Author Archives: Hedge Fund Lawyer

Pandemic Legal & Regulatory Updates for Investment Managers

COVID-19 Investment Management Related Updates

Below is our compilation of communications that are relevant to investment managers. Please let us know if you are looking for additional information and we will strive to update this as time goes on. Stay safe and sane – CFM 4/14/20

****

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). On March 27, Congress passed the $2 Trillion CARES Act, the largest financial relief bill in history, aimed at providing financial assistance to businesses and individuals to alleviate the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis.  A core focus of the CARES Act is $350 billion in financial aid for small businesses through federal loans under a new Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”). Here is our post on highlights of the program in regards to financial relief for small businesses.

SEC Regulatory Relief for Funds and Investment Advisers Affected by COVID-19. The SEC announced it will provide conditional relief to investment advisers and investment funds affected by COVID-19. In particular, the SEC order grants relief for investment advisers from certain Form ADV and Form PF filing obligations. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 to transportation, access to facilities, support staff and the ability for gatherings, among other things, may prevent or delay investment advisers and investment funds from meeting regulatory obligations. As a result, registered investment advisers (“RIAs”) and exempt reporting advisers (“ERAs”) affected by COVID-19 can expect conditional relief regarding the filing of amendments to Form ADV and reports on Form ADV part 1A, respectively. Further, the order provides conditional relief for RIAs affected by COVID-19 in regards to delivery of amended brochures, brochure supplements or summaries of material changes to clients where the disclosures are not able to be timely delivered. Private fund advisers affected by COVID-19 can also expect relief from Form PF filing requirements. For an entity seeking reliance upon the conditional relief, the SEC order requires a statement of notification to Commission staff (promptly via email to the SEC at [email protected]) of the intention to rely upon the order and the disclosure of information in the form of a brief description by the adviser of the reasons why it could not file or deliver its Form ADV or Form PF on time. Clients and investors of the adviser must also be notified. Disclosure in regards to reliance upon the order for Form PF filings should be made promptly via email to the SEC at [email protected]. The order requires filing Form ADV and/or Form PF, as applicable, as soon as practicable, but not later than 45 days from the original deadline. The Commission and the staff are continuing to assess the impacts and will be considering further relief designed to help funds and advisers to continue operations and meet regulatory deadlines. For general questions or concerns related to impacts of coronavirus on the operations or compliance of funds and advisers, please contact us.

CFTC Extended Deadlines Due to COVID-19. The CFTC has extended deadlines for Commodity Pool Operators (“CPOs”) in light of recent world events, most notably the COVID-19 global pandemic. The extensions only apply to CPOs which have reporting obligations, generally this means fully registered CPOs and those subject to Rule 4.7 relief. Moreover, these extensions only apply to CPOs “where compliance is anticipated to be particularly challenging or impossible because of displacement of registrant personnel from their normal business sites…in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The extension applies to (i) Form CPO-PQR where small and mid-size filers must file their annual Form CPO-PQR by May 15, 2020 and large filers (who were already expected to deliver the annual Form CPO-PQR) may file their Q1 2020 Form CPO-PQR by July 15, 2020; (ii) Pool annual reports under CFTC Rule 4.7(b)(3) and 4.22(c), such annual reports were originally due on April 30, 2020 but the extension allows CPOs to deliver these annual reports to the NFA and pool participants no later than 45 days after the original due date of April 30, 2020 (note: CPOs may also seek up to an additional 180 days from the end of their fiscal year to file under the “hardship” provisions of CFTC Rule 4.22(f); and (iii) Periodic account statements under Commission Regulations 4.7(b)(2) or 4.22(b), these monthly or quarterly reports for periods ending on or before April 30, 2020 may be delivered to pool participants within 45 days after the end of the reporting period. Such relief by the CFTC is not without conditions – if CPOs do indeed rely on such extensions they must: (i) Establish and maintain a sufficient supervisory system reasonably designed to supervise the activities of personnel while working from alternative or remote locations during the COVID-19 pandemic; and (ii) return to ordinary compliance with all CFTC rules covered by the relief as the COVID-19 pandemic abates. Moreover, CPOs should thoroughly document the activation and application of any relevant business continuity policy in response to COVID-19 as the matter could easily become an item of interest on future NFA exams.

Investment Management Firms May Be Considered Essential Financial Businesses Under Federal Guidance and State Orders. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) lists asset management as a vital component of our nation’s critical infrastructure. As the federal risk advisor, CISA created guidance to help state and local governments ensure that employees essential to operations are able to continue working. In consideration of CISA’s guidance, whether or not investment management firms would be considered essential financial businesses may depend upon each State’s directives. Generally, the best practice for firms moving forward is to require workers to telework or work-from-home if possible, but allow supporting personnel to continue selective operations in the office in order to ensure the firm’s continued operation.Please see our post for a state-by-state analysis of the exceptions provided in each States’ executive orders regarding essential business activities in light of the COVID-19 public emergency response.

SEC Update to Form ADV and Custody Rule FAQs, Relating to “Work From Home”. Two circumstances are at the forefront of this update, where 1) advisers might otherwise be required to identify home offices as places of business on the Form ADV; and 2) advisers may inadvertently receive securities from clients at an office location at which the advisers’ personnel may not have access to mail or deliveries. In regards to the first circumstance, the SEC FAQ indicates it would not take action against advisers who do not update Item 1F of Part 1A or Section 1F of Schedule D of their Form ADVs to represent remote/home offices from which employees are working as additional offices, unless the remote office arrangement (other than one’s principal office and place of business) is unrelated to the firm’s business and continuity plan. In regards to the second circumstance, under the Custody Rule, an investment adviser that inadvertently receives client funds or securities are required to return such securities to the client within three to five business days; otherwise, such adviser may be deemed to have custody of such securities. The SEC has revised the Custody Rule such that client assets are not considered received until firm personnel are able to access the mail or deliveries. As with most conditional relief provided by the SEC in light of COVID-19, the adviser must be unable to access mail or deliveries as a result of the circumstances caused by COVID-19.

NFA Relief for Commodity Pool Operators, Relating to “Work from Home”. Commodity pool operators (“CPO”), commodity trading advisors (“CTA”), and other NFA members implementing contingencies pursuant to their business continuity plans that permit employees, including registered Associated Persons (“APs”), to work from home, will not be subject to disciplinary action relating to the requirements that firms list as a branch office on its Form 7-R any location other than the main business address and that each branch office must have a branch office manager in compliance with Rule 2-7 that requires successful completion of the Series 30, Branch Manager Examination. The relief requires that the CPO or CTA implement and clearly document alternative supervisory methods and activities, especially surrounding recordkeeping requirements.

FINRA Pandemic-Related BCP, Guidance and Regulatory Relief, Relating to Regulatory Filings, “Work from Home”, Cybersecurity, and Forms U4 and BR. Member firms experiencing complications resulting from COVID-19 should contact their Risk Monitoring Analysists or relevant FINRA department to seek extensions. FINRA may waive late fees and provide conditional relief based on the member firm’s circumstances. As discussed earlier, firms are reminded to review, revaluate, and update their BCPs in consideration of pandemic preparedness. FINRA member firms are encouraged to contact their assigned FINRA Risk Monitoring Analyst to discuss the implementation of their BCPs, as well as challenges in such implementation, including disruption of business operations. In regards to remote offices or telework arrangements, FINRA expects member firms to maintain a supervisory system that is designed to supervise the activities of each associated person working remotely. FINRA further recommends steps to reduce the risk of a cybersecurity breach, including: “(1) ensuring that virtual private networks (VPN) and other remote access systems are properly patched with available security updates; (2) checking that system entitlements are current; (3) employing the use of multi-factor authentication for associated persons who access systems remotely; and (4) reminding associated persons of cybersecurity risks through education and other exercises that promote heightened vigilance.” In regards to Form U4/Form BR, FINRA is temporarily suspending the requirements to update Form U4 information about office employment addresses for registered persons and Form BR information regarding branch office applications for any newly opened temporary office location or space-sharing arrangements. Additionally, if a member firm relocates personnel to a temporary location that is not currently registered as a branch office, the firm must provide written notification to its FINRA Risk Monitoring Analyst. The notification should indicate at minimum the office address, the names of the member firms involved, the names of registered personnel, a contact telephone number, and expected duration, if possible. 

Employment Considerations for Investment Management Firms Addressing COVID-19.  With the spread of COVID-19, many employers are concerned about the health and safety of their employees and evaluating the steps that should be taken in response.  We recommend that managers establish policies and procedures regarding COVID-19 and to ensure that any policies and procedures are uniformly applied, to avoid the risk of employee discrimination.  If any employees exhibit flu-like symptoms, employers may ask such employees if they would like to seek medical attention and may require symptomatic employees to go home without violating the American Disabilities Act.  If an employee’s condition could pose a “direct threat”, i.e. a significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation, employers may also request that an employee be tested for COVID-19.  If an employee tests positive for the virus, all employees who were in close contact with such employee should be sent home for a 14-day self-monitoring period, and other employees in the same work location should be informed of their potential exposure.  As a reminder, employers should always ensure the confidentiality of employee medical information.  As many workplaces shift to remote working, employers should make certain that their policies address the provision and proper use of technologies necessary for remote work.  Managers should be especially careful to ensure adequate controls and safeguards are in place to protect confidential or sensitive information, particularly client information.  Managers with questions policies and practices to address COVID-19 should speak with their firm’s outside counsel.

California’s Attorney General Pressed to Postpone Enforcement of CCPA.  On March 17, a group of over 30 trade associations and businesses sent a letter to California’s Attorney General pushing to postpone the enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”). The CCPA, which took effect on January 1, is expected to be enforced by the Attorney General starting July 1. The group who sent the letter requested a January 1, 2021 enforcement date in order to give businesses more time to prepare for enforcement given that, given the current climate of COVID-19, many are unable to prepare for enforcement and most are in need of prioritizing other business concerns, like the well-being and health of their employees. The Attorney General’s office has not officially responded to the letter, and an advisor to the Attorney General suggested that enforcement will either continue as planned or be pushed until CCPA revisions can be finalized. The Attorney General recently released proposed revisions clarifying the service provider exemption. One such revision would allow service providers to use personal information internally to improve their services subject to certain limitations. Fund managers should prepare for enforcement of the CCPA as planned, while awaiting a formal response from the Attorney General.

SEC Temporary Final Rule 10(c) to Address Form ID Notarization Issues. In recognition of the issues caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis for entities and individuals who require access to file in EDGAR and the requisite notarization of the authorized signature on the Form ID application required by Rule 10(b) of Regulation S-T, the SEC announced a temporary rule to allow applicants for EDGAR access to upload a signed copy of the Form ID without notarization. The temporary rule requires that within 90 days of obtaining access to EDGAR, applicants must obtain notarization of the authorized signature on a copy of the completed Form ID and upload it as correspondence to their EDGAR account.

SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) Off-Site Exams via Correspondence for Information on Firms’ Business Continuity Plans (BCP). The SEC’s OCIE has begun off-site examinations through correspondence requests for responses and documents related to firms’ written Business Continuity Plans, Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plans, and/or equivalent informal plans or guidance (collectively, “BCP”).  Firms are expected to provide copies or locations of their BCPs and any firm-issued policies, procedures, guidance and other information tailored to address continuity of business operations relating to pandemics and specifically COVID-19.  Additionally, the OCIE asks for written responses to questions regarding what aspects of plans have been implemented, what limitations firms have faced in their abilities to operate critical systems, whether working remotely has affected oversight of third-party vendors, whether the firms are prepared to operate remotely for several weeks (e.g. 3+) or months, if required, etc. As the economic and operational pressures resulting from COVID-19 are affecting businesses and the industry at large, firms are strongly encouraged to revisit and enhance their BCPs in light of the threats posed by significant business disruptions.

SEC Guidance Relating to Federal Proxy Rules for Annual Meetings, “Virtual” Meetings, and Presentations of Shareholder Proposals. Under state law, issuers are generally required to hold annual meetings with security holders. Issuers with securities registered under Exchange Act Section 12 are required to comply with federal proxy rules when soliciting proxy authority from their shareholders in connection with the annual meeting. These federal proxy rules include the delivery of proxy material such as definitive proxy statements and proxy cards. Under the relief, the SEC takes the position that an issuer that has mailed and filed its definitive proxy materials can notify shareholders of a change in the date, time, or location of its annual meeting without mailing additional soliciting materials or amending its proxy materials if the issuer: 1) releases a press announcement of the change; 2) files the announcements as definitive additional soliciting material on EDGAR; and 3) takes all reasonable steps necessary to inform other intermediaries in the proxy process and other relevant market participants. In regards to issuers contemplating “virtual” shareholder meetings, issuers are reminded that the ability to conduct “virtual” meetings is governed by state law and the issuer’s governing documents. Issuers intending on conducting such “virtual” meetings are expected to notify its shareholders, intermediaries in the proxy process, and other market participants with clear logistical details of how shareholders can access, participate, and vote in such meetings. Lastly, the guidance encourages issuers to provide shareholder proponents or representatives with alternative means of presenting their proposals during the 2020 proxy season. To the extent such a shareholder proponent or representative cannot present a proposal due to COVID-19, the SEC would consider this to be “good cause” under Rule 14a-8(h) to exclude the proposal for any meetings held in the following two calendar years. 

SEC No-Action Relief for Consolidated Audit Trail (“CAT”) Obligations. The SEC Division of Trading and Markets is providing no-action relief for small and large broker-dealers that are required to report trade and order data for all National Market System (“NMS”) securities and over-the-counter (“OTC”) equity securities.  Under Section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, industry members of a national securities exchange or members of a national securities association (“Members”) are required to report to the CAT, a central depository that receives data on NMS securities and OTC equity securities, among other things. Prior to this relief, broker-dealers would have been required to submit member data to the CAT by April 20, 2020. This deadline has been extended to May 20, 2020. Self-regulatory organizations (“SROs”) responsible for ensuring compliance with the CAT NMS Plan will also not take disciplinary action against their members consistent with this relief. Notwithstanding the above, broker-dealers are reminded to conduct production readiness testing and certification processes 14 days prior to reporting. 

Short-Selling Bans in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain. Under EU Short Selling Regulation, the EU member states of Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain have enacted temporary short-selling bans to prevent destabilizing trading following market decline resulting from COVID-19. Each European countries’ temporary bans vary in scope, and in particular, which stocks are regulated by each ban. Generally, the scope of the bans include prohibitions on creating or increasing net short positions and involve shares, including cash and derivative short positions. Most bans do not apply to indexed financial instruments when the shares subject to the ban represent less than 20% to 50% of the composition of the index, depending on the EU member state ban. For more information in relation to each respective ban, please see the full order of the decisions for each of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain.

Tax Matters. In consideration of the impacts of COVID-19, many states are passing budgets, emergency COIVD-19 supplemental appropriation and extension of certain deadlines. Please see our post for an outline of certain tax deadlines in salient jurisdictions. 

Amidst Extreme Volatility Managers Must Assess Material Terms in Live Trading Agreements. Given extreme market volatility, managers must assess the deal terms governing trading agreements such as ISDA master agreements, prime brokerage agreements, and others as certain provisions and triggering events may detrimentally affect hedge funds in the midst of current market conditions. Such negotiated provisions regarding force majeure, material adverse change/effect, counterparty powers, business day determinations, business disruptions, etc. and should be reviewed in light of current market conditions. In particular, for fund managers with ISDAs in place, please read this article by Dave Rothschild, a partner of CFM.

For general questions or concerns related to impacts of coronavirus on the operations or compliance of funds and advisers, please contact us.

****

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.

COVID-19 Tax Matters for Private Fund Managers

Certain tax deadlines in the following salient jurisdictions may or may not be further extended due to disruption caused by COVID-19 as of the time of this publication:

CALIFORNIA

  • The deadline for tax filing and payment is extended until July 15 for all individuals and business entities for the following: 2019 tax returns; 2019 tax return payments; 2020 1st and 2nd quarter estimate payments; 2020 LLC taxes and fees; and 2020 non-wage withholding payments.
  • Interest and penalties for individuals and businesses have also been waived.  Requests for relief from penalties, interest or fees can be made through the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration CDTFA.
  • Payroll Tax: Employers may request up to a 60-day extension to file their state payroll reports and/or deposit payroll taxes without penalty or interest by following the instructions of the Employee Development Department (EDD).

San Francisco

  • Businesses with less than $10 million in gross receipts may defer their first quarter business taxes (which under normal circumstances must be pre-paid by April 30th) until February 2021. The deferral is applicable to gross receipts tax, payroll expense tax, commercial rents tax and homelessness gross receipts tax.
  • No interest payments, fees or fines will accrue as a result of the deferral.  Further details are available in the announcement from the Office of the Mayor.
  • No relief has been provided with respect to property tax.
  • The city has established the Small Business Resiliency Fund which is providing financing to qualified businesses.

Los Angeles

CONNECTICUT

ILLINOIS

  • Illinois has yet to announce an extension of deadlines for tax filings and payments as of the date of this publication.

NEW YORK

  • On March 16, 2020, the New York State Tax Department announced that it had not extended the deadline to file personal income tax or other tax returns.  New York has yet to announce an extension of deadlines for tax filings and payments as of the date of this publication.
  • New York has waived fines for businesses that have missed the sales tax deadline of March 20, 2020.  There is no waiver of accrued interest.

New York City

  • The city is in the process of establishing the Small Business Continuity Fund which intends to provide financing to businesses demonstrating at least a 25% decrease in revenue caused by COVID-19.

For general questions or concerns related to impacts of coronavirus on the operations or compliance of funds and advisers, please contact us.

****

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.

Hedge Funds & Essential Financial Businesses

Investment Management Firms May Be Considered Essential Financial Businesses Under Federal Guidance and State Orders.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) lists asset management as a vital component of our nation’s critical infrastructure. As the federal risk advisor, CISA created guidance to help state and local governments ensure that employees essential to operations are able to continue working. In consideration of CISA’s guidance, whether investment management firms would be considered essential financial businesses may depend upon each State’s directives. Generally, the best practice for firms moving forward is to require workers to telework or work-from-home if possible, but allow supporting personnel to continue selective operations in the office if necessary to ensure the firm’s continued operation.

CALIFORNIA

  • California Executive Order N-33-20 orders “all individuals living in the State of California to stay at home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors” as outlined by CISA. As discussed earlier, asset managers are included under CISA’s guidance and should be permitted to allow supporting personnel to continue operations in their California offices.

CONNECTICUT

  • Connecticut Executive Order No.7H orders that “non-essential businesses or not-for profit entities shall reduce their in-person workforces at any workplace locations by 100% not later than March 23, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Any essential business or entity providing essential goods, services or functions shall not be subject to these in-person restrictions.” The order defines “essential businesses” as those that, “include, but not be limited to, the 16 critical infrastructure sectors as defined by the Department of Homeland Security” and as outlined by CISA. Asset managers are included under CISA’s guidance and should be permitted to allow supporting personnel to continue operations in their Connecticut offices.

DELAWARE

  • Delaware Fourth Modification of the Declaration of a State of Emergency defines “essential businesses” as those that employ or utilize workers in financial services who support financial operations, such as those engaged in the selling, trading, or marketing of securities, those engaged in giving advice on investment portfolios, and those staffing data and security operations centers.” Under this definition, asset managers should be permitted to allow personnel to continue operations in their Delaware offices. 

ILLINOIS

  • Illinois Executive Order 2020-10 orders that “all Essential Businesses and Operations are encouraged to remain open. To the greatest extent feasible, Essential Businesses and Operations shall comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Executive Order, including by maintaining six-foot social distancing for both employees and members of the public at all times.”  Under the order, Essential Businesses are defined as including financial institutions. Accordingly, it is reasonable to take the position that asset managers should be permitted to allow personnel to continue operations in their Illinois offices. 

NEW JERSEY:

  • New Jersey Executive Order No. 107 allows flexibility for businesses with employees that are unable to work-from-home or perform telework. In such situations, the order requires businesses to use its best efforts to allow the minimum number of workers necessary to ensure that essential operations can continue. Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that asset managers have the discretion to decide which, if any, personnel can continue selective operations in their New Jersey offices in order to ensure the firm’s continued operations. 

NEW YORK

  • New York Executive Order No. 202.6 orders that employers “reduce the in-person workforce at any work locations by 100%…” with exception to “an entity providing essential services or functions.” In a release expanding on the definition of “Essential Businesses” for the purposes of Executive Order 202.6, such essential financial institutions include “services related to financial markets.” Accordingly, it is reasonable to take the position that asset managers should be permitted to allow personnel to continue operations in their New York offices.

For general questions or concerns related to impacts of coronavirus on the operations or compliance of funds and advisers, please contact us.

****

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.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)

On March 27, Congress passed the $2 Trillion CARES Act, the largest financial relief bill in history, aimed at providing financial assistance to businesses and individuals to alleviate the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis.  A core focus of the CARES Act is $350 billion in financial aid for small businesses through federal loans under a new Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”). The highlights of the program for qualifying businesses include the following:

  • Eligibility. Eligible businesses include any business that already meets the applicable regulations to constitute “small business concerns” under the Small Business Act, businesses with up to 500 employees, non-profit organizations, businesses in the accommodation (lodging) and food services businesses with no more than 500 employees at each location, and eligible sole proprietorships and independent contractors.  
  • Terms. An eligible business can borrow 2.5 times their monthly payroll costs, up to $10 million. “Payroll costs” includes salaries, wages, paid sick leave, health insurance premiums, retirement benefits, tips, state and local taxes on employee compensation, but does not include compensation to any individual employee or independent contractor in excess of $100,000.
  • Permitted Uses of Proceeds.Businesses may use PPP proceeds for the following business expenses: payroll costs (as defined above), rent, utilities, and interest payments on any mortgage or debt obligations incurred before February 15, 2020, excluding payments or prepayments of principal.
  • Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers may apply for loan forgiveness in an amount equal to funds used to pay eight weeks of payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent and utilities starting from the date of such Borrower’s PPP loan. The amount of loan forgiveness available is limited to the principal amount loaned under the PPP loan. Furthermore, in an effort to incentivize businesses to keep employees and maintain salaries or wages, the amount of loan forgiveness available is subject to reduction if the Borrower’s average number of full-time employees during the eight week period is lower than the average number of full-time employees in the 12-month period prior, or if there is a 25% reduction of the total salaries or wages of such employees during the eight week period. The 25% reduction guideline does not apply to employees whose annual salary or wages for any pay period in 2019 was greater than $100,000. An exemption from the reductions in loan forgiveness applies if the Borrower had reduced employees or salaries or wages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but eliminates such reduction by rehiring the laid off employees or increasing salaries or wages to prior levels by June 30, 2020.  

The highlights of the CARES Act is intended to be a summary of the over 800 page relief bill. The CARES Act is subject to change over time during the legislative process. For questions or concerns related to impacts of coronavirus on the operations or compliance of funds and advisers, please contact us.

****

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.

Monitoring NAV Triggers Amidst Volatility

Managers Should Be Aware of Additional Termination Events

By David Rothschild

At this time of extreme market volatility, it is critical for managers with ISDA Master Agreements (“ISDAs”) in place to understand the NAV Trigger Additional Termination Events described in their ISDAs, and what actions to take if they trip one. 

As quick background, the Schedule to almost every ISDA Master Agreement to which a hedge fund is party will include an Additional Termination Event (“ATE”) pegged to a specific percentage decline in the fund’s net asset value over various periods (usually monthly, quarterly and annually). Some ISDAs will also include a “NAV Floor” concept triggering an ATE any time the fund’s NAV falls below a specific value (expressed either as a dollar value, or a percentage of a prior NAV, or both). If an ATE is triggered and the dealer elects to act on it, the dealer generally has the right close out all of a fund’s open positions, a result every manager wants to avoid.

NAV Trigger ATEs are among the most heavily-negotiated provisions in a hedge fund’s ISDA, and the specific figures for the monthly, quarterly and annual triggers, as well as NAV Floor provisions, will differ from fund to fund. What some managers may not realize is that the language describing these calculations and when they must be performed may also differ. Ideally, your NAV Trigger ATEs will be “point-to-point” and measured only as of the last day of the month – i.e., your NAV on the last trading day of a month is compared to your NAV on the last trading day of the prior month, quarter or year as applicable, to determine whether you have tripped an ATE. Many ISDAs, however, will have “any day” triggers – i.e., a NAV decline on any day as compared to the prior month, quarter or year could trigger an ATE. At this point, managers should review their NAV Trigger language and consult with legal counsel if they have questions regarding when or how these calculations must be performed.

If your fund has experienced a NAV decline that triggers an ATE under your ISDA, you are obligated to formally notify the dealer of that fact. That notice to the dealer should include an explicit request for them to waive the ATE; depending on your specific facts and circumstances and your relationship with a given dealer, they may grant you a waiver. A waiver means the dealer loses the right to close out your positions as a result of that ATE.

If you negotiated your ISDA, it may also include a “fish or cut bait” provision, which essentially gives the dealer a deadline to declare an ATE after you notify them that the relevant ATE was triggered. If you have a “fish or cut bait” provision in your ISDA that applies to a NAV Trigger ATE, pay close attention to the notice procedures described therein (many dealers require multiple forms of notification to specific addresses or emails in order for the “fish or cut bait” provision to be properly invoked), and follow them exactly to put the dealer on notice and start the clock running on the time period. If you properly follow those procedures and deadline passes, the dealer loses the right to close out your positions as a result of that ATE, whether or not they grant an explicit waiver.

Of course, if you have any questions while reviewing your ISDAs or how to interpret these critical provisions, you should reach out to your legal counsel immediately.

****

David Rothschild is a partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and routinely focuses on ISDA matters. Cole-Frieman & Mallon is a boutique law firm focused on the investment management industry. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Rothschild directly at 415-762-2854.

Bitcoin Mining Panel Overview

Thank you to everyone who attended our bitcoin mining panel last week. We had a fantastic audience with many questions for our panel of bitcoin mining experts – Mathew D’Souza of Blockware Solutions, Thomas Ao of MCredit and Yida Gao of Struck Capital.  The panel lasted just over one hour and was ably moderated by Michael Fitzsimmons of Williams Trading and was sponsored by Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and Aspect Advisors LLC.  

Here is the presentation with slides referenced below:

Here are the take-aways:

  • Many opportunities for BTC mining – there are many different businesses in the mining space including: direct mining, buying/selling mining rigs, making loans backed by mining rigs, developing a mining farm, and cloud mining, among others.  
  • Potential for high returns – successful mining enterprises can make 8-12% ROI per month when BTC is priced around $10,000.  (The panel focused mainly on the economics of BTC mining and did not touch on the mining of other crypto assets.)
  • Large secondary market for mining rigs – because it is relatively difficult to import mining rigs to the US (time and cost/tariffs), some groups buy and sell rigs on the secondary market in the US in addition to directly mining BTC and this can be a profitable strategy in its own right.  Bitmain is the main supplier of new rigs and the prices from both Bitmain and the secondary market can be as volatile as the BTC market. 
  • Cost of producing BTC – the cost to produce one BTC can vary widely depending on cost of electricity and the type of rig used, as the proprietary research from Blockware Solutions demonstrates (see attached presentation).  Blockware’s research also shows that most rigs coming online are the more efficient next generation machines. 
  • The Halvening – in May the halvening is expected to bolster the generally bullish BTC trend we’ve seen in 2020.  This will undoubtedly impact the economics of mining and the secondary market for rigs. 
  • China and mining – a favorable tax regime and lower electricity costs made China a popular location for mining, despite risks associated with the government’s stated aim to eliminate virtual currency mining as an industry. These risks have significantly abated after the recent announcement by the National Development and Reform Commission of China (NDRC) that mining has been removed from the elimination list.
  • Environmental impact – innovation in rig/chip designs are making mining more environmentally friendly as less watts are required per terahash.  The panel generally believes that after the halvening less efficient miners will go offline.
  • Issues – there has been many scams with respect to mining, especially mining farms and cloud mining.  Also, there is high general investment risk in mining operations because many operators just don’t know what they are doing. 
  • Other BTC financial products – miners may decide to hedge their BTC exposure through OTC products, but in general miners are not concerned with BTC financial products unless they affect the demand/price of BTC.

We hope you enjoyed this event and if you have any feedback, we would love to hear it in our quick survey.  Please feel free to forward this email along to anyone you think might be interested.  We look forward to seeing you at our next event.

Regards,

Bart Mallon & Michael Fitzsimmons

Aspect Advisors LLC

Aspect Advisors LLC is a modern regulatory consultant providing customized compliance solutions to entrepreneurs.  The firm has a focus on fintech companies, broker-dealers, and investment managers (hedge fund, VC, PE, RIA, etc).  We provide compliance and back-office solutions engineered to decrease worry and save time and resources. Among other items, the firm helps clients with regulatory registration, drafting compliance policies and procedures, conducting annual reviews, and other bespoke items.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP

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 visit us at colefrieman.com.

****

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 us or you can call Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

Bitcoin Mining Panel Event in San Francisco

CFM & Aspect Advisors Sponsor Mining Discussion

As the price of bitcoin (and other digital assets) rises, the economics of mining changes – we plan to have an event to explore the economics of mining and other aspects of the industry including any digital asset compliance matters. Below is the invitation. If you are interested in attending or would like to see the notes on the event, please contact us.

****

Please see attached an invitation to attend a discussion on the current environment for bitcoin mining.  This event is presented by Michael Fitzsimmons of Williams Trading and sponsored by Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and Aspect Advisors LLC.

This event will feature the following panelists:

  • Mathew D’Souza of Blockware Solutions
  • Thomas Ao of MCredit
  • Yida Gao of Struck Capital

Location is at Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP offices – 255 California Street, Suite 1350. 

****

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 us or you can call Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

Aspect Advisors & CFM 2020 IA/BD Compliance Update

A while ago we mentioned that we were hosting a compliance update for investment advisers and broker-dealers. The below is our summary of that event.

****

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended and participated in our 2020 compliance update with Justin Schleifer (Aspect Advisors) and Bart Mallon (Cole-Frieman & Mallon).  We understand that compliance sometimes feels like an obligation.  Still, we think that our discussion last week touched on many important items for financial industry professions to keep top of mind in this new year and new decade.

We have attached a copy of the presentation to this email.  Please feel free to forward along to anyone who might be interested.  Some high points included:

  • High level trends influence how the modern investment manager interacts with compliance.  Trends include the ongoing bull market, the movement of investment dollars from public investments (via IPO) to private markets, and the emergence of technology/ fintech.  While these are distinct trends that need to be acknowledged, traditional compliance concepts still apply to managers although the concepts may be deployed or utilized in a different way than before.  
  • Regulation Best Interest (“Reg BI”) will have an impact on the investment management industry in 2020.    Broker-dealer and IA firms will scurry to meet the Reg BI implementation deadline.  The effects will be felt more keenly by broker-dealers as they revise their practices to account for the updated fiduciary standards.  Asset managers will need to address the regulation through a new Form CRS (sometimes referred to as ADV Part 3). 
  • Privacy is paramount.  There is general momentum toward consumers craving privacy.  Governments and regulators are taking baby steps but are expected to do more in the future – we see that things such as the California Consumer Privacy Act and GDPR have already begun to influence the operations of many investment management companies.  While managers should always maintain fundamental compliance records, there will be changes in the way that investor and customer data is ultimately accessed and available.  It is therefore important for managers to stay up to date with those advances and any accompanying compliance processes.
  • Technological innovation (in both traditional and digital asset markets) is stretching the regulators’ ability to keep up.  Regulators have trouble attracting talent to head new divisions to deal with technological innovation.  Accordingly, money managers and entrepreneurs utilizing new technologies will need to understand the necessity of being able to explain the use of technology to regulators.
  • Access to new capital?  The industry is always looking for ways to get new investors involved.  A new accredited investor standard has been proposed but is not likely to significantly expand the pool of potential accredited investors and thus capital available for investment.  Similar initiatives to broaden the distribution of investment products or management to a broader base of end investors (such as Regulation CF, Regulation A+, and 506(c) general solicitation) have seen generally middling to poor results for various reasons.
  • Information Security/Cybersecurity will continue to be a big regulatory focus and focus on this area is a business best practice.  Larger firms will outsource to high tech IT firms or bring IT talent in-house.  Smaller firms have many basic tools at their disposal and should focus on vendor management and selection, employee training, access to information, and other pivotal ways to increase security (2FA, using non-public wifi, port blockers, screen protectors, etc).
  • Taking humans out of investment management.  Many investment management companies are creating organizations to bring services to the masses; these companies scale to limit human involvement.  Questions on how to deal with compliance on a larger scale naturally emerge.  The integration of technology (including with outside compliance vendors) becomes a key focus and commensurately decreases the reliance on human capital.
  • Other smaller trends have emerged.  The focus on private markets is expected to heat up, not decrease (WeWork notwithstanding). Firms will continue to expand with sophisticated financial services, tools, investment strategies, different products, and new market participants, especially as millennials begin investing and saving more.  As technology improves lower-fee products proliferate; many firms charge very low management fees and rely more on performance fees.   

We look forward to seeing you again at a panel event in the future and wish you the best during this first quarter.

Regards,

Bart Mallon & Justin Schleifer

Aspect Advisors LLC

Aspect Advisors LLC is modern regulatory consultant providing customized compliance solutions to entrepreneurs.   The firm has a focus on fintech companies, broker-dealers, and investment managers (hedge fund, VC, PE, RIA, etc).  We provide compliance and back-office solutions engineered to decrease worry and save time and resources. Among other items, the firm helps clients with regulatory registration, drafting compliance policies and procedures, conducting annual reviews, and other bespoke items.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP

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 visit us at colefrieman.com.

****

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.

Aspect Advisors & CFM Compliance Update – January 23, 2020

IA / BD 2020 Compliance Overview & Networking Event

We would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Aspect Advisors, a firm that focuses on regulatory compliance services for investment managers.  Aspect started at the beginning of 2019 and brings compliance solutions to broker-dealers, fintech companies, and traditional investment managers (hedge, PE, VC, real estate).  In conjunction with Justin Schleifer (President and Co-Founder of Aspect), we’d like to invite you to a compliance update presentation and networking event at the offices of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP on January 23rd.  The event will address the following topics:

  • 2020 compliance calendar (including Form ADV annual update)
  • Major issues from the SEC and courts in 2019
  • SEC focus on crypto / digital assets in 2020
  • Fintech regulations and best practices
  • Regulation Best Interest
  • Other hot topics

We are planning an engaging event with audience participation and discussion so come ready with questions!  If you are interested in joining, please review the information below and contact us for more information.

Best regards,
Bart

 

****

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.

Blockstack Regulation A+ Token Offering

Overview of the Regulation A+ Offering Circular for Crypto Tokens

By Bart Mallon
Co-Managing Partner, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP

It is generally accepted that the initial coin offering (ICO) from mid-2017 is dead and that firms raising money for their blockchain or token projects will need to do so in a way that is compliant with SEC laws and regulations.  For many groups, this means raising money through general private placements or various SAFTs (simple agreement for future tokens)  and SAFEs (simple agreement for future equity).  However, raising money in this manner does not put the seller’s tokens in the hands of a mass audience which is an important element for groups who are trying to obtain network effects for their project.  One alternative to traditional private offerings for token projects is the Regulation A+ public offering of tokens for up to $50M in proceeds.  Although Regulation A+ has been a potential avenue for a number of blockchain groups, it has been an untested and it was unclear what the time or costs would be to complete such an offering.  This all changed with the Blockstack public offering of tokens pursuant to Reg A+.

Through considerable time and cost, Blockstack submitted its Regulation A+ “Tier 2” offering to the SEC for “qualification” to publicly sell its tokens (Stacks Tokens) on April 11 2019.  We have reviewed all 203 dense pages of Blockstack’s Offering Circular (which is estimated to cost $1.8M in legal and accounting fees to produce) and take this opportunity to discuss the unique characteristics of the the offering which any token project will need to address in the future.  While we can see that this will be the first step in standardizing token offerings under Regulation A+, we also see that there are a number of legal, business and operational issues that any token sponsor will need to address in what will inevitably be a “not as easy as advertised” process with the SEC.

What is Blockstack & the Stacks Token?

Blockstack is a blockchain platform with a goal of “sponsoring and commercializing an open-source peer-to-peer network using blockchain technologies to ultimately build a new network for decentralized applications.”  The platform has been designed to do a number of things that current blockchains and centralized working solutions (i.e. Google Docs) do, but with a focus on decentralization and a high level of privacy.  Blockstack is introducing use cases which include a browser, universal user accounts and personal data lockers which are all designed to give users control over their personal data.  Eventually the blockchain will allow for more decentralized apps and a smart contract platform with a new smart contract language and more clarity on costs for use of the language.

The Stacks Tokens on the Blockstack network, which are being sold in the offering, will ultimately be used as fuel for running the smart contracts on the blockchain (the tokens will be burned).  The Stacks Tokens will also be used by consumers as payments for the decentralized applications that will live on the network.  Tokens will also be used for polling purposes and other incentives.  In general, the platform looks very similar to other smart contract platforms with some technical differences.  The project sponsored is Blockstack PBC, a Delaware public benefit corporation,  a company with a number of well-healed and well known investors.  For more information on the Stacks Token and project as a whole, you can see their sales deck for the token offering.

$50M Regulation A+ Raise

The proceeds from the raise will be generated through two different programs – the cash program and the app-mining program.  Together the programs will raise $50M in consideration over the 12 months following the “qualification” of the offering.

Cash Program

In the cash program, there are two different sales prices for the tokens based on whether the tokens are sold in exchange for vouchers (to persons who indicated interest to Blockstack in November and December of 2017) or if they are sold in the general offering.  The price is $0.12 per token (up to 215M tokens) for investors who participated in the voucher program and $0.30 (up to 40M tokens, but can be modified to be up to 62M tokens) for investors who participate through the general offering.  The total consideration amount from the cash program (vocher and general offerings) will not exceed $38M, but the total amounts are subject to the tokens ultimately distributed through the app mining program, which is variable.

App Mining Program

Blockstack is offering tokens as rewards to certain developers of applications on its blockchain.  [Include more here.]  These token rewards are being included as part of the Reg A+ offering because they may be deemed to be investment contracts and/or as part of the offering.  Pursuant to this program, all gifted tokens will be deemed to be work $0.30 per token for the first three months after the qualification of the offering, and then based on current market prices for the tokens.  The idea is that Blockstack is getting consideration in-kind with work provided on its blockchain and is paying for that work with tokens.

Other Aspects of the Offering and Business

There are a number of other interesting legal and business items which were discussed throughout the offering circular.  Many of these items are unique to Blockstack’s business, but many will have general applicability to future Reg A+ digital asset offerings.

  • Finalizing tokens offered in program – as previously discussed, the total amount of tokens sold through the offering is not set in stone.  Directly after the SEC deems the offering “qualified”, Blockstack will finalize the allocation of tokens between the cash and app mining programs.  A sale of the tokens will open 28 days after the SEC deems the offering to be “qualified”.
  • Tier 2 investor qualification – the offering is a “Tier 2” offering which means both accredited and unaccredited investors will be allowed to invest.  Because it is a Tier 2 offering, the unaccredited investors are limited to invest 10% of the greater of annual income or net worth.
  • Concurrent Reg S offering – Blockstack is raising additional capital from non-US persons in a concurrent offering.  The tokens sold in the Regulation S offering will be subject to a 1 year lockup (investors cannot use during the lockup period) and are being sold at $0.25 per token.
  • Tokens subject to a time-lock – for many reasons Blockstack has chosen that the purchased tokens will be introduced to the platform over time, with full distribution of all sold tokens 2 years after the qualification of the offering.  Blockstack will release 1/24th of the sold tokens at inception, then will release 1/24th of the sold tokens once a month thereafter (every 4,320 blocks on the bitcoin blockchain).
  • No restriction on transfers of tokens – this offering is not of restricted securities (see our earlier post about token distribution issues / restricted securities) and are free usable and tradable (on a registered exchange or ATS) upon release from the time-lock; however, Blockstack believes the Stacks Tokens will not initially trade on any crypto exchanges and this will make it hard to sell the tokens.
  • “Cap Table” – there was much information presented about the current token float (the genesis block created 1.32B tokens) and the amount of tokens sold in previous offerings (various private placements and SAFTs).  After all the offerings and various distributions, there will be 116M tokens unallocated that Blockstack will control and can utilize however they wish.  Many of the issued tokens have been or are being provided to related entities to compensate employees, similar to stock option grants.
  • Use of proceeds – as is the case with most all offerings, there is a discussion of how the sponsors will use the cash proceeds from the sale.  Blockstack also discusses the use of the cash proceeds under different levels of total subscription (25%, 50%, 75% and 100%).
  • Milestones – through a previous funding round, Blockstack was provided with capital if they met certain milestones with respect to the development and adoption of the Blockstack network.  While they easily met the first milestone (technical implementation of certain features of the blockchain), it is unclear if they will meet the second milestone (dealing with adoption of the network).  They will be required to “return a significant amount of capital that Blockstack currently intends to use in the development of the Blockstack network.”  The milestone is 1M verified users by the end of January 2020.  Blockstack specifically says that at current growth rates it will not achieve the second milestone.
  • Hard Fork from Bitcoin – Blockstack currently runs as a virtual blockchain on the bitcoin network.  It will ultimately transition over to its own blockchain when it has a large enough network to maintain security.  This will involve a “hard fork” to the Blockstack network and its associated risks.
  • Risk Factors – as with any public or private placement, there are attendant risks which are disclosed to potential investors.  These include normal investment risks (operations, catastrophic events, etc) and general risks related to digital/crypto (loss of token, irreversible, loss of keys, various hacks, forks, volatility, uncertain tax treatment, etc), however, there were a number of interesting Blockstack specific risks including: risk of not attracting both users and developers to the platform, the time-lock risk, regulatory risk (does not have New York BitLicense, is not a money transmitter or money services business, potential violation of Regulation M with respect to its activities in its own tokens, etc).

Legal Issues Presented

In addition to the description of many of the business issues related to the creation of the blockchain, there are a number of novel legal issues presented and addressed in the offering circular.  Below we have identified the most interesting of these issues and have included how Blockstack has addressed them.

  • Are the tokens securities?  Blockstack believes that the current tokens (non-sufficiently decentralized) are a type of security called an investment contract and are not equity or debt securities:

We do not believe that the Stacks Tokens should be characterized as either debt or equity under the securities laws.  We believe that these tokens should currently be characterized as investment contracts.  Holders will not receive a right to any repayment of principal or interest, as might be expected under a traditional debt instrument; nor will they receive an interest in the profits or losses of any Blockstack affiliate, any rights to distributions from any Blockstack affiliate, or any legal or contractual right to exercise control over the operations or continued development of any Blockstack affiliate, as might be expected for a traditional equity instrument.

  • When will the tokens be “sufficiently decentralized” so they are no longer securities?  This is one of the most important questions of the offering and essentially addresses the question of when the SEC will lose jurisdiction over the tokens in the offering and when/how Blockstack can issue, sell or otherwise use the tokens as rewards for certain activity on its blockchain.

The board of directors of Blockstack PBC will be responsible for regularly considering and ultimately determining whether the Stacks Tokens no longer constitute securities issued by us under the federal and state securities laws of the United States.  In making this determination, the board will refer to the relevant legal and regulatory standards for such determination in effect at the time of such determination, will consult with legal counsel and will, if possible and appropriate, seek consultation with relevant regulatory authorities including, we expect, the Commission.  At the present time, based on the guidance cited above, we expect this determination to turn the SEC’s recent guidance on the application of the test under SEC v. W. J. Howey Co. (the “Howey test”) to digital assets set forth in its release “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets,” and specifically on whether the Blockstack network is sufficiently decentralized, which will, in turn, depend on whether purchasers of Stacks Tokens reasonably expect Blockstack to carry out essential managerial or entrepreneurial efforts, and whether Blockstack retains a degree of power over the governance of the network such that its material non-public information may be of special relevance to the future of the Blockstack network, as compared to other network participants. Under current guidance, Blockstack would expect to take the position that if the answers to these questions are that purchasers do not and Blockstack does not, the Stacks Tokens will no longer constitute a security under the federal and state securities laws of the United States. The board of directors of Blockstack PBC may also assess other criteria for making this determination, including any criteria based on additional guidance we receive from U.S. regulators.   …

In the event that the board of directors of Blockstack PBC determines that the Stacks Tokens are no longer a security issued by Blockstack Token LLC, Blockstack will make a public announcement of its determination at least six months prior to taking any actions based on this determination, such as filing an exit report on Form 1-Z terminating its reporting obligations with respect to the Stacks Tokens under Regulation A.

  • Are any actors related to Blockstack or its blockchain required to be registered in any way?  Here, Blockstack addresses the issue of whether certain actors are required to be transfer or clearing agents because of their relationship to the blockchain and creation or distribution of the tokens:

We have taken the position that Blockstack, the miners on the network, and the network’s blockchain are not required to register as transfer agents, both because the Stacks Tokens are not currently securities registered under Section 12 of the Exchange Act, and because none of the activities Blockstack, the miners, or the blockchain is involved in are described in the definition of a transfer agent.  In addition, to the extent that certain activities that meet the definition of a transfer agent are performed automatically on the blockchain, the blockchain is not a “person” that would be required to register.  …

We have taken the position that Blockstack, the miners and the blockchain are not clearing agencies under the Exchange Act because the types of activities they engage in are not those described in the definition of a clearing agency.  To the extent that these activities occur on the blockchain, the blockchain is not a “person” that would be required to register.

Blockstack has included similar discussions related to questions on whether it or any related actor is an investment company, broker-dealer, money transmitter, money services business, or subject to New York BitLicense requirements.  All of these discussions conclude that the way the current blockchain works, and pursuant to the current interpretation of the securities laws, Blockstack and related actors would not be required to register as any of the above.  It is possible that the SEC or the various state securities regulators could disagree with conclusions presented in the offering circular.

  • Is the Blockstack Network or the browser an ATS?  The issue of what actors may be deemed to be an ATS is an open one and will eventually be an important issue when the SEC provides FINRA and the digital asset industry with future guidance.  (HFLB note: SEC and FINRA just recently released a joint statement on digital asset custody which we will be reviewing shortly.)

We have taken the position that neither the network nor the Browser should be viewed as an exchange or an ATS because neither will “bring together” anyone by sorting or organizing orders in the Stacks Tokens in a consolidated way or by receiving orders for processing and execution of transactions in the Stacks Tokens.  Instead, each proposed transaction involving Stacks Tokens on the network will by individually negotiated and implemented. For example, transactions by users (such as developers or users of Decentralized Applications) will be posted on an individual basis. In addition, we will be the only “seller” of Stacks Tokens when we distribute them as rewards on the network. …

We also take the position that payments on the network and the Browser for services do not involve “orders” of securities, because they are not primarily purchases of securities. Instead, these payments are commercial sales of access to Decentralized Applications or of items bought through in-app purchases.

Conclusion

It is clear that Blockstack has carefully thought through the business and legal issues involved in launching a Regulation A+ capital raise in order to expand a blockchain and token network.  While the offering circular provides thoughtful analysis, it also highlights the many unresolved issues that plague the digital asset space.  The digital asset industry in the US is starved for clarity on many of these issues and, if this offering is ultimately qualified, it will be a large step forward in solidifying how token sponsors should proceed with capital raises.  Blockstack spent a lot of money to produce the offering circular and we must hope that this filing, or a filing similar to this, can become the template for blockchain token projects of the future.

****

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.