that managers review blue sky filing submission requirements. Many states now permit blue sky filings to be filed electronically through the Electronic Filing Depository (“EFD”) system, and certain states will now only accept filings through EFD.

IARD Annual Fees. Preliminary annual renewal fees for state-registered and SEC-registered investment advisers were due on December 14, 2020. Failure to submit electronic payments by the deadline may result in registrations terminating due to a “failure to renew.” If you have not already done so, you should submit full payment into your Renewal Account by E-Bill, check or wire as soon as possible.

Pay-to-Play and Lobbyist Rules. SEC rules disqualify investment advisers, their key personnel, and placement agents acting on their behalf from seeking to be engaged by a governmental client if they have made certain political contributions. State and local governments have similar rules, including California, which requires internal sales professionals who meet the definition of “placement agents” (people who act for compensation as finders, solicitors, marketers, consultants, brokers, or other intermediaries in connection with offering or selling investment advisory services to a state public retirement system in California) to register with the state as lobbyists and comply with California lobbyist reporting and regulatory requirements. Note that managers offering or selling investment advisory services to local government entities must register as lobbyists in the applicable cities and counties. State laws on lobbyist registration differ widely, so managers should carefully review reporting requirements in the states in which they operate to make sure they comply with the relevant rules.

****

Annual Fund Matters

New Issue Status. On an annual basis, managers need to confirm or reconfirm the eligibility of investors that participate in initial public offerings, or new issues, pursuant to both Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) Rules 5130 and 5131. Most managers reconfirm investor eligibility via negative consent (i.e., investors are informed of their status on file with the manager and are asked to notify the manager of any changes), whereby a failure to respond by any investor operates as consent to the current status.

ERISA Status. Given the significant problems that can occur from not properly tracking ERISA investors in private funds, we recommend that managers confirm or reconfirm on an annual basis the ERISA status of their investors. This is particularly important for managers that track the underlying percentage of ERISA funds for each investor, with respect to each class of interests in a pooled investment vehicle.

Wash Sales. Managers should carefully manage wash sales for year-end. Failure to do so could result in book/tax differences for investors. Certain dealers can provide managers with swap strategies to manage wash sales, including Basket Total Return Swaps and Split Strike Forward Conversion. These strategies should be considered carefully to make sure they are consistent with the investment objectives of the fund.

Redemption Management. Managers with significant redemptions at the end of the year should carefully manage unwinding positions so as to minimize transaction costs in the current year (that could impact performance) and prevent transaction costs from impacting remaining investors in the next year. When closing funds or managed accounts, managers should pay careful attention to the liquidation procedures in the fund constituent documents and the managed account agreement.

NAV Triggers and Waivers. Managers should promptly seek waivers of any applicable termination events specified in a fund’s ISDA or other counterparty agreement that may be triggered by redemptions, performance, or a combination of both at the end of the year (NAV declines are common counterparty agreement termination events).

Fund Expenses. Managers should wrap up all fund expenses for 2020 if they have not already done so. In particular, managers should contact their outside legal counsel to obtain accurate and up to date information about legal expenses for inclusion in the NAV for year-end performance.

Electronic Schedule K-1s. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) authorizes partnerships and limited liability companies taxed as partnerships to issue Schedule K-1s to investors solely by electronic means, provided the partnership has received the investor’s affirmative consent. States may have different rules regarding electronic K-1s, and partnerships should check with their counsel whether they may still be required to send state K-1s on paper. Partnerships must also provide each investor with specific disclosures that include a description of the hardware and software necessary to access the electronic K-1s, how long the consent is effective, and the procedures for withdrawing the consent. If you would like to send K-1s to your investors electronically, you should discuss your options with your service providers.

“Bad Actor” Recertification Requirement. A security offering cannot rely on the Rule 506 safe harbor from SEC registration if the issuer or its “covered persons” are “bad actors”. Fund managers must determine whether they are subject to the bad actor disqualification any time they are offering or selling securities in reliance on Rule 506. The SEC has advised that an issuer may reasonably rely on a covered person’s agreement to provide notice of a potential or actual bad actor triggering event pursuant to contractual covenants, bylaw requirements or undertakings in a questionnaire or certification. If an offering is continuous, delayed or long-lived, however, issuers must update their factual inquiry periodically through bring-down of representations, questionnaires, and certifications, negative consent letters, periodic re-checking of public databases and other steps, depending on the circumstances. Fund managers should consult with counsel to determine how frequently such an update is required. As a matter of practice, most fund managers should perform such an update at least annually.

U.S. FATCA. Funds should monitor their compliance with the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”). Generally, U.S. FATCA reports are due to the IRS on March 31, 2021 or September 30, 2021, depending on where the fund is domiciled. However, reports may be required by an earlier date for jurisdictions that are parties to intergovernmental agreements (“IGAs”) with the U.S. Because of COVID-19, the Cayman Islands has extended its FATCA reporting deadline for the 2019 period until December 16, 2020. Additionally, the U.S. may require that reports be submitted through the appropriate local tax authority in the applicable IGA jurisdiction, rather than the IRS. Given the varying U.S. FATCA requirements applicable to different jurisdictions, managers should review and confirm the specific U.S. FATCA reporting requirements that may apply. As a reminder, we strongly encourage managers to file the required reports and notifications, even if they already missed previous deadlines. Applicable jurisdictions may be increasing enforcement and monitoring of FATCA reporting and imposing penalties for each day late.

CRS. Funds should also monitor their compliance with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”). All “Financial Institutions” in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Cayman Islands must register with the respective jurisdiction’s Tax Information Authority and submit various reports with the applicable regulator via that regulator’s online portal. While the BVI 2020 filing deadlines for 2019 CRS reporting have passed, because of COVID-19, the Cayman Islands have extended its CRS filing declaration and reporting deadline for the 2019 reporting period until December 16, 2020 and the “compliance report” deadline for the 2019 reporting period until March 31, 2021. Managers to funds domiciled in other jurisdictions should also confirm whether any CRS reporting will be required in such jurisdictions and the procedures to follow to enroll and file annual reports. We recommend managers contact their tax advisors to stay on top of the U.S. FATCA and CRS requirements and avoid potential penalties.

****

Annual Management Company Matters

Management Company Expenses. Managers who distribute profits annually should attempt to address management company expenses in the year they are incurred. If ownership or profit percentages are adjusted at the end of the year, a failure to manage expenses could significantly impact the economics of the partnership or the management company.

Employee Reviews. An effective annual review process is vital to reduce the risk of employment-related litigation and protect the management company in the event of such litigation. Moreover, it is an opportunity to provide context for bonuses, compensation adjustments, employee goals and other employee-facing matters at the firm. It is not too late to put an annual review process in place.

Compensation Planning. In the fund industry, and the financial services industry in general, the end of the year is the appropriate time to make adjustments to compensation programs. Since much of a manager’s revenue is tied to annual income from incentive fees, any changes to the management company structure, affiliated partnerships, or any shadow equity programs should be effective on the first of the year. Make sure that partnership agreements and operating agreements are appropriately updated to reflect such changes.

Insurance. If a manager carries D&O or other liability insurance, the policy should be reviewed annually to ensure that the manager has provided notice to the carrier of all claims and all potential claims. Newly launched funds should also be added to the policy as appropriate.

Other Tax Considerations. Fund managers should assess their overall tax position and consider several steps to optimize tax liability. Managers should also be aware of self-employment taxes, which can potentially be minimized by structuring the investment manager as a limited partnership. Managers can take several steps to optimize their tax liability, including (i) changing the incentive fee to an incentive allocation; (ii) use of stock-settled stock appreciation rights; (iii) if appropriate, terminating swaps and realizing net losses; (iv) making a Section 481(a) election under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”); (v) making a Section 475 election under the Code; and (vi) making charitable contributions. Managers should consult legal and tax professionals to evaluate these options.

****

Regulatory & Other Items from 2020

SEC Updates.

The SEC Expands its Definition of “Accredited Investor” and “Qualified Institutional Buyer”. On August 26, 2020, the SEC Commissioners voted to adopted amendments to expand the definition of “accredited investor” and “qualified institutional buyer”. A more detailed breakdown can be found in our blog post here.

With respect to investors who are natural persons, historically, the “accredited investor” qualification status was based mainly on an individual’s income or net worth. These categories remain and have been broadened slightly to include the income or net worth from an investor’s “spousal equivalent,” which generally is a cohabitant occupying a relationship generally equivalent to that of a person’s spouse. Additionally, the SEC expanded the definition of “accredited investor” to account for certain knowledge qualifications, including (i) persons with certain professional financial designations such as those holding the Series 7, Series 65 or Series 85 licenses and (ii) “knowledgeable employees” (as defined in Rule 3c-5 of the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Company Act”)).

The SEC also expanded the definition of “accredited investor” with respect to entity investors. The new definition encompasses (i) SEC RIAs and State RIAs, (ii) rural business investment companies, (iii) limited liability companies with total assets in excess of $5,000,000 (not also formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the securities offered), (iv) entities owning in excess of $5,000,000 of “investments” (as defined in Rule 2a51-1(b) of the Investment Company Act), and (v) family offices with at least $5,000,000 in assets under management.

The SEC has updated the definition of “qualified institutional buyer” in Rule 144A to include entities and any individual investors that have at least $100,000,000 in securities owned and invested in issuers unaffiliated with the qualified institutional buyer. The scope is intended to include Native American tribes, governmental bodies, and bank-maintained collective investment trusts.

These amendments became effective on December 8, 2020. Private fund advisers should consider updating their subscription documents to incorporate these new categories.

SEC Revises Rules to Harmonize Exempt Offerings. On November 2, 2020 the SEC adopted amendments to certain rules under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”), seeking to harmonize various “private offering” exemptions to the registration requirement of the Securities Act. In summary, these amendments are intended to establish a singular and broadly applicable rule giving issuers the ability to move from one exemption to another. Offering limits for Regulation A (“Reg A”), Regulation Crowdfunding (“Reg CF”), and Rule 504 offerings are also to be increased. The adopted amendments are anticipated to become effective in early 2021.

Highlights of the amendments include:

  • Integration – when companies engage in multiple offerings near in time, it may be necessary to analyze whether the offerings are integrated into a single offering. The amendments provide four non-exclusive safe harbors from integration, thereby making it easier for companies to engage in multiple offerings without the fear of integration.
  • Offering limitations – as discussed above, the amendments would also raise offering limits to various exemptions. For example, under Tier 2 of Reg A, the amendments would increase both the maximum offering amount from $50MM to $75MM and secondary sales from $15MM to $22.5MM. The Reg CF offering limit would increase from $1.07MM to $5MM. Accredited investors would also have their investment limits removed for a Reg CF offering. Non-accredited investors utilizing Reg CF would also be able to use the greater of their annual income or net worth when calculating investment limitations. For Rule 504 under Regulation D – the amendments would raise the maximum offering amount from $5MM to $10MM. Accredited investors would also have their investment limits removed for a Reg CF offering. Non-accredited investors utilizing Reg CF would also be able to use the greater of their annual income or net worth when calculating investment limitations. For Rule 504 under Regulation D – the amendments would raise the maximum offering amount to $10MM up from $5MM previously.
  • Exemption Improvements – the SEC amendments also would improve certain exemptions. In Rule 506(b) offerings, the mandatory information and disclosures provided to non-accredited investors will align with those provided to investors in a Reg A offering. Reg A offerings are to have certain requirements simplified and there would be greater consistency between a Reg A offering and a registered offering. The amendments would also harmonize the bad actor disqualification provisions under a Regulation D, Reg A and Reg CF offering.
  • Rule 506(c) Offerings – Issuers, including private funds, sometimes rely on Rule 506(c), which allows the issuer to engage in “general solicitation” with respect to a private offering so long as the issuer, among other things, takes “reasonable steps” to verify that each investor is, in fact, an “accredited investor.” To that end, the SEC has published a non-exclusive list of methods an issuer may undertake to verify that a person is an “accredited investor.” The adopted amendment adds to that list by allowing an issuer selling securities to a person that was (or is) an investor in that issuer to rely on its prior verification of that person’s “accredited investor” status, so long as (i) the verification occurred within five years of the date on which the person will again invest, (ii) the issuer receives a written representation by that person that it continues to qualify as an “accredited investor”, and (iii) the issuer is not aware of contrary information. The SEC believes this simplification will make it easier for issuers to utilize a Rule 506(c) offering, such that unnecessary efforts will not be expended to verify a known investor’s “accredited investor” status.

RIA Compliance Risk Alert. On November 19, 2020, the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a risk alert related to certain compliance-related deficiencies it had found during the course of its examination of SEC RIAs. Notably, OCIE identified the following deficiencies:

  • A lack of compliance personnel and authority. OCIE found advisers who had inadequate staffing to maintain compliance or who did not give their compliance officers sufficient authority to discipline breaches of the adviser’s compliance policies and procedures.
  • Relatedly, OCIE observed advisers that failed to implement or perform actions required by the adviser’s policies and procedures, including failing to maintain up-to-date information and failing to perform required annual reviews or, if performed, failing to address identified deficiencies.
  • OCIE also found advisers that lacked written policies and procedures entirely or who implemented “off the shelf” policies and procedures that were not tailored to their business.

This risk alert serves as a good reminder that all investment advisers registered with the SEC must maintain tailored compliance policies and procedures, must devote adequate resources towards compliance and endow their compliance officers with authority to enforce the policies and procedures, must conduct an annual review of the policies and procedures, and must work to correct deficiencies in the policies and procedures as they are identified.

SEC Annual Enforcement Report. On November 2, 2020, the SEC Division of Enforcement published its Annual Report, which highlighted its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of its whistleblower program, and it’s continued focus on protecting “main street investors” and bringing actions against individuals (as opposed to just the organizations that employ them). 2020 also saw the SEC continue to police the digital asset arena. So far this year, the SEC brought a total of 715 enforcement actions (down from 862 actions in 2019) and obtained monetary judgments totaling 4.68 billion dollars (up from 4.35 billion dollars in 2019).

Federal Judge Grants SEC Preliminary Injunction Against Telegram. The SEC was granted a preliminary injunction against Telegram Group Inc. (“Telegram”) for an unregistered offering of securities under the Securities Act in connection with their sale of Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (“SAFTs”). The SEC argued, and the court agreed, that the initial sale of the SAFTs to investors and the subsequent sale by the investor of the tokens in the market was one continuous transaction, and thus Telegram’s SAFT sale was an unregistered sale of securities, and the SAFT investors were underwriters to that sale. The SEC argued that because the SAFTs did not require the purchasers to comply with holding periods applicable to the resale of restricted securities, it was a foregone conclusion that the SAFT investors purchased the SAFT with the intention to sell their tokens once received, and therefore Telegram was unable to rely on an offering exemption for the sale requiring the purchaser to not purchase with a view to reselling. Further, as the initial SAFT sale was not compliant with an exemption from registration, the SAFT investors would be unable to rely on Rule 144 or other applicable exemptions when reselling the tokens. As this was a district court case that was settled before appeal, it is not clear that the court’s ruling and analysis in this case would be used as precedent for subsequent cases, however the decision does call into question the suitability of SAFTs for both issuers and investors.

SEC Charges Investment Adviser with Late Filing of Schedule 13D Amendment. The SEC instituted cease-and-desist proceedings against an investment adviser for failure to promptly amend a Schedule 13D under Section 13(d)(2) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. The investment adviser caused its managed funds to acquire 7% of the outstanding stock of a healthcare company with the intention of taking the company private and filed a Schedule 13D as required. Subsequently, however, the investment adviser abandoned its efforts to take the company private and liquidated its positions, but failed to amend their Schedule 13D filing to reflect the change of intent and the sale of 1% or more of the healthcare company’s underlying stock promptly, doing so more than two months after the sale. Notably, the SEC brought this proceeding as an isolated action. It should serve as a warning that the SEC may institute disciplinary actions for failure to comply with mandatory reporting requirements, even for a single, late Schedule 13D filing. The SEC’s action is a reminder to all investment advisers filing Schedule 13D and 13G to monitor their beneficial ownership levels, reporting obligations, and internal compliance processes to ensure amendments to Schedule 13D and 13G are made within the appropriate time limits.

CFTC and NFA Updates.

CFTC Streamlines Form CPO-PQR. On October 6, 2020, the CFTC adopted amendments to Form CPO-PQR that “streamlined” the form and eliminated many of the prior reporting requirements by conforming the substantive and filing requirements of CFTC Form CPO-PQR with the NFA’s version of Form PQR, which registered CPOs also currently file. In addition, the amendments eliminate the “large”, “mid-sized,” and “small” CPO reporting threshold concept so that all registered CPOs will file the same Form CPO-PQR on a quarterly basis within sixty days of the end of the calendar quarter (as is already required by the NFA). Although the rule is effective December 10, 2020, the CFTC intends for the new form to be used starting with reporting related to Q1 2021. As such, the compliance date for the new form is May 30, 2021 (sixty days after March 31, 2021).

CFTC Revises, Broadens Rule 3.10(c)(3). On October 14, 2020, the CFTC adopted revisions to CFTC Rule 3.10(c)(3), which currently provides a registration exemption for a non-U.S. CPO that operates solely qualifying non-U.S. funds with non-U.S. investors. The revised Rule 3.10(c)(3) will:

  • apply on a “pool-by-pool” basis, allowing a CPO to rely on it for one or more qualifying non-U.S. pools while relying on different exemptions for other pools;
  • institute a safe harbor for unintended U.S. investments in a non-U.S. pool; provided, that the CPO (i) undertakes certain reasonable efforts (such as disclosures, subscription and other diligence measures, and controls on solicitation activities) to minimize the possibility of U.S. persons being solicited for, or sold, interests or shares in an offshore pool and (ii) maintains documentation adequate to demonstrate compliance with the safe harbor; and
  • allow seed investments in the relevant pool from qualifying U.S.-based affiliates of the non-U.S. CPO.

The new rules are effective February 5, 2021.

CFTC Adopts New Position Limits. On October 15, 2020, the CFTC adopted new rules regarding federal position limits for certain commodity interest contracts (“Referenced Contracts,” as defined in the new rules and discussed below). This is the CFTC’s latest attempt to adopt federal position limits, having had its last attempt set aside in court in 2012.

The new rules (i) modify existing spot month, single month, and all-months-combined position limits for Referenced Contracts regarding nine “legacy” agricultural commodities and (ii) impose new spot month position limits for Referenced Contracts regarding certain seven addition agricultural commodities, five metals commodities, and four energy commodities. Subject to certain exemptions, “Referenced Contracts” means specifically referenced futures contracts on the 25 commodities, futures contracts and options on futures contracts directly or indirectly linked to those specified contracts, and “economically equivalent swaps” (as defined in the new rules).

With respect to spot month limits, market participants cannot net cash-settled positions and physically-settled positions (although participants can net within those two categories). Other than for spot month limits, cash-settled and physically settled positions can be netted against each other.

The new rules also (i) establish an expedited regime for market participants to receive approval to exceed federal position limits; (ii) change the self-effecting, bona fide hedge exemption by, among other things, expanding the list of enumerated bona fide hedges; (iii) adopt a self-effecting “spread transaction” exemption; and (iv) clarify that market participants generally may hedge positions either on a gross basis or on a net basis, so long as the market participant does so consistently over time and in a manner that is not designed to evade the federal position limits.

The rules do not allow exchanges to set more lenient position limits than those adopted by the rules. However, with respect to commodity interest contracts that are not subject to the rules, the new rules grant exchanges greater flexibility to (i) set position limits or position accountability levels for those contracts and (ii) grant exemptions from those exchange-established limits.

Generally, the new rules will come into force on January 1, 2022, but certain of the rules will come into force on January 1, 2023.

Digital Asset Updates.

Department of Justice Releases Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework. The Cyber-Digital Task Force of the Attorney General released “Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework,” (the “Framework”) providing the Department of Justice’s (the “DOJ”) view of the threats and enforcement challenges associated with digital assets. The Framework outlines in detail the DOJ’s view of the threats posed by digital assets associated with crime, money laundering and the avoidance of tax, reporting and other legal requirements and the methods and techniques the various governmental agencies use to enforce federal law. The DOJ emphasized that for digital assets to reach their transformative potential, private industry, and regulators will need to work together to address these threats.

Coinbase Eliminated Margin Trading; Will Others Follow? As we previously discussed, the CFTC considers certain digital currencies (including Bitcoin and Ether) to be “commodities” within the definition of the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, as amended. In 2017, the CFTC took action against the Bitfinex platform 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. However, 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.

Based on its experience in that case, the CFTC proposed guidance regarding “actual delivery” of digital assets in late 2017, which it adopted as final on March 23, 2020 and began enforcing on September 22, 2020 (the “Guidance”). The Guidance stated that, in the CFTC’s view, “actual delivery” occurs when a customer has complete control over the asset.

On November 24, 2020, Coinbase announced that they are disabling margin trading on Coinbase Pro because they believe that retention of control over digital assets in accordance with the terms of a margin contract would cause them to violate the Guidance. In light of the difficultly in complying with this Guidance, Coinbase ceased the initiation of new margin trades as of November 25th, and will disable margin trading entirely once all existing margin positions have expired. Advisors that advise persons that are not “eligible contract participants” and that utilize margin trading as part of their trading of digital assets should consider how to alter their trading strategies in case more platforms follow Coinbase’s lead.

****

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

DeadlineFiling
December 14IARD Preliminary Renewal Statement payments due (submit early to ensure processing by deadline)
December 16Cayman Islands FATCA and CRS reporting deadlines
December 26Last day to submit form filings via IARD prior to year-end
December 31Review RAUM to determine 2020 Form PF filing requirement
December 31Small and mid-sized registered CPOs must submit a pool quarterly report (CPO-PQR)
December 31Cayman funds regulated by CIMA that intend to de-register (i.e., wind down or continue as an exempted fund) should do so before this date in order to avoid 2020 CIMA fees
January 11Amended Form 13H filing due if any information on the previously filed Form 13H became inaccurate during the prior quarter
January 15Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable)
January 31“Annex IV” AIFMD filing
February 16Form 13F due
February 16Annual Schedule 13G updates due
February 16Annual Form 13H updates due
March 1Deadline for re-certification of CFTC exemptions
March 1Quarterly Form PF due for larger hedge fund advisers (if applicable)
March 31Deadline to update and file Form ADV Parts 1, 2A & 2B
March 31Cayman Islands CRS Compliance Form deadline
PeriodicFund managers should perform “Bad Actor” certifications annually
PeriodicAmendment due on or before anniversary date of prior Form D and blue sky filing(s), as applicable, or for material changes
PeriodicCPO/CTA Annual Questionnaires must be submitted annually, and promptly upon material information changes

Please contact us with any questions or for assistance with any of the above topics. We wish you and yours a safe and healthy new year.

Sincerely,

Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon, Lilly Palmer, David Rothschild, & Scott Kitchens


Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a premier boutique investment management law firm, providing top-tier, responsive, and cost-effective legal solutions for financial services matters. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP services both start-up investment managers, as well as multi-billion-dollar firms. The firm provides a full suite of legal services to the investment management community, including hedge fund, private equity fund, venture capital fund, mutual fund formation, adviser registration, counterparty documentation, SEC, CFTC, NFA and FINRA matters, seed deals, hedge fund due diligence, employment and compensation matters, and routine business matters. The firm also publishes the prominent Hedge Fund Law Blog, which focuses on legal issues that impact the hedge fund community. For more information, please add us on LinkedIn and visit us at colefrieman.com.

2021 IA/BD Compliance Update

Aspect Advisors and Cole-Frieman & Mallon are excited to usher in our second annual compliance update, albeit in a virtual format this year.  [For a summary of our event last year, please go here.]

These past twelve months have been especially eventful from both a regulatory and business perspective, with both the traditional investment management space and the digital asset world experiencing a number of noteworthy progressions.  The event will address the following topics:  

  • 2021 compliance calendar (including Form ADV annual update)
  • Major issues from the SEC and courts in 2020
  • The year of Bitcoin and DeFi
  • Fintech regulations and best practices
  • Other hot topics

The event is on January 21, 2021 at 10am PT. You can register here.

Although virtual, we will have an opportunity for real time audience questions to help guide the discussion. We look forward to seeing you all then!

****

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.

Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption

As of July 15, 2017, the Colorado Division of Securities (“CDS”) adopted Rule 51-4.11(IA) of the Code of Colorado Regulations which exempts certain investment advisers whose sole clients are qualifying private funds from having to register with the state (the “Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption”). Investment advisers that meet the requirements of the Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption can file as an exempt reporting adviser (“ERA”) with the CDS. Previously, such investment advisers located in Colorado were required to register with the state. The Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption generally mirrors the SEC’s private fund adviser exemption and similar exemptions of other states; however, there are some important differences as discussed below.

Colorado Private Fund Adviser Requirements Generally.

In order to take advantage of the Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption, an investment adviser must:

  • provide investment advice solely to one or more “qualifying private funds” as defined by the SEC (generally, any private fund not registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, (e.g., a 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) fund));
  • not be subject to any “bad actor” disqualification events under Regulation D (this does not apply specifically to SEC ERAs);
  • file a report (generally, Part 1A of the Form ADV) and any amendments thereto required of an SEC ERA; and
  • pay the fees prescribed by the Colorado securities commissioner.

Additional Requirements for Certain 3(c)(1) Fund Advisers

Investment advisers to 3(c)(1) funds that are not “venture capital funds” (as defined by the SEC) (such 3(c)(1) fund, a “Non-VC 3(c)(1) Fund”) must also satisfy the following conditions with respect to each Non-VC 3(c)(1) Fund:

  • such Non-VC 3(c)(1) Fund’s securities may only be beneficially owned by persons who, after deducting the value of the primary residence from such person’s net worth, meet the qualified client definition (which deviates from the accredited investor threshold adopted by some states);
  • disclose the services, duties and other material information affecting the rights and responsibilities of each beneficial owner, if any; and
  • obtain and deliver annual audited financial statements to the Non-VC 3(c)(1) Fund’s investors.

Relief from “Gatekeeper” Requirement

Generally, Colorado investment advisers to pooled investment funds must engage an independent representative (a CPA or attorney) as a “gatekeeper” to review all fees, expenses and capital withdrawals from the pooled investment fund. However, an investment adviser availing of the Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption is not subject to this requirement and, thus, is not burdened with the obligation or expense to engage such third-party gatekeeper.

Transitioning to Registration and SEC Eligibility

Investment advisers no longer eligible for the Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption must register with the state within 90 days of such ineligibility. Moreover, once an adviser’s assets under management equals or exceeds $110 million as of an annual updating amendment to Form ADV, such adviser must file as an SEC ERA or register with the SEC, as applicable.

Conclusion

The Colorado Private Fund Adviser Exemption is a welcomed and useful exemption for Colorado private fund advisers. If you would like assistance in filing for the exemption or have any questions, please contact Scott Kitchens (415-762-2847) or Tony Wise (415-762-2863) at Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP’s Denver office.

****

Cole-Frieman & Mallon is a boutique law firm focused on providing institutional quality legal services to the investment management industry. Please contact us if you would like more information on this topic.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2020 Q3 Update

October 16, 2020

Clients, Friends, Associates:

We hope you have had an enjoyable summer. While the third quarter is typically quieter than the second quarter from a compliance perspective, we continue to see meaningful enforcement actions pursued by regulatory authorities. As we move into the fourth quarter, we want to provide an overview of items we hope will help you stay up to date with regulatory requirements.

****

SEC Matters

SEC Expands the “Accredited Investor” and “Qualified Institutional Buyer” Definitions. On August 26, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted amendments to the “accredited investor” definition under Rule 501(a) of Regulation D under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”), which include additional categories of natural persons or entities who may qualify as accredited investors. Notably, certain of the new categories will enable natural persons to qualify as accredited investors on the basis that they have the requisite ability to assess an investment opportunity based on measures of professional knowledge, experience or certifications, irrespective of whether these persons meet any income or net worth thresholds. The SEC also amended the “qualified institutional buyer” definition under Rule 144A of the Securities Act to include institutional investors contained in the accredited investor definition so long as they meet the $100 million in securities owned and invested threshold. The amendments were published in the Federal Register on October 9, 2020 and will become effective within 60 days after such publication (i.e., December 8, 2020). Managers should review their fund documents to determine which documents will need to be updated to include the amendments to the accredited investor definition. Our recent blog post addresses FAQs we have received on the updated definition.

Private Funds Risk Alert. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published a Risk Alert identifying commonly observed key deficiencies in OCIE’s examinations of advisers to private funds. Notably, OCIE found investors in private funds may have paid more in fees and expenses as a result of these deficiencies, which included inaccurate allocations of fees and expenses, failures to value client assets in accordance with valuation policies and failures to track, apply and/or calculate fees received from portfolio companies (whether or not such fees were used to offset management fees received by the adviser). OCIE also highlighted inadequate conflicts of interest disclosures, finding that many advisers did not provide investors with sufficient detail regarding conflicts related to allocation of investments among the adviser’s clients and conflicts related to investments in the same portfolio company made by multiple clients of an adviser and co-investments. Managers should review their allocation policies as well as disclosures regarding potential allocations of investments among clients to ensure that adequate and clear disclosures are included. 

Reg BI FAQ Updated with Guidance for Broker-Dealers When Using “Adviser/Advisor”. In response to confusion raised by broker-dealers, the SEC has indicated in a handful of recent updates to its FAQs regarding Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) that a broker-dealer generally may not use the term “adviser” or “advisor” to refer to itself unless it is registered as an investment adviser (an “RIA”), subject to certain limited exceptions. The SEC’s responses included examples of common situations when broker-dealers typically may refer to themselves as “advisers” or “advisors” when not so registered, including when such broker-dealer is acting in a role defined by statute such as a municipal advisor or commodity trading advisor. Reg BI’s disclosure obligation requires in-scope broker-dealers and investment advisers to disclose to retail customers all material facts relating to the nature and terms of the relationship between them as well as all material facts relating to conflicts of interest that are associated with the recommendation. As discussed in our previous update, compliance with Reg BI was required as of June 30, 2020. Given the nascence of the Reg BI requirements we expect the SEC to continue updating the Reg BI FAQs to address other common confusion or Reg BI deficiencies identified in examinations of investment advisers and broker-dealers.

SEC Charges CA Adviser for Misappropriating Client Funds. In a recent enforcement action, the SEC charged a California adviser with violating the antifraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, the Securities Act and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”). The SEC alleges that during the adviser’s association with other SEC-registered firms, the adviser acted alone and through his company to misappropriate client funds (including the sale of client securities and diverting the proceeds for his use) and make other material misrepresentations and omissions. The SEC’s complaint further alleges that the adviser actively took steps to conceal his misconduct from existing and future advisory clients, including forging a letter from his client indicating that the client had gifted him the misappropriated funds. The adviser further failed to disclose to prospective clients that his affiliation with one of the SEC-registered firms had been terminated for stealing client funds. While the alleged conduct is particularly egregious, this action serves as a reminder that investment advisers owe their advisory clients a fiduciary duty to place the clients’ interest ahead of their own and to disclose all material facts to the clients about their investment. 

SEC Charges Fund Adviser with Antifraud Violations. The SEC was granted emergency relief to stop an RIA (and its sole individual owner) from continuing to offer interests in a private fund it managed and destroying documents which may contain evidence of fraudulent conduct. In soliciting investors for the fund, the SEC alleges that the RIA not only misrepresented the fund’s past performance, the amount of assets managed and the owner’s experience as a portfolio manager, but also falsified brokerage records and investor account statements, and sent fake audit opinions to investors and third parties. As an example of the fraudulent conduct, the SEC’s complaint alleges that a document provided to the fund’s investors and potential investors showed 37 months of positive monthly performance when the fund actually had approximately 26 months of negative monthly performance during the applicable time period. The SEC charged the RIA and its owner with violating the antifraud provisions of federal securities laws and charged the individual owner with aiding and abetting the RIA’s violations of the Advisers Act. The SEC is seeking injunctions, disgorgement of allegedly ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest and financial penalties.

SEC Brings Action Against Manager for Expense Disclosure and Allocation Failures. In a recent enforcement action demonstrating the SEC’s continued scrutiny of the adequacy of fund managers’ expense disclosures and expense allocation procedures, the SEC censured a Florida-based RIA for failing to properly disclose and allocate to the applicable funds the expenses of “third party tasks” performed by the RIA “in-house.” The SEC cited the firm for failing to properly allocate these expenses between the applicable funds and co-investment vehicles managed alongside the funds, resulting in the funds being charged more than their pro rata share of the costs and expenses of reimbursing the firm for the third party tasks. In violation of the Advisers Act, the SEC found that the firm failed to adopt any written policies and procedures reasonably designed to properly disclose, calculate and allocate such that third party task expenses. Managers should review their fund documents and consider whether they sufficiently disclose expenses borne by the applicable fund as well as whether the manager has adequate policies and procedures in place regarding allocating expenses between the applicable fund and other funds or clients of the manager.

SEC Charges NY Firm and CCO for Compliance Failures. The SEC recently censured a dually-registered investment adviser and broker-dealer firm and its chief compliance officer (“CCO”) for failing to adhere to written policies and procedures implemented to remedy deficiencies discovered in a previous examination of the firm’s compliance program. The SEC further found that the CCO not only failed to conduct the monthly compliance reviews required under the program, but also altered monthly review documents that were provided to the SEC in a subsequent examination to give the appearance that the reviews had been conducted during the period covered by the SEC’s examination. To settle the charges, the firm and CCO paid a penalty of $1,745,000 and agreed to cease and desist from committing future violations of the antifraud provisions of the Advisers Act. The CCO was also barred from associating with any broker-dealer or investment adviser, subject to a right to reapply for association in the future, and prohibited from serving or acting as an employee or similar of an advisory board, investment adviser or depositor of, or principal underwriter for, a registered investment company, or an affiliated person of such investment adviser, depositor or principal underwriter.

****

Offshore Matters

Cayman Islands Amends the Private Funds Law. On July 7, 2020, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (“CIMA”) further amended the Cayman Islands Private Funds Law 2020 (the “PF Law”) to expand the definition of a private fund (“Private Fund”), thereby extending the scope of the PF Law to additional closed-ended entities which must now register with CIMA. The revised definition provides that a Private Fund is any company, unit trust or partnership that offers or issues (or has issued) investment interests to investors with the aim of providing such investors profits or gains from investments; provided that, (i) the investors do not have day-to-day control of the entity’s investments and (ii) the investments are managed by or on behalf of the entity’s operator. The PF Law also specifies narrow categories of persons or any non-fund arrangements that are not included in the Private Fund definition and, thus, do not need to register with CIMA. Entities that now fall under the Private Fund definition were required to register with CIMA by August 7, 2020. Managers of Cayman Islands closed-ended vehicles that have not registered with CIMA should discuss this matter with counsel. 

BVI Financial Services Commission Issues Guidance on Digital Assets. On July 13, 2020, the British Virgin Islands (“BVI”) Financial Services Commission (“FSC”) issued guidance clarifying the regulatory framework applicable to digital assets. The guidance, which is part of the FSC’s burgeoning regulation of digital assets and investment activities related to digital assets, clarifies the types of digital asset products that may be captured under the Securities and Investment Business Act, 2010 (“SIBA”), either (i) when the products are initially issued or (ii) when the products are in the hands of a holder or the subject of a regulated investment activity after issuance. The guidance provides an illustrative table of the types of digital asset products that may be regulated under SIBA, although additional analysis may be required for certain types of digital asset products, such as digital assets that create an entitlement to shares, interests or debentures. The FSC is allowing a 6-month compliance period from the date of publication during which any relevant entity may submit an application for the applicable license or certificate. If a digital asset product falls within the definition of an “investment” under SIBA, persons carrying on an investment business activity with respect to such digital asset products will need to be licensed with the FSC by January 13, 2021. Managers should review and consider whether they are or may be engaged in any regulated investment activities in or from within the BVI such that a license from the FSC is required.

****

Digital Asset Matters

INX Launches First SEC-Approved Blockchain IPO. INX Ltd., a Gibraltar-based company (“INX”), launched the first SEC-registered token IPO after the SEC declared that the registration statement relating to the offering of INX’s security tokens was effective on August 20, 2020. INX will allow investors to purchase INX tokens with certain cryptocurrencies and stablecoins as well as the U.S. dollar as it raises funds to further develop a multiservice digital asset platform aimed at providing its customers with a single entry-point for the trading of cryptocurrencies, security tokens and their derivatives. INX notes that INX tokens have both security and utility benefits for their holders: (i) as a security, by entitling the holders to a mandatory profit share of INX’s profit and a liquidation preference and (ii) as a utility, by providing a discount on transaction fees charged via INX’s platform when used to pay the fees and when used for staking on INX’s platform. 

ConsenSys Acquires Quorum, JP Morgan’s Blockchain Platform. ConsenSys, a blockchain software company, recently announced its acquisition of Quorum, an enterprise-variant of the Ethereum blockchain developed by J.P. Morgan. Through the acquisition, ConsenSys seeks to increase the availability of Quorum’s features and capabilities, such as digital asset functionality and document management, by offering a range of products, services and support for Quorum, which will become interoperable with other blockchain products offered by ConsenSys. J.P. Morgan, which also made a strategic investment in ConsenSys in connection with the acquisition, will become a customer of ConsenSys and will utilize the advanced features and services ConsenSys will provide for Quorum. J.P. Morgan’s development of Quorum and its partnership with ConsenSys are additional examples of the growing institutional adoption of blockchain technology and acceptance of digital assets. 

SEC Charges Virginia-based Issuer of Unregistered ICO. In a recent enforcement action, the SEC found that a company and its CEO conducted an unregistered initial coin offering (“ICO”) in connection with its development of a platform to link employers and freelancers. The company raised approximately $5 million in the ICO, selling 125 million tokens to approximately 1,500 investors. The SEC found that the tokens were “securities” under the Howey Test since an investor would have had a reasonable expectation of profit based upon the company’s efforts. Therefore, the tokens could have only been sold through a registered offering or under an exemption from registration requirements. The order also describes the company’s and the CEO’s misrepresentations related to the technical capabilities of the platform and the stability and security of the tokens. The company was ordered to disgorge the monies raised in the ICO and to pay pre-judgment interest of over $600,000. The CEO was individually required to pay a penalty of $150,000, and was barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company and from participating in future offerings of digital asset securities.

****

CFTC Matters

CFTC Prohibits Regulation 4.13 CPO Exemptions to Certain Persons Subject to Statutory Disqualifications. The CFTC approved a final rule amendment to Regulation 4.13 of the Commodity Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “CEA”), which prohibits a person from claiming an exemption from registration as a commodity pool operator (“CPO”) pursuant to Regulation 4.13 if the person or any of its principals are subject to any of the statutory disqualifications listed in Section 8a(2) of the CEA (the “Covered Statutory Disqualifications”). Previously a person claiming an exemption under Regulation 4.13, which includes the often-used “de minimis exemption” pursuant to Regulation 4.13(a)(3), was not required to represent that it was not subject to a Covered Statutory Disqualification to qualify for such exemption. Notably, the changes are not applicable to family office CPOs claiming the exemption under Regulation 4.13(a)(6). The amendment became effective on August 4, 2020. After the effective date, persons who wish to claim an exemption under Regulation 4.13 will need to represent that neither they nor their principals are subject to the Covered Statutory Disqualifications. For a CPO relying on an exemption prior to the effective date, the CFTC has determined not to mandate compliance until March 1, 2021, which is also the deadline for CPOs to file an annual reaffirmation notice for continued reliance on an exemption. As such, firms that wish to claim or reaffirm an exemption under Regulation 4.13, with the exception family office CPOS, will need to determine whether any of their principals have a Covered Statutory Disqualification in their background.  

****

Other Matters

Form BE-180 Requirement for U.S. Managers and Funds. The Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce (the “BEA”) requires certain U.S. Financial Service Providers (including investment advisers, funds and their general partners) that engaged in a financial services transaction with a foreign person during their 2019 fiscal year to file a report on Form BEA-180 (the “Form”). This requirement will apply to any of our U.S.-based clients that are investment advisers or general partners to an offshore fund, and certain other clients as well. The Form is a 5-year benchmark survey and the deadline to file the Form electronically is October 30, 2020.

The Form requires additional transaction-specific information from Financial Service Providers that either sold financial services to foreign persons in excess of $3,000,000, or purchased financial services from foreign persons in excess of $3,000,000. Please note that sales and purchases are calculated separately, meaning if a Financial Service Provider exceeds the threshold with respect to sales but not purchases, the requirement to provide additional transaction-specific information on the Form would only apply with respect to sales transactions.

Please see our previous post for more information as to who is considered a “Financial Service Provider” and what types of transactions are covered, as well as common scenarios that may apply to some of our clients.

****

CFM Events

In early September our own Bart Mallon hosted a discussion forum with panelists from tax, compliance and legal firms which explored issues currently affecting digital asset managers, including among others DeFi, custody and regulatory developments. You can find a useful recap of the event on our blog. Later in the month, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP also co-sponsored a very well received fireside chat with Matthew Goetz of BlockTower Capital, in the second of an ongoing series of CoinAlts Fund Symposium webinars.

****

Compliance Calendar Please note the following important dates as you plan your regulatory compliance timeline for the coming months.

DeadlineFiling
September 30Review holdings to determine Form PF filing requirements.
October 13Amendment to Form 13H due if there were changes during Q3.
October 15SEC deadline to file 3rd Quarter 2020 Form PF for quarterly filers (Large Liquidity Fund Advisers), through PFRD.
October 15*Extended deadline to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).
October 30Form BE-180 due for managers and funds filing electronically to report sales or purchases to foreign persons for covered financial transactions, through BEA eFile
October 30Registered CPOs must distribute (i) monthly account statements to pool participants (pools with net asset value of more than $500,000) and (ii) quarterly account statements to pool participants (pools with net asset value less than $500,000 or CPOs claiming the 4.7 exemption).
October 30Registered investment advisers must collect access persons’ personal securities transactions.
November 14National Futures Association (“NFA”) deadline to file Form PR for registered CTAs. through NFA EasyFile.
November 16Investment adviser firms may view, print and pay preliminary notice filings for all appropriate states, through IARD.
November 16SEC deadline to file Form 13F for 3rd Quarter of 2020.
November 16*Cayman Islands FATCA and CRS reporting deadlines.
November 29Form CPO-PQR due for CPOs, through NFA EasyFile.
December 14Deadline for paying annual IARD charges and state renewal fees, through IARD.
December 31Cayman funds regulated by CIMA that intend to de-register (i.e. wind down or continue as an exempted fund) should do so before this date in order to avoid 2021 CIMA fees.
PeriodicFund Managers should perform “Bad Actor” certifications annually.
PeriodicForm D and Blue Sky filings should be current.
PeriodicCPO/CTA Annual Questionnaires must be submitted annually, and promptly upon material information changes, through the NFA Annual Questionnaire system.
*Extended deadline pursuant to COVID-19 pandemic-related relief

Please contact us with any questions or for assistance with any of the above topics.

Sincerely,

Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon, Lilly Palmer, David Rothschild, & Scott Kitchens

****

Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a premier boutique investment management law firm, providing top-tier, responsive, and cost-effective legal solutions for financial services matters. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP services both start-up investment managers, as well as multi-billion-dollar firms. The firm provides a full suite of legal services to the investment management community, including hedge fund, private equity fund, venture capital fund, mutual fund formation, adviser registration, counterparty documentation, SEC, CFTC, NFA and FINRA matters, seed deals, hedge fund due diligence, employment and compensation matters, and routine business matters. The firm also publishes the prominent Hedge Fund Law Blog, which focuses on legal issues that impact the hedge fund community. For more information, please add us on LinkedIn and visit us at colefrieman.com

Mandatory BEA Form BE-180 Benchmark Survey of Financial Services Transactions – Deadline Fast Approaching

The Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce (the “BEA”) requires certain U.S. Financial Service Providers (including investment advisers, funds and their general partners) that engaged in a financial services transaction with a foreign person during their 2019 fiscal year to file a report on Form BEA-180 (the “Form”). This requirement will apply to any of our U.S.-based clients that are investment advisers or general partners to an offshore fund, and certain other clients as well. Some of our clients may have been notified to complete this Form directly by the BEA, however even clients who have not been contacted may be required to submit the Form.

The Form is a 5-year benchmark survey and the deadline to file the Form electronically is October 30, 2020. Please note the deadline of September 30, 2020 for paper filers has passed. The Form requires additional transaction-specific information from Financial Service Providers that either sold financial services to foreign persons in excess of $3,000,000, or purchased financial services from foreign persons in excess of $3,000,000. Please note that sales and purchases are calculated separately, meaning if a Financial Service Provider exceeds the threshold with respect to sales but not purchases, the requirement to provide additional transaction-specific information on the Form would only apply with respect to sales transactions.

“Financial Service Provider” is broadly defined by the BEA and includes domestic investment advisers, funds and their general partners. Examples of covered financial services transactions include brokerage services, financial management services and security lending services. A direct investment in a foreign person is not a covered financial services transaction, however brokerage fees to a foreign person tied to underwriting the transaction, for example, do qualify as a covered financial service transaction if the purchase occurred in 2019. More information about each category of covered financial services transactions may be found in Section VI of the Form’s instructions.

If the BEA has contacted a Financial Service Provider directly, it must complete the Form even if it has no transactions to report.

We have outlined below a few common scenarios that may apply to our clients:

Management Company

A domestic investment adviser or general partner that receives fees (including management and/or performance fees) from an offshore investment fund must complete the Form. Depending on the offshore fund structure, a management company may receive a fee either from the offshore fund itself, or directly from the underlying foreign investors in the offshore fund. In either example, the offshore fund and the underlying foreign investors, as applicable, are “foreign persons” and the investment adviser’s services are “financial services transactions” for purposes of the Form. Management companies should only report fees received from foreign investors in a U.S. fund if the fee is charged directly to a foreign investor, rather than charged to the U.S. fund itself.

Domestic Fund

If a domestic fund has engaged in any covered financial services transactions with foreign persons, the fund may also need to complete the Form.

We would like to note for our clients that entities in a parent-subsidiary relationship may be able to file as a consolidated domestic U.S. enterprise. The parent-subsidiary relationship turns on whether one entity owns more than 50% of the other’s voting securities, and the instructions specifically state that for a limited partnership, the general partner is presumed to control and have a 100% voting interest unless there is a clause to the contrary in the limited partnership agreement. As such, it is likely that many of our clients will be able to report as a consolidated enterprise, completing just one Form for the general partner and domestic fund, as applicable (and filing a separate Form on behalf of the investment adviser in bifurcated management company structures).

Failure to submit the Form or comply with any of its reporting requirements may result in a civil penalty between $2,500 and $25,000 and/or injunctive relief. Further criminal penalties may arise upon willful violation of the reporting requirements under this Form.

The Form must be submitted via the BEA’s e-filing system here, and the paper copy can be found here (for reference only). Please contact us if you have any questions as to your requirements.

Expanded Accredited Investor Definition FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About New Accredited Investor Definition

There has been much discussion about the recent amendments to the “accredited investor” definition adopted on August 26, 2020 (the “Amendments”) by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). We have provided a more detailed overview of all the Amendments here, but wanted to address many of the common questions we are receiving from clients specifically regarding the Amendments to the accredited investor definition. Please send us any other questions and we will update the below as they come in…

****

Will a person who is a contractor to the management company or fund qualify as an accredited investor now?

The Amendments provide that a “knowledgeable employee” (as defined in Rule 3c-5(a)(4) of the Investment Company Act of 1940) of a 3(c)(1) or 3(c)(7) fund will now be considered an accredited investor. We have been asked by a few clients whether this expanded definition includes contractors. Because the definition of a knowledgeable employee does not include contractors and has not been altered by the Amendments or otherwise, contractors do not currently qualify as accredited investors under this expanded definition.

What about the professional certification designation?

A natural person holding at least one professional certification or designation or credential in good standing from a qualifying educational institution will now be considered an accredited investor.

To determine whether an investor meets this criteria, the SEC will consider: (i) whether the certification, designation or credential results from an examination or series of examinations administered by a self-regulatory organization, other industry body or accredited educational institution; (ii) whether the examination(s) are reliably designed to demonstrate an individual’s comprehension and sophistication in the areas of securities and investing; (iii) whether an investor obtaining such certification, designation or credential can reasonably be expected to have sufficient knowledge and experience in financial and business matters to evaluate the merits and risks of a prospective investment; and (iv) whether it is publicly made available by the self-regulatory organization or other industry body (or is otherwise independently verifiable) that an investor holds the certification, designation or credential.

The professional certifications, designations or credentials currently recognized by the SEC to satisfy this criterion will be posted on the SEC’s website. One important item to note is that an investor does not need to practice in the field(s) related to the certification, designation or credential to meet the good standing requirement, except to the extent that continued affiliation with a firm is required to maintain such certification, designation or credential.

What has prompted this modernization of the accredited investor definition?

Whether an investor meets the definition of an accredited investor has been one of the most important considerations when determining whether an investor is eligible to invest in private capital markets. The primary purpose of this qualification has been to determine whether an investor based solely on an investor’s income or net worth (because they presumably would be able to withstand a loss in the investment). The effects of the limited tests have prevented many investors from partaking in private capital markets, regardless of their actual financial sophistication. Thus, after years of discussions, the SEC has expanded the accredited investor definition to provide new measures of determining financial sophistication that more holistically determine financial sophistication. These Amendments should decrease the economic barrier-to-entry in our private capital markets and result in the participation of newly qualified accredited investors with more diverse backgrounds.

When do the Amendments become effective?

The Amendments will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. As of the date we are posting this FAQ, the Amendments have not yet been posted to the Federal Register.

What kind of legal documents need to be updated to reflect the Amendments?

The accredited investor definition is used in many different legal documents in many different contexts so the the exact document that will need to be revised or updated will depend on the facts of the situation.

In the private fund context, the Amendments will generally only trigger necessary updates to the private fund subscription documents. While the “old” language is still accurate, it does not encompass all potential accredited investor categories so the language could still be used once the Amendments are effective but will not encompass all categories of potential accredited investor.

Once the Amendments are posted to the Federal Register, we will reach out to our clients to discuss updating their subscription documents.

Do the Amendments change the type of investor a California Exempt Reporting Adviser (“CA ERA”) may charge performance fees from?

No. The private fund adviser exemption in California, which is available only to advisers who provide advice solely to “qualifying private funds”, only permits CA ERAs to charge performance fees to “qualified clients”, as defined in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The Amendments do not change this limitation.

****

Cole-Frieman & Mallon is a boutique law firm focused on providing institutional quality legal services to the investment management industry. For more information on this topic, please contact us.

Recap of Crypto Discussion Forum

On September 2nd we held our crypto discussion forum where we discussed legal, tax and compliance issues related to the digital asset space. The below is a quick recap the event from panelist Justin Schleifer of Aspect Advisors. We’ll keep updating everyone through this blog on future events as well.

****

Thank you for attending our “Cryptocurrency and Digital Asset Forum: Trends in Legal, Tax, and Compliance” webinar last week. I would also like to extend many thanks to my fellow panelists, Ryan David Williams of Ashbury Legal and Nick Cerasuolo of Blockchain Tax Partners, and to Bart Mallon of Cole-Frieman & Mallon for hosting.

We had a very interesting and lively interactive discussion about putting crypto investments to work through yield and lending, and DeFi implications including market-making, governance and custody issues.

Here are my favorite tidbits from the various speakers:

Each state has their own regulations as well, and everyone is on different parts of the learning curve. People have to address the nuances of each individual state. States may not agree with the idea of a custodian. DeFi is just way out there for them. They’re still on this idea of what is a custodian in the crypto space? Just getting over that hurdle has proven to be very difficult. – Bart

With the advent of crypto/blockchain, we almost went back in time because are used to dealing with USD. It’s obvious when something is taxable. Crypto took us back to the stone age where we’re back to barter model; property for property (BTC for ETH). You have transactions that don’t involve fiat at all. Tax event triggers are traps for the unwary. It’s not always obvious when a transaction is taxable. – Nick

Insider trading is absolutely an issue in this industry, and it’s getting more nuanced. Firms in the venture capital space get involved with companies on working on their protocols and Dapps. You can very well come in contact with all types of MNPI, so both sides must evaluate what is material or public. You have to restrict yourself in certain areas and not commit to certain trading activities. – Justin

There was a fantasy that once you achieve decentralization, laws are gone. This is an ethos that a decentralized exchange doesn’t need KYC/AML. We are now dispelled of that notion (i.e. the SEC went after the founder of a crypto exchange). The CFTC has also said they will go after software developers. This is the concept of causing a violation of securities law. The expectation of profits is based on the efforts of others. The manager is doing all the work, but what do we do when there is no sponsor and the work is done by community participants? We haven’t finalized this yet. ETH is officially decentralized, so it doesn’t make sense to apply traditional securities laws. – Ryan

If you (or your friends or colleagues) would like to review any of the webinar content, please email Amanda Brown for a link to the recording. If you have any questions about any of the above topics, please reach out to any of our panelists.

We hope you enjoyed this event and if you have any feedback, we would love to hear from you. We look forward to seeing you at our next event!

Best regards, Justin Schleifer

****

Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first cryptocurrency focused hedge funds. If there are any questions on this post, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

Crypto Discussion Forum Tomorrow!

Tax, Compliance and Legal for the Digital Asset Space – Ask Your Questions

Tomorrow, September 2nd, at 10am PT we will be hosting an open question and answer discussion forum on issues affecting the digital asset space. We have a number of interesting topics to explore from the legal, tax and compliance side including:

  • Yield and lending trends and consequences
  • DeFi, DeFi, DeFi
  • Market Making
  • Custody
  • Regulatory update and what this means for different groups (managers, stakers, custodians, etc)

Speakers include:

  • Bart Mallon, Cole-Frieman & Mallon
  • Ryan David Williams, Ashbury Legal
  • Justin Schleifer, Aspect Advisors
  • Nick Cerasuolo, Blockchain Tax Partners

To register for forum, please go here.

To submit a question, please go here

Look forward to seeing you then!

****

Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Cole-Frieman & Mallon is a boutique law firm focused on providing institutional quality legal services to the investment management industry. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

SEC Expands Definition of Accredited Investor

New definition to be effective before end of year

On August 26, 2020, the SEC Commissioners voted to adopt amendments to expand the definition of “accredited investor” and “qualified institutional buyer”. Historically the test for accredited investor status was only based on a person’s income or net worth but has now been expanded in a limited fashion to include persons with certain financial designations. The amendments will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected within 1-2 weeks. Below we have highlighted the applicable updates and we will continue to provide information on this topic as it develops.

For more information, please also see the SEC Press Release and Fact Sheet.

Accredited Investor Definition Update

Individuals

With respect to individuals, the following will now also be accredited investors:

(1) individuals with certain qualifying professional certifications, designations and other credentials (currently includes Series 7, Series 65, and Series 82 licensed individuals); and

(2) individuals who are “knowledgeable employees” (which expands the definition from only certain directors, executive officers, etc).

For individuals, the amendments also clarify that natural persons may include the income from “spousal equivalents” for the purposes of calculating joint income and net worth. “Spousal equivalent” is generally defined as a cohabitant occupying a relationship generally equivalent to that of a spouse. 

Entities

With respect to entities, the following will now also qualify as accredited investors:

(1) SEC and state-registered investment advisers;

(2) rural business investment companies;

(3) limited liability companies with total assets in excess of $5 million and not formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the securities offered;

(4) entities owning “investments,” as defined in Rule 2a51-1(b) of the Act, in excess of $5 million [note: the intent of this category (4) entities meeting an investments-owned test is to include Native American tribes and other federal, state, territorial, and local government bodies within the accredited investor definition]; and

(5) family offices with at least $5 million in assets under management and their family clients.

Qualified Institutional Buyer Definition Update

Along with the accredited investor update, the definition of “qualified institutional buyer” in Rule 144A will be updated to include entities and any institutional investors that meet the $100 million in securities owned and invested threshold. The scope of the new amendments include Native American tribes, governmental bodies, and bank-maintained collective investment trusts.  

Conclusion

While these changes are incremental rather than radical, they are a step in the right direction and hopefully portend further expansion of the definition to allow greater access to the private capital markets. Those parties (investment managers and private placement sponsors) who want to take advantage of the expanded definition will need to speak with legal counsel about updating applicable subscription documents. We will be providing further updates on timing and other matters as they develop.

****

Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Cole-Frieman & Mallon is a boutique law firm focused on providing institutional quality legal services to the investment management industry. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.