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Alternative Trading Systems (ATS)

ATS Registration Overview for Digital Asset Platforms

Digital asset platforms located in the U.S. that facilitate trading and exchange of digital assets (which are deemed to be securities) are generally subject to securities laws requiring such platforms to be registered as a national securities exchange (“NSE”) or fall within an exemption from NSE registration.  One exemption from registration as an NSE allows firms to conduct a platform business if such firm is registered as an alternative trading system (“ATS”).  This requirement was first highlighted by the SEC in the DAO Report released in July 2017.  We anticipate that many digital asset platforms currently facilitating trading will continue to face scrutiny as to whether they need to be registered as NSEs or an ATS and many have already begun the process to register as an ATS.

ATS Definition & Requirement to Register

The statutory definition of an ATS is:

any organization, association, person, group of persons, or system:

(1) That constitutes, maintains, or provides a market place or facilities for bringing together purchasers and sellers of securities or for otherwise performing with respect to securities the functions commonly performed by a stock exchange within the meaning of § 240.3b-16 of this chapter; and

(2) That does not:

(i) Set rules governing the conduct of subscribers other than the conduct of such subscribers’ trading on such organization, association, person, group of persons, or system; or

(ii) Discipline subscribers other than by exclusion from trading.

As many digital asset platforms or exchanges technically fall within the ATS definition, these platforms will need to appropriately register with the SEC.  To register as an ATS, the platform will need to do the following:

  1. Register as (or buy) a broker-dealer
  2. File Form ATS
  3. Comply with Regulation ATS

1. Register as a Broker-Dealer

Registering as a broker-dealer (“BD”) is a pre-requite to becoming an ATS.  A firm may only file Form ATS with the SEC after receiving the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) approval of its broker-dealer application (or after purchase of a broker-dealer).  For platforms registering as a broker-dealer, at a high level the firm must:

  • Submit Form BD;
  • Comply with all applicable state requirements; and
  • Ensure all of its “associates persons” (BD representatives) have satisfied applicable qualification requirements.

The process to register as a new BD is well worn and relatively straight forward.  Firms applying to register as a BD will need to submit online through Form BD online and then submit a New Membership Application (“NMA”) to FINRA.  The NMA requires the firm to describe their business and compliance policies and controls in detail.  A firm will also be subject to an in-person new membership interview and will have to demonstrate how the ATS technology operates to FINRA staff.  As part of the BD process, the firm will need to become a member of at least one self-regulatory organization (“SRO”), which is likely to be FINRA, and become a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”).

If a firm is already a broker-dealer (or has a broker dealer affiliate) but is not an ATS, the firm will need to submit a Continuing Membership Application (“Form CMA”) to FINRA.  For groups registering as a de novo BD, the firm should describe those parts of its business that will include the ATS function.  As with a de novo BD, an existing BD must demonstrate to FINRA staff how the ATS technology operates.

 2. File Form ATS

After a firm has registered as a BD and has discussed the ATS platform with FINRA (to FINRA’s satisfaction), the firm will need to notify the SEC that it is operating as an ATS.  Form ATS is the official SEC notification and must be submitted at least 20 days before the firm begins to operate its platform.

Form ATS is general in scope and requires information such as:

  • Certain identification information (i.e. full name, business name, address, CRD number, etc.)
  • Firm incorporation documents as attachments
  • Description of the types of users on the platform (i.e., broker-dealer, institution, or retail) and any differences in access to services between such users
  • List of the types of securities (digital assets/tokens which are deemed to be securities) that will be traded on the platform
  • Description of how the ATS will operate
  • Description of certain ATS operational procedures (i.e., entry of orders, transaction executions, reporting transactions, compliance, etc.)

It is important to note that Form ATS is a notice filing where the SEC provides no confirmation to the ATS regarding the filing status unless the form is deficient.  When a Form ATS has been filed with the SEC, it will be listed on the SEC website which will display the platform’s full name, the name(s) under which business is conducted, and the city and state of the ATS.  The reports on Form ATS are generally not published and are considered confidential.  Such reports will only be available to the SEC staff, state securities authorities, and any SRO for examination.

3. Ongoing Compliance

An ATS will be subject to numerous compliance obligations outside.  Some of the specific ATS obligations include:

  • File Form ATS-R (which summarizes the ATS’s transactions, on a quarterly basis) within 30 calendar days after the end of each quarter.
  • Amend Form ATS at least 20 calendar days before implementing a material change to the operation of the ATS.
  • Update Form ATS within 30 calendar days after the end of each quarter to correct any inaccurate or unreported information.
  • Permit the examination and inspection of its premises, systems, and records and cooperate with the examination, inspection, or investigation of subscribers by the SEC or SRO of which such subscriber is a member.

Additional BD, FINRA, and other guidelines, regulations, and obligations include:

  • Participating in the lost and stolen securities program.
  • Complying with the fingerprinting requirement.
  • Maintaining and reporting information regarding affiliates.
  • Following certain guidelines when using electronic media to deliver information.
  • Maintaining an anti-money laundering program.
  • Complying with the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) programs.
  • Filing quarterly and annual financial statements to the SEC.

If an ATS is not in compliance with the above requirements it may be subject to steep penalties.  In addition, it is important to note that securities on a registered ATS platform may be subject to a wide range of holding periods which must be enforced for an ATS to remain in compliance.

Registration Timing

It is unclear exactly how long a particular ATS application will take to be approved – it will largely depend on the exact scope of activities the platform will be involved with.  In general a platform designed for trading of private placements (in a kind of closed system for accredited investors) would likely take anywhere from 6-12 months to become fully licensed after submitting the Form NMA.  Technically, FINRA is required to review and process a substantially complete NMA within 180 calendar days after receiving it.

Issues to Consider

There are a number of issues to consider with respect to an ATS application.

  1. Underlying Instruments – the securities on most current digital asset exchanges are unregistered securities which were originally offered outside of any sort of registration exemption. Essentially these are restricted securities and any person selling or reselling such securities are arguably violating US securities laws (for more background, please see our post on restricted securities and distribution structures).  In such a case, we are not sure how FINRA will view a platform which facilitates the trading of restricted instruments.  We have seen many token issuers over the last 6-12 months who have decided to offer their tokens/securities according to registration exemptions, including through SAFTs.  To the extent a digital asset platform only transacts with such tokens (or tokens which go through the S-1 IPO process, which we think will happen within the next 12 months), we believe it is likely that such a platform would be able to be registered with FINRA.
  2. Discussion with FINRA Regarding Trading System – we have not talked directly with FINRA about their review of ATS platforms.  Most ATS platforms were created to allow for “dark pool” trading in the traditional institutional securities space.  It is unclear if FINRA has the experience or technical understanding (currently) to deal with digital assets and applicable trading platforms.
  3. IRS Reporting Requirements – the IRS released a notice in 2014 regarding the tax treatment of virtual currency. Since then, the IRS has subjected exchanges to certain user reporting requirements.  It is unclear whether the IRS will extend these types of user reporting requirements to ATS platforms as well.
  4. FinCEN’s Money Services Businesses Requirements – the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) released guidance in March of 2013 regarding individuals who handle virtual currencies. FinCEN determined that a person engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds, or other virtual currency (an “exchanger”) is subject to money services business (“MSB”) registration.  Although it is unclear if an ATS qualifies as a MSB, FinCEN has taken action against virtual currency exchanges that did not register with the bureau.
  5. Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer Requirements – MSBs are required by the Bank Secrecy Act to have Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) and Know Your Customer (“KYC”) procedures. AML procedures are required to detect and report suspicious actives that may indicate money laundering and terrorist financing.  KYC procedures are identification verification actions taken to ensure that the user is truly who they claim to be in order to prevent fraud.
  6. State Regulations – many states have imposed their own laws regarding digital assets. In addition, each state has its own rules and regulations regarding ATS platforms that operate within the state.  Before beginning to operate an ATS, you will want to research what rules and regulations your state has imposed.


After the DAO report, there have been a number of recent comments from SEC officials regarding digital assets and trading platforms that show the need for the cryptocurrency industry to quickly begin the process of integrating into the traditional securities regulatory landscape.  We believe that the ATS structure will become the predominant structure for digital asset exchanges in the future.  We also believe that over the next 12-24 months, as regulators flesh out various issues, the process will become more streamlined and well worn.  A few cryptocurrency related platforms have already started the process to become an ATS, with more likely to follow.


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 digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345 if you have any questions on this post.

Token Distribution and Unregistered/Restricted Securities

Digital Assets and Restricted Securities Background

Many recent Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and other token sales are being conducted through a Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (SAFT) or other private placement that exempts the token from registration as a security with the SEC. Tokens sold through these structures have become hot investments, and access to deals selling these tokens is generally difficult to obtain. Accordingly, many investors are creating private funds, unincorporated investment groups, syndicates or other types of investment-fund-like structures (“syndicates” or “investors” for the purposes of this post) to invest in these tokens or SAFTs. Many times these syndicates are established with the stated intent or objective to make distributions of the tokens immediately upon receipt. Effectively the sponsors of such structures have created a de-facto distribution system for VC like investments into blockchain projects. The question is how such a distribution structure fits with traditional securities regulations – specifically, can privately placed tokens (securities) be distributed shortly after receipt? The answer is probably no.

Background on Unregistered Securities

SAFTs, tokens from a SAFT, or other private placements are in most cases going to be unregistered securities (unless the token or instrument later becomes registered with the SEC which is highly unlikely).  In general federal securities laws prohibit the transfer of unregistered securities unless an exemption applies to the transfer.  Any person then who has possession of, and then transfers, an unregistered security without complying with an applicable exemption is breaking the securities laws and subject to civil penalty (fine, rescission, bar from industry, etc).  Additionally, many private placements and SAFTs contain contractual provisions that restrict transfer of tokens for a certain amount of time after issuance (with a wink and a nod from the token issuer that “everyone transfers them anyways”). Unless there is an exemption allowing for the transfer of the tokens (restricted securities), the transferor would be both breaking securities laws and breaching contractual representations made to the token sponsor.

Potential Exemptions

Section 4(a)(1)

Given the above framework, investors or syndicates will want to find an exemption so they can transfer the tokens in accordance with securities laws (the risk posed by breaching a contractual representation to the token sponsor is beyond the scope of this post). Among statutory exemptions, Section 4(a)(1) the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) provides an exemption from registration of the securities if the sales/transaction is not conducted by an issuer, dealer, or underwriter. These terms all have precise definitions, but in this context we would be most concerned about the transferor being deemed an “underwriter” which is defined, in part, as “any person who has purchased from an issuer with a view to, or offers or sells for an issuer in connection with, the distribution of any security, or participates or has a direct or indirect participation in any such undertaking.” This is a broad definition, and because of the stated or not-stated intent of creating a distribution structure for tokens, the syndicates described above may well be considered “underwriters” in this context and need to find another exemption on which to rely.

Investors my be in luck though as there are two other common exemptions that may be available – Rule 144 and Section 4(a)(1 ½).

Rule 144

Rule 144 of the Securities Act allows public resale of restricted securities if certain conditions are met.  The central condition is that the unregistered securities are held by the investor for a period of at least one year.  Further, the transferor/investor may not be an affiliate of the issuer.  There may be reduced holding period requirements if the issuer is subject to the Exchange Act Reporting requirements, but this is not a likely scenario in the digital asset space.  We believe for most syndicate groups, Rule 144 is the best way to comply with the transfer restriction. Of course, certain syndicates operating in this space might want or need to distribute the tokens before the expiration of Rule 144’s one-year holding period, and while imperfect as a solution, Section 4(a)(1 ½) (discussed below) may grant another option.

Section 4(a)(1 ½)

As mentioned above, Section 4(a)(1) of the Securities Act provides an exemption from registration for transactions by any person other than an issuer, underwriter, or dealer.  Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act provides a separate exemption for transactions by an issuer through a private offering. Over time, through case law and acknowledged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), the “Section 4(a)(1 ½)” exemption was created.  This exemption generally is an exemption for private offerings, similar to Section 4(a)(2), but for entities that are not issuers.

To avoid being deemed an underwriter (and to ensure that a resale is sufficiently private), the investor/transferor must be able to show that it did not purchase the restricted securities with a view to distribution or resale.  In order to show this the investor/transferor should examine the following criteria :

  • Number of Purchasers – there should be a limited number of purchasers of the restricted security.  This generally can be satisfied if there are less than 25 purchasers.
  • Investment Intent – the investing entity’s intent in purchasing the tokens or SAFT should be to hold for an indefinite period of time and not with a view to resell or distribute.  The longer the investing entity holds the tokens or SAFT, the better the argument for the investor/transferor’s original intent.  Generally, in conjunction with other facts and circumstances, holding the security for at least six months will evidence the investor/transferor’s investment intent. The investor/transferor should also obtain a representation from purchasers that (1) the purchase is being made as an investment and not for resale and (2) any subsequent transfer will be made only in an SEC-registered transaction or in compliance with an exemption from registration.
  • Offeree Qualification – the investor/transferor of the token or SAFT should determine whether the buyer can hold the securities for an indefinite period of time and assume the risk of the investment by looking to the experience and sophistication of the buyer.
  • Information – the investor/transferor should provide access to all information about the investment and business of the issuer that would be necessary to the buyer. The investor/transferor should also provide access to any nonpublic information if it is an insider with such information.
  • Private Offering – No form of general advertising or general solicitation may be used in reselling the securities.

Because of the facts and circumstances determination for Section 4(a)(1 ½), the safest approach to addressing these restricted securities’ holding periods is for the investor/transferor to hold the securities for greater than one year in order to fall under the Rule 144 safe harbor.

Other Issues to Consider

There are a number of additional items that should be considered in the context of transferred digital assets that may have been issued as private securities:

  • Securities v. Non-Securities.  The restricted securities transfer rules apply to securities – they do not apply to non-security instruments.  Entities that invest in tokens and SAFTs may want to consider taking a position that the tokens are not securities and therefore not subject to securities laws.  Such a position would entail a facts and circumstances determination, and taking such a position is likely a risky strategy based on recent comments from SEC Chairman Clayton.  Also, taking the position that a SAFT is not a security would be problematic if the SAFT included language that it was a restricted security or otherwise contained a restrictive legend.
  • Distribution to syndicate owners.  If an entity wants to distribute the tokens or a SAFT instrument to its underlying owners, it should be aware that the above exemptions do not apply to a distribution to a syndicate’s underlying owners.  Additionally, the SEC would likely consider an in-kind distribution of tokens in exchange for redemption of interests in a syndicate as consideration sufficient to constitute a sale.
  • Regulation S.  Non-US investors may consider investing in a SAFT or purchasing tokens under Regulation S of the US securities laws.  While such investors would be non-US investors, Regulation S contains a one-year holding period similar to Rule 144 for sales to US persons so resale of such instruments would potentially be limited.
  • Timing.  No official guidance has been issued regarding holding periods and SAFT instruments.  We do not know whether the holding period begins when a SAFT is issued or once the actual tokens are issued (i.e. whether the SAFT and tokens are separate securities).  In cases where tokens are issued after a significant period of time following the SAFT execution, this determination may be significant.  Again, a determination one way or another will require a facts and circumstances analysis.


Investors should be aware that SAFTs and tokens in which they invest may be restricted securities that may not be resold absent an applicable exemption. With respect to digital assets, this issue is nascent and evolving, but investment managers should be cognizant to follow the securities laws in the absence of additional guidance from the SEC. Please reach out if you have questions on any of the above.


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 digital currency-focused hedge funds and works routinely on matters affecting the digital asset industry.  Please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345 if you have any questions on this post.

CoinAlts Fund Symposium East – New York, April 19th

Cryptocurrency Fund Conference Sponsored by Cole-Frieman & Mallon

As we have recently announced in our firm’s first quarter legal update, we are one of the founding sponsors of the second CoinAlts Fund Symposium which will be held in Midtown Manhattan on April 19th.  The agenda for the day is as follows:

  • Opening Remarks by Cory Johnson of Ripple
  • Legal & Regulatory Panel featuring Bart Mallon (moderator) and Karl Cole-Frieman (panelist)
  • Industry Keynote by Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management
  • Featured Keynote by John Burbank of Passport Capital
  • Best Practices in Tax, Accounting and Operations
  • Trading & Execution in Digital Assets
  • Allocators to Digital Asset Funds
  • Cryptocurrency Trends and Innovations featuring Laura Shin (moderator) and Marco Santori (panelist)

The event is preceeded by a networking event for women in the blockchain/digital asset space on Wednesday evening sponsored by CoinAlts and Circle.  Attendance at the main event is expected at around 400 people and will include digital asset managers, investors, students and service providers.

For more information on the event please see the CoinAlts East press release.


For more information on this topics related to the digital asset space, please see our collection of cryptocurrency fund legal and operational posts.

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.

CoinAlts East Announced – April 19, 2018 (Press Release)

Below is the press release on our CoinAlts East event.  We hope to see you there.


CoinAlts Fund Symposium Announces East Coast Event


The CoinAlts Fund Symposium is announcing its second event, called CoinAlts East, in New York on April 19, 2018. The event will be headlined by the keynote speaker John Burbank of Passport Capital in a fireside chat format. Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management will be the featured industry speaker. Additional speakers include Cory Johnson of Ripple and Donald R. Wilson of DRW. The all-day conference will address issues that digital asset managers face on the legal and regulatory front, as well as issues related operation items, trading and fund raising from institutional investors.

“We are so fortunate to have such high-quality speakers and panelists. Our goal has always been to foster a community of the best minds in the crypto space and I think you see that in both our speaker list and the attendees of the conference,” said conference co-chair Bart Mallon of the law firm Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. CoinAlts East comes on the heels of the first full day conference for digital asset managers held in September in San Francisco and attended by over 400 industry professionals. CoinAlts East is expected to sell 500 tickets to the all-day event.

“The first CoinAlts event had such an overwhelmingly positive response that we knew we needed to bring the event to New York. The asset class is maturing and traditional investment managers are beginning to be very much involved in the space,” said Corey McLaughlin of Cohen & Company, one of the conference’s founding sponsors. Lauren Colonna of Ovis Creative, a marketing and consulting firm and sponsor of CoinAlts East, echoed Corey’s comments saying that “in addition to the standard alternative asset management work we continually see, we are experiencing a significant increase in the demand for institutional quality marketing materials and messaging for managers in the cryptocurrency and digital asset space.”

Current early bird pricing for investment managers is $500 per person and $750 per person for service providers. Early bird pricing ends on March 30, 2018, after which the price will be $750 and $1,000 respectively. The conference is also the sponsor of a Women in Crypto networking event which will be held on April 18, 2018.

About the CoinAlts Fund Symposium

The CoinAlts Fund Symposium was established by four firms with significant practices devoted to fund managers in the cryptocurrency and digital asset space. Cohen & Company specializes in the alternative investment industry and advises cryptocurrency funds on important tax, audit and operational matters. Harneys Westwood & Reigels LLP is a leading international offshore law firm that advisers fund managers on all aspects of the life of a Cayman or BVI fund including formation, restructuring and closure. MG Stover & Co. is a full service fund administration firm built by former auditors and fund operators to deliver world class solutions to the global alternative investment industry. Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a premier boutique investment management law firm, providing top-tier, responsive and cost-effective legal solutions for cryptocurrency fund managers.


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. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2018 First Quarter Update

Below is our quarterly newsletter. If you would like to be added to our distribution list, please contact us.


April 5, 2018

Clients, Friends, Associates:

The first quarter of 2018 has seen many developments impacting traditional hedge fund managers as well as those in the digital asset space. We enter the second quarter with many topics worthy of discussion, including a number of important regulatory issues currently on the horizon.  Below, is our short overview of some of these items.

Before we begin though we’d like to quickly provide a couple of significant updates on Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Effective January 1, 2018 we are delighted to announce that David C. Rothschild has been promoted to partner and welcome Kevin Cott as head of our Atlanta office following the merger of Cott Law Group, P.C. with our firm.


CoinAlts East

CFM is a founding sponsor of the one-day symposium for digital asset managers in New York on April 19, 2018. The CoinAlts East Fund Symposium will feature a number of panelists (including Bart Mallon and Karl Cole-Frieman) with expertise in the legal and operational aspects of running a digital asset strategy. Keynote speakers are John Burbank of Passport Capital and Mark Yusko of Morgan Creek Capital Management, with opening remarks from Corey Johnson of Ripple and closing remarks by Don Wilson of DRW. The inaugural symposium, held in September in San Francisco, sold out with more than 450 attendees.


SEC Matters

SEC Published Examination Priorities for 2018. The SEC announced its Examination Priorities for 2018, with a continued focus on examining matters of importance to retail investors, particularly risks to elderly and retiring investors. Specifically, the SEC will focus on: (i) disclosure and calculation of fees and other compensation, robo-advisers and other automated electronic investment advice platforms, never-examined investment advisers and exchange-traded funds, services offered to investors with retirement accounts, and regulatory compliance of advisers and broker-dealers in the cryptocurrency and initial coin offering (ICO) space; (ii) compliance and risk in critical market infrastructure, including clearing agencies, national securities exchanges, transfer agents, and Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity (SCI) entities; (iii) FINRA and MSRB; (iii) cybersecurity; and (iv) anti-money laundering programs.

SEC Chairman Testifies on The Roles of the SEC and CFTC Concerning Virtual Currencies. On February 6, 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton offered testimony to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs about the role of the SEC and CFTC in the regulation of cryptocurrencies, ICOs and related activities. Chairman Clayton expressed his support for new technological innovations in the financial markets, while emphasizing that these innovations should not be made at the expense of protecting investors and markets. The Chairman reaffirmed that whenever securities are bought and sold, investors are entitled to the protections and benefits of state and federal securities laws.

The Chairman also stressed that ICOs should be viewed in the context of securities laws and that many ICOs claiming to be “utility tokens” may be securities, notwithstanding labels or the provision of some utility. Further, the Chairman stated most ICOs to date that he has seen have been offers and sales of securities. As a sign of the SEC’s commitment to this policy, Clayton pointed to the establishment of a new cyber unit focused on misconduct involving ICOs and distributed ledger technology, and enforcement actions initiated against fraudulent ICOs.

SEC Staff Letter on Digital Asset Funds. On January 18, 2018, Dalia Blass, the Director of Investment Management at the SEC, published a staff letter addressing issues the SEC has identified for registered funds and products focused on cryptocurrency. While the letter does not address private funds, it outlines various questions addressing how cryptocurrency funds would satisfy the securities laws. The key concerns outlined in the letter include:

  • Uncertainty around valuation of cryptocurrencies;
  • Ensuring liquidity for fund investors;
  • Ability to satisfy custody requirements given the lack of qualified custodians;
  • Compliance by ETFs given market volatility; and
  • Potential manipulation of cryptocurrency markets.

In light of the questions and uncertainties identified, the letter expresses the belief that cryptocurrency funds should withdraw registration statements.

SEC Action against Initial Coin Offering. On January 30, 2018, the SEC obtained a court order for an immediate asset freeze to halt an allegedly fraudulent ICO targeting retail investors and claiming to be the world’s first “decentralized bank”. The complaint alleges among other violations, the ICO was an illegal offering of securities and the sponsors made multiple false and misleading statements, including that its customers could be covered under federal deposit protections due to its purchase of a bank. The SEC is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties, and bars against the two co-founders to prohibit them from serving as officers or directors of a public company or offering digital securities again in the future. This SEC complaint highlights the SEC’s increased vigilance in pursuing securities violations in the cryptocurrency and ICO space.

SEC Statement on Unregistered Digital Asset Exchanges. On March 7, 2018, the SEC released a public statement affirming its view that platforms that trade securities and operate as exchanges must register as a national securities exchange or operate under an exemption from registration. This announcement reflects the SEC’s growing interest in online virtual currency trading platforms. The public statement offers advice to investors about how to stay safe while investing on these platforms. Additionally, the statement lists considerations for market participants operating online trading platforms and encourages those market participants to consult with legal counsel and contact SEC staff for assistance in analyzing and applying the federal securities laws.

CFTC Matters

CFTC Issues Virtual Currency Pump-and-Dump Customer Protection Advisory. On February 15, 2018 the CFTC issued its first Customer Protection Advisory focused on virtual currency, specifically warning against “pump-and-dump” schemes. As described in the advisory, pump-and-dump schemes are coordinated online efforts to artificially drive up demand for a virtual currency then quickly sell. In the advisory, the CFTC asserted its general anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority over virtual currency cash markets as a commodity. The CFTC advises all customers to only purchase virtual currency or tokens after thorough research.

District Judge Agrees with CFTC Jurisdiction Over Virtual Currencies. On March 6, 2018, a district court judge in the eastern district of New York found that the CFTC has standing in a case related to virtual currency fraud. The judge agreed with the CFTC that virtual currencies can be regulated as a commodity, despite other regulatory agencies asserting jurisdiction over virtual currencies in some cases. The judge also agreed the CFTC’s jurisdiction can be justifiably expanded into spot trade commodity fraud, beyond the classic “futures” contracts for commodities traditionally focused on by the CFTC. The court granted the CFTC a preliminary injunction against the defendants as the case continues.

CFTC Launches Virtual Currency Resource Web Page. The CFTC launched its own resource dedicated to virtual currency, designed to provide information to the public regarding possible risks involved with investing or speculating in virtual currencies. It includes a primer on virtual currency, tips to avoid fraud, a podcast that includes CFTC staff discussing virtual currencies, and other reference sources relating to the CFTC and virtual currency.

FINRA Matters

FINRA Published Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter for 2018. Similar to the SEC, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) recently published its 2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter, outlining the organization’s enforcement priorities for the current year. FINRA’s specific focus areas for 2018 will include: (i) fraud, particularly microcap fraud schemes that target senior investors; (ii) hiring and supervisory practices for high-risk firms and brokers; (iii) cybersecurity; (iv) anti-money laundering; (v) sales practices and product suitability for specific investors, including the supervisory, compliance, and operational infrastructure firms have put in place with respect to ICOs; and (vi) investor protections related to market manipulation. We recommend that you speak with your firm’s outside counsel and service providers to learn more about these specific priorities and review your firm’s compliance with the applicable regulations.

Other Digital Asset Matters

We have detailed some of the major digital asset regulatory releases for the first quarter of this year in a separate post.  In addition to this information, there are some other items of note below.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Treasury Provides Testimony On Financial Threats. On January 17, 2018, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Treasury, Sigal Mandelker, testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs regarding a litany of financial threats to national security as well as the U.S. and global financial systems. Among the threats mentioned were emerging technologies including virtual currency. Mandelker emphasized FinCEN’s global focus on ensuring virtual currency providers and exchangers improve compliance activities. Mandelker’s testimony further evidences governmental agencies’ increasing focus on virtual currencies.

Proposed Virtual Currency Regulations Introduced in Hawaii and Nebraska. Multiple bills proposing to regulate cryptocurrency have been introduced in Hawaii and Nebraska. In Hawaii, one  proposal defines virtual currency and exempts virtual currency money transmitters from the state requirement to possess reserves to cover all outstanding customer investments. A second  proposal in Hawaii requires certain persons engaging the exchange, transfer, or storage of virtual currency in the state to be licensed. The proposal also outlines various other requirements for such a licensee, including the requirement to provide extensive personal information. Additionally, proposals in Hawaii, Connecticut, and Nebraska have been introduced to adopt the Uniform Regulation of Virtual-Currency Businesses Act (URVCBA) developed by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), which provides a three-tiered structure for registration and licensing.

In Wyoming, multiple bills were passed related to virtual currency. A law was passed that exempts virtual currency from the Wyoming Money Transmitter Act. The Wyoming legislature also passed a law that specifies criteria by which an issuer of virtual currency will not be deemed an issuer of a security in Wyoming. Another law was also passed in Wyoming that exempts virtual currency from Wyoming property tax.

President issues executive order on Venezuela’s Digital Currency. On March 19, 2018, the President of the United States issued an executive order prohibiting transactions by United States persons or within the United States related to any digital currency issued by the Venezuelan government on or after January 9, 2018. This order was made in response the Venezuelan’s government’s issuance of a digital currency in an attempt to avoid United States sanctions. The order also provides that no prior notice is necessary for this order given the ability to transfer assets instantaneously.

Other Items

Fifth Circuit Vacates DOL Fiduciary Rule. On March 15, 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals  issued a judgment vacating the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule in its entirety, which we  discussed in an earlier update. The Fiduciary Rule expanded the definition of a “fiduciary” to include anyone making a securities or investment property “recommendation” to an employee benefit plan or retirement account. The rule also included a Best Interest Contract (“BIC”) Exemption, which permits investment advisers to retail retirement investors to continue their current fee practices, including receiving variable compensation, without violating prohibited transactions rules, subject to certain safeguards. The Court vacated the rule, finding that the Department of Labor lacked the authority to enact the rule under ERISA. The Court stated, in part, that Congress did not intend to expand the definition of fiduciary in passing ERISA in 1974. Just days earlier, the Tenth Circuit upheld a portion of the Fiduciary Rule, opening up additional uncertainty about the rule and inviting the Supreme Court to provide clarification.

CIMA Releases Guidance Notes for changes to its AML regulations. The Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA) has released guidance notes on its 2017 revisions to its Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, which were discussed in our previous quarterly update. The new guidance, in part, provides details of the requirements when compliance under the revisions are outsourced or delegated. If you have any questions, we recommend that you reach out to your administrator or offshore counsel.

Supreme Court Narrows Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Protection. On February 21, 2018, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, that the anti-retaliation provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act covers only individuals who have reported a violation of the securities laws to the SEC. The Dodd-Frank Act does not protect individuals who only report violations internally. This ruling does not affect the anti-retaliation provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which protects whistleblowers who report certain types of misconduct internally in public companies.

IRS Clarifies Carried Interest Taxation Regulation. On December 22, 2017, Congress passed the Tax Reform Act which, among other items, alters the taxation of carried interest. Under section 1061 of the Act, carried interest must be held for at least three years in order to recognize long-term capital gains on the distribution of that interest. Section 1061 provides an exception for partnership interests held by a corporation.

On March 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service and Department of the Treasury issued Notice 2018-18 announcing their intent to issue regulations providing guidance for section 1061 of the Internal Revenue Code. Specifically, the guidance would exclude “S corporations” from the definition of a “corporation” as applied to carried interest taxation. This guidance will be applied retroactively and is effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Managers should discuss further implications with their tax advisor and legal counsel.

Supreme Court Narrows Scope of Bankruptcy Code Securities Clawback Safe Harbor. In a unanimous opinion, the United States Supreme Court narrowed the scope of transactions qualifying for protection under section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code. This provision generally provides an exception that disallows a bankruptcy trustee from recovering a settlement payment made by a financial institution in connection with a securities contract. The court’s ruling means that such exception will not apply when the financial institution acts only as an intermediary.

SEC Encourages Self-Reporting of Share Class Selection Disclosures. The SEC announced its Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative (SCSD Initiative) which encourages investment advisers to self-report securities violations with respect to failure to make disclosures concerning mutual fund share class selection. Investment advisers are required to disclose the conflict of interest that arises when an adviser receives 12b-1 fees for a share class when a less expensive share class is available for the same fund. Generally, qualifying settlements with the SEC will require the adviser to return profits on the transaction to the harmed clients, but not impose any further monetary penalties. For those advisers that do not take advantage of the initiative, the SEC is still focused on violations associated with mutual fund share class selection.


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

Deadline – Filing

  • March 31, 2018 – Deadline to update and file Form ADV Parts 1, 2A & 2B
  • April 10, 2018 – Amendment to Form 13H due if necessary
  • April 16, 2018 – 1st Quarter 2018 Form PF filing for quarterly filers (Large Liquidity Fund Advisers)
  • April 30, 2018 – Collect quarterly reports from access persons for their personal securities transactions
  • April 30, 2018 – Distribute code of ethics and compliance manuals to employees. Require acknowledgement form to be executed in connection with such delivery
  • April 30, 2018 – Annual Privacy Notice sent to all clients or fund investors (for Advisers with Fiscal Year ending December 31)
  • April 30, 2018 – Distribute audited financial statements to investors (most private fund managers, including SEC, state and CFTC registrants)
  • April 30, 2018 – Distribute Form ADV Part 2 to clients
  • April 30, 2018 – Quarterly NAV Report (registered commodity pool operators claiming the 4.7 exemption)
  • April 30, 2018 – 2017 Annual Form PF due date for annual filers (Large Private Equity Fund Advisers and Smaller Private Fund Advisers)
  • May 15, 2018 – Quarterly Commodity Trading Advisor Form PR filing
  • May 15, 2018 – File Form 13F for first quarter 2018
  • May 31, 2018 – First deadline for Cayman Islands Financial Institutions to submit their CRS returns to the Cayman Islands Tax Authority
  • May 31, 2018 – Third reporting deadline (full reporting) for Cayman Islands Financial Institutions with reporting obligations under the Cayman FATCA regulatory framework to report their U.S. Reportable Accounts to the Cayman Islands Tax Authority
  • June 30, 2018 – Distribute audited financial statements to investors (private fund managers to funds of funds, including SEC, state and CFTC registrants)


Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Mr. Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Digital Asset Regulatory Items 2018 First Quarter

There have been a number of regulatory updates in the first quarter of the year in the digital asset space. Below we provide an overview of these items.


SEC Matters


Chairman’s Testimony on Virtual Currencies: The Roles of the SEC and CFTC
SEC Chairman Jay Clayton
On February 6, 2018, Chairman Jay Clayton offered testimony to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs about a wide range of issues concerning virtual currencies. Clayton voiced his support of technological innovations, his concern for Main Street investors, and provided a warning that labeling an asset a “utility token” would not in itself prevent it from being deemed a security.


Statement on Potentially Unlawful Online Platforms for Trading Digital Assets
On March 7, 2018, the SEC released a public statement affirming its view that platforms trading digital assets that meet the definition of securities and operating as exchanges must register as a national securities exchange or operate under an exemption from registration. The public statement lists considerations for market participants operating online trading platforms, encourages those market participants to consult with legal counsel, and to contact SEC staff for assistance in analyzing and applying the federal securities laws.

Regulators Are Looking at Cryptocurrency
In a joint op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo affirmed their support of innovative financial technologies but warned investors of the risks of new markets. In order to protect investors, the agencies will continue working to bring “transparency and integrity” to the digital asset markets.

SEC Comments on NASAA’s Release Reminding Investors of Risks in Cryptocurrency Investment:
The SEC commended the January 4, 2018 release from the North American Securities Administrators Association stressing concerns relating to cryptocurrencies and ICOs. The SEC’s statement also reminds investors that there is a substantial risk that SEC efforts will not result in recovery of digital asset investments, despite the fact that the SEC and state securities regulators are pursing violations by ICO promoters.

Staff Letter: Engaging on Fund Innovation and Cryptocurrency-related Holdings
Staff Letter: Engaging on Fund Innovation and Cryptocurrency-related Holdings
Dalia Blass, Director, Division of Investment Management, US Securities and Exchange Commission
In a staff letter to the Investment Company Institute and Asset Management Group, Blass addressed potential issues the SEC has identified concerning registered funds and products focused on cryptocurrency. The letter outlines issues in valuation, liquidity, custody, arbitrage for ETFs, and potential manipulation.


Charges Filed Against Former Bitcoin-Denominated Exchange and Operator
On February 21, 2018, the SEC filed charges against BitFunder and its founder Jon E. Montroll alleging fraud and operating an unregistered securities exchange. According to the complaint, Montroll misappropriated users’ funds and failed to report the theft of more than 6,000 bitcoins as part of a cyberattack.

SEC Suspends Trading in Three Issuers After Questionable Announcements Concerning Digital Assets
On February 15, 2018, the SEC suspended trading in the securities of three companies (Cherubim Interests, Inc., PDX Partners, Inc., Victura Construction Group, Inc.) after the companies made questionable statements about their acquisition of certain cryptocurrency and blockchain technology related assets.

SEC Action against Initial Coin Offering
On January 30, 2018, the SEC obtained a court order for an immediate asset freeze to halt an allegedly fraudulent ICO targeting retail investors and claiming to be the world’s first “decentralized bank.” The complaint alleges that among other violations, the ICO was an illegal offering of securities and that the sponsors made multiple false and misleading statements including that its customers could be covered under federal deposit protections due to its purchase of a bank.

CFTC Matters


Testimony of Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo before the Senate Banking Committee, Washington, D.C.
Christopher Giancarlo
On February 6, 2018, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo offered testimony to the Senate Banking committee concerning virtual currencies. Giancarlo affirmed the commission’s authority to regulate virtual currencies derivatives markets while noting its limited authority to oversee spot virtual currency platforms. Within these parameters, Giancarlo described how the commission has worked toward its goals through enforcement actions, educating investors and market participants, and policy considerations that allow for both innovation and protection.

Keynote Address by Commissioner Brian Quintenz before the DC Blockchain Summit
Brian Quintenz
On March 7, 2018, CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz gave the keynote speech at the DC Blockchain Summit, discussing his personal views on digital assets and the role of the CFTC. He discussed the history of the CFTC’s role with respect to digital assets, reminding the audience that “in the derivatives markets, the CFTC has both oversight and enforcement authority, while in the spot markets, or the platforms where commodities themselves are actually bought and sold, the CFTC has only enforcement authority.” He then discussed the future of regulation of digital assets, including possible exploration of “a new, private independent organization [that] could perform an oversight function for U.S. cryptocurrency platforms.”


CFTC Warns Investors About Virtual Currency Pump-and-Dump Schemes
On February 15, 2018 the CFTC issued its first Customer Protection Advisory focused on virtual currency, specifically warning against “pump-and-dump” schemes. In the advisory, the CFTC asserted its general anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority over virtual currency cash markets as a commodity. The CFTC advises all customers to only purchase virtual currency or tokens after thorough research.

CFTC Launches Virtual Currency Resource Web Page
The CFTC launched a virtual currency resource page in its ongoing effort to educate the public about the risks of virtual currencies. The site features an introduction to virtual currencies, consumer advisories, links to relevant CFTC podcasts, and more.


US District Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Order Against Coin Drop Markets
On March 6, 2018, the US District Court of the Eastern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction against Patrick K. McDonnell and CabbageTech, Corp. d/b/a Coin Drop Markets in connection with the CFTC’s continuing litigation concerning fraud and misappropriation of virtual currencies. Under the terms of the injunction, the defendants are prohibited from engaging in fraudulent activities in violation of the Commodity Exchange Act.

CFTC Charges My Big Coin, Inc. with Fraud and Freezes its Operations
On January 16, 2018, the CFTC filed an enforcement action against Mark Gillespie, and My Big Coin Pay, Inc. in connection with an alleged ongoing virtual currency scam. On the same day, the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted an order freezing the assets of the defendants.

CFTC Charges Colorado Cryptocurrency Company with Fraud, Halting Alleged Ponzi Scheme
On January 18, 2018, the CFTC filed a civil enforcement action against Dillon Michael Dean and his company, The Entrepreneurs Headquarters Limited. The complaint alleged ongoing fraud, misappropriation of client funds, and failure to register with the CFTC.

State Matters

Wyoming Governor Signs Five Crypto-related Bills into Law

The governor of Wyoming recently signed into law five bills making the state friendlier to digital asset businesses.

  • HB 19 exempts virtual currency from the Wyoming Money Transmitter Act.
  • HB 70 provides criteria for which an issuer of virtual currency will not be deemed an issuer of a security in Wyoming.
  • SF 111 exempts virtual currency from Wyoming property tax.
  • HB 101 allows for electronic corporate records to be stored through blockchain and provides certain requirements of such systems.
  • HB 126 authorizes the formation of Series LLCs

Uniform Regulation of Virtual-Currency Businesses Act legislation introduced in several state legislatures
Proposals in Hawaii, Connecticut, and Nebraska have been introduced to adopt the Uniform Regulation of Virtual-Currency Businesses Act (URVCBA) developed by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), which provides a three-tiered structure for registration and licensing.

Proposed Virtual Currency Regulations Introduced in Hawaii
Multiple bills proposing to regulate cryptocurrency have been introduced in Hawaii. One proposal defines virtual currency and exempts virtual currency money transmitters from the state requirement to possess reserves to cover all outstanding customer investments. A second proposal in Hawaii requires certain persons engaging the exchange, transfer, or storage of virtual currency in the state to be licensed. The proposal also outlines various other requirements for such a licensee, including the requirement to provide extensive personal information.

Proposed Bill in New York would Alter Audit and Licensing Requirements for Crypto-Businesses
A bill has been introduced to the New York Legislature that would change audit and licensing requirements for cryptocurrency related businesses. The bill would prohibit licensing fees targeted at cryptocurrency businesses and establish new audit requirements focusing on security.


Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and focuses his legal practice on the investment management industry. He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2017 Second Quarter Update

Below is our quarterly newsletter. If you would like to be added to our distribution list, please contact us.


August 23, 2017

Clients, Friends, Associates:

We hope you are enjoying the summer. Although the second quarter is typically not as busy as the first quarter from a regulatory/compliance standpoint, we saw many regulatory developments this quarter, as well as a surge in digital asset investment activity. Below is an overview of noteworthy items, as well as what to expect as we move into the third quarter.


SEC Matters:

Proposed SEC Amendment to Advisers Act for VC and Private Fund Advisors. On May 3, 2017, the SEC proposed a rule to amend the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Advisers Act”), that would amend the definition of a “venture capital fund” and the definition of “assets under management” with respect to the private fund adviser exemption. For purposes of the exemption for advisers to venture capital funds, small business investment companies (“SBIC”) would be included in the definition of a venture capital fund. This would expand exemption coverage for advisers solely relying on the SBIC adviser’s exemption. Eligible advisers would file as an “exempt reporting adviser,” reducing the extra costs and burdens of recordkeeping required of registered investment advisers. Additionally, with respect to the private fund adviser exemption, currently firms that advise solely private funds and that have less than $150 million of regulatory assets under management are exempt from registration with the SEC. The proposed rule would exclude SBIC assets from the calculation of private fund assets used to determine if the $150 million threshold has been crossed. The SEC closed requests for comment on the proposal on June 8, 2017.

SEC Seeks Input Regarding Department of Labor (“DOL”) Fiduciary Rule. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement on June 1, 2017 welcoming public input to help the SEC formulate its assessment of the impact the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule (as discussed further below) may have on investors and entities regulated by the SEC. The statement was released in anticipation of a DOL request for information from the SEC to promote consistency and clarity with respect to implementation of the rule between the two agencies. Interested individuals can respond to SEC questions about the rule’s impact on investment advisers and broker-dealers via email or an online webform. Public submissions remain open and are currently available for review.

SEC Action Against Outsourced CCO.  On August 15, 2017, the SEC reached a settlement with an outsourced CCO and his consulting firm, which offered compliance consulting and outsourced CCO services to investment advisory firms. The outsourced CCO served as CCO for two registered investment advisers (collectively, “Registrants”). The SEC found the Registrants either filed their Form ADV annual amendments late or not at all, and the outsourced CCO relied on estimates provided by the Registrants’ CIO. It was established the AUM and number of advisory accounts reported on the Form ADV were greatly overstated, and the outsourced COO did not confirm the accuracy of the information. The SEC held the outsourced CCO violated the Investment Advisers Act by failing to amend the Form ADV annually and willfully submitting a false statement. The SEC suspended the outsourced CCO from association or affiliation with any investment advisers for one year and ordered him to pay a $30,000 civil penalty. The action indicates that outsourced compliance persons solely relying on internal estimates of AUM and number of advisory contracts, without further confirmation, are at risk of filing false reports and subject to enforcement with the SEC.

CFTC Matters:

CFTC Requests Input to Simplify and Modernize Commission Rules. In response to President Trump’s executive order to reform regulations to stimulate economic growth, the CFTC is requesting public input in an effort to simplify and modernize CFTC rules and make complex CFTC regulations more understandable for the public. Rather than rewrite or repeal existing rules, a primary goal of Project Keep it Simple Stupid (“Project KISS“) is to find simpler means of implementing existing rules. The CFTC will review rules with an ultimate goal of reducing regulatory burdens and costs for industry participants. The solicitation period for comments began on May 3, 2017 and will close on September 30, 2017. Comments can be submitted via the Project KISS portal on the CFTC’s website.

CFTC Approves Amendments to Strengthen Anti-Retaliation Whistleblower Protections. The CFTC unanimously approved new amendments to the “Whistleblower Incentives and Protection” section of the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, as amended (the “CEA”) on May 22, 2017. The amendments provide for greater anti-retaliation measures against employers who attempt to retaliate against employees that report employer CEA violations. Further, the amendments help clarify the process of determining whistleblower awards. The amendments will become effective July 31, 2017.

CFTC Unanimously Approves Recordkeeping Amendment Requirements. On May 23, 2017, the CFTC unanimously approved amendments to Regulation 1.31 to clarify the rule and modernize the manner and form required for recordkeeping. Specifically, the amendment will allow the manner and form of recordkeeping to be technology-neutral (i.e. not requiring or endorsing any specific record retention system or technology, and not limiting retention to any format). The amendments do not expand or decrease any existing requirements pertaining to regulatory records covered by other CFTC regulations.

Digital Asset Matters:

CoinAlts Fund Symposium.  Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is pleased to announce that it is hosting, along with fellow symposium sponsors Arthur Bell CPAs, MG Stover & Co., and Harneys Westwood & Riegels, the CoinAlts Fund Symposium on Thursday, September 14, 2017, in San Francisco. This one-day symposium is for managers, investors and service providers in the cryptocurrency space and discussion points will include cryptocurrency investment, as well as legal and operational issues pertaining to this new asset class. The key-note speaker will be Olaf Carlson-Wee, Founder and CEO of Polychain Capital, and the symposium will include a number of other speakers representing the perspectives of investment management, fund administration, audit and tax, custody of funds, offshore fund formation and compliance. Early bird registration for investors, manager and students ends August 31st.

California Proposes a BitLicense via the Virtual Currency Act. Following in New York’s footsteps with its implementation of a BitLicense to regulate virtual currency activity in New York, California has proposed A.B. 1123 (or the “Virtual Currency Act”), its own version of a BitLicense. If passed, any persons involved in a “virtual currency business” must register with the California Commissioner of Business Oversight (the “Commissioner”). Under the Virtual Currency Act, a “virtual currency business” is defined as maintaining full custody or control of virtual currency in California on behalf of others. The application and registration process includes an extensive review of the business by the Commissioner, maintenance of a minimum capital amount, annual auditing, and an application fee of $5,000 with a $2,500 renewal. Currently aimed at those offering exchanges or wallet services we do not believe digital asset fund managers will need to obtain this licence. More information can be found here.

SEC Grants Review of Initial Rejection of Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Fund. In March, the SEC rejected a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust as commodity-based trust shares on the Bats BZX Exchange. In the disapproval order, the SEC claimed that the bitcoin market was too unregulated at the time, and the BZX Exchange would therefore lack the capability of entering into necessary surveillance-sharing agreements that are required of current commodity-trust exchange traded products. Bats BZX Exchange filed a petition for review of the disapproval order. The SEC granted the petition in April and has yet to release any further comments. As digital asset trading has increased over the past few months, many are looking at the review of the petition as a potential indicator of future cryptocurrency regulation to come.

SEC Petitioned for Proposed Rules and Regulation of Digital Assets and Blockchain Technology.  A broker-dealer operating an alternative trading system (“ATS”) for unregistered securities, petitioned the SEC for rulemaking regarding guidance on digital assets. The Petitioner argued that some digital assets should be considered securities, and that current regimes in the United Kingdom and Singapore can be modeled domestically to successfully facilitate the issuance and trading of digital assets. The model currently used by those countries is known as a “regulatory sandbox,” in which companies are allowed to operate without significant regulatory interference, so long as they do so within a set of established rules. As of today, the SEC has not responded to the petition, but we expect the frequency of petitions and requests for no-action letters to increase as this space continues to grow.

Other Items:

Department of Labor (“DOL”) ‘Implements’ Fiduciary Rule. On June 9, 2017, the DOL partially implemented its amended fiduciary rule (the “Fiduciary Rule”), which expands the definition of a “fiduciary” subject to important exemptions.  On August 9, 2017 the DOL submitted proposed amendments to these exemptions thereby delaying enforcement; and extending the transition period and uncertainty over the ultimate fate of the fiduciary rule by another eighteen months to July 1, 2019. Managers with questions regarding the applicability of these exemptions should discuss with counsel.

Generally, anyone that makes a “recommendation” as to the value, disposition or management of securities or other investment property for a fee or other compensation, to an employee benefit plan or a tax-favored retirement savings account such as an individual retirement account (“IRA”) (collectively “covered account”) will be deemed to be providing investment advice and, thus, a “fiduciary,” unless an exception applies. Many fund managers and other investment advisers may unintentionally be deemed to be fiduciaries to their retirement investors under the amended rule. Fund managers with investments from covered accounts or that wish to accept contributions from covered accounts will need to consider whether their current business activities and communications with investors could constitute a recommendation, including a suggestion that such investors invest in the fund. Under certain circumstances, fund managers may be deemed fiduciaries.  Notably, the Fiduciary Rule provides an exception for activity that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules which is applicable to investments made by plan investors who are represented by a qualified independent fiduciary acting on the investor’s behalf in an arms’ length transaction (typically for larger plans). For clients or investors that do not have an independent fiduciary, managers must evaluate whether they are fiduciaries and what actions must be taken to comply with ERISA’s fiduciary standards or the prohibited transaction rules.  The Fiduciary Rule also contemplates a Best Interest Contract (“BIC”) Exemption, which permits investment advisers to retail retirement investors to continue their current fee practices, including receiving variable compensation, without violating prohibited transactions rules, subject to certain safeguards.

We recommend that investment advisers contact their counsel regarding making any necessary updates to the applicable documents.

MSRB Establishes Continuing Education Requirements for Municipal Advisors. Beginning January 1, 2018, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) will implement amendments requiring municipal advisors to have a continuing education program in place for “covered persons” and require such persons to participate in continuing education training. The amendment will require an annual analysis to evaluate training needs, develop a written training plan, and implement training in response to the needs evaluated. The amendments also provide for record-keeping of the plans and analysis to promote compliance. Municipal advisors will have until December 31, 2018 to comply with the new requirements. To further clarify the requirements, the MSRB will be hosting an education webinar for municipal advisors on Thursday October 12, 2017, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT.

Full Implementation of MSRB Series 50 Examination. The grace period for municipal advisor representatives and municipal advisor principals that have not passed the Series 50 examination to qualify as a municipal advisor representative or principal will be ending on September 12, 2017. Thereafter, all municipal advisor professionals who either engage in municipal advisory activities or engage in the management or supervision of municipal advisory activities will be required to pass the Series 50. The MSRB has a content outline which specifies eligibility, the structure of the exam, and the regulations to be tested.

Form ADV Technical Amendment Including Wyoming for Mid-Size Advisers. On July 1, 2017, a technical amendment to Form ADV was implemented to reflect a new Wyoming law that now requires investment advisers with $25 million to $100 million in AUM and a principal place of business in Wyoming to register with the state as an investment adviser instead of the SEC. The technical amendment will also appear on Form ADV-W.

Further Updated CRS Guidance Notes. The Cayman Islands Department for International Tax Cooperation (“DITC”) and the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority (“TIA”) issued further guidance notes on April 13, 2017 for compliance with Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) obligations. Among some of the more important notes are the following:

  • US FATCA notification and reporting deadlines will now parallel the Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”) deadlines. The notification deadline was June 30, 2017, and the reporting deadline will be July 31, 2017.
  • The deadline for correcting any FATCA report errors for 2014 and for 2015 will be July 31, 2017.
  • CRS reporting must be completed with the CRS XML v1.0 or a manual entry form on the AEOI portal.

We recommend contacting your tax advisors to discuss any potential issues regarding the above updates and deadlines.

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

Deadline – Filing

  • July 15, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable).
  • July 30, 2017 – Collect quarterly reports from access persons for their personal securities transactions.
  • August 14, 2017 – Form 13F filing (advisers managing $100 million in 13F Securities).
  • August 29, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large hedge fund advisers (if applicable).
  • September 30, 2017 – Review transactions and assess whether Form 13H needs to be amended.
  • October 2017 – Revised Form ADV 1A goes into effect for advisers filing an initial ADV or an annual updating amendment.
  • October 16, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable).
  • November 14, 2017 – Form 13F filing (advisers managing $100 million in 13F Securities).
  • November 29, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large hedge fund advisers (if applicable).
  • Ongoing – Amendment due on or before anniversary date of prior Form D filing(s), or for material changes.
  • Ongoing – Due on or before anniversary date, and promptly when material information changes

Please contact us with any questions or for assistance with any compliance, registration or planning issues on any of the above topics.

Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon & Lilly Palmer


Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Mr. Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Hedge Fund Bits and Pieces for April 7, 2017

Happy Masters Friday!


End Game of Mini-Prime Consolidation? – earlier this week Cowen announced the acquisition of Convergex.  For Cowen, this is the second introducing prime (mini-prime) acquisition in the last two years, the earlier coming when they acquired Concept Capital in July of 2015.

There are a number of interesting things about this transaction – first, it appears that final consolidation of the introducing prime space has occurred (Cowen and BTIG).  Given the reluctance for any major prime to accept new introducing business, it seems unlikely we would see another group try to get into this space, at least in the current environment.  Second, Cowen has been very active and aggressive with its expansion activities and its efforts to rebrand.  Just last week Cowen announced it received a $100M investment from China Energy Company Limited along with a promise to provide up to $175M in debt financing (presumably this capital was for the purchase of Convergex).  Additionally, we have heard small rumors that Cowen is in the process of rebranding their Ramius division to more align with the Cowen name.

FINRA Blockchain Report Comments Posted – in January FINRA published a report entitled Distributed Ledger Technology: Implications of Blockchain for the Securities Industry.  The report provides an overview of blockchain technology and discusses, among other items, the regulatory considerations for groups who are implementing this technology in certain areas of the securities industry.  FINRA asked for comments on the report and that comment period ended last Friday.  There were a number of interesting comments from both regulatory groups as well as market participants.  In the coming weeks we are planning to provide more analysis on FINRA and other regulatory body efforts in this space.  An overview of the report and links to the comment letters can be found here.

Capital Acquisition Broker (CAB) rules effective April 14, 2017 – in our opinion, there have been a number of misguided attempts by FINRA to modernize and ease certain regulatory frameworks (see our earlier post on the proposal to scrap the Series 7 exam).  Late last year the SEC approved a new category of broker-dealer called a Capital Acquisition Broker which could engage in certain private placement, investment banking and capital raising activities and be subject to a separate set of broker-dealer rules and regulations.  In theory this might be a good thing, but there are a couple of issues with these new rules.  First, the subset of potential groups these rules apply to are very limited (only firms raising money from very large institutions and qualified purchasers can be CABs).  Second, the CAB rules really aren’t that different from the normal FINRA rules applicable to broker-dealers.  The real issue is that FINRA does not have staff who are appropriately trained to understand all the various business models that broker-dealers may have.  We do note that we (and many others) have brought these concerns to FINRA’s attention and we believe the new FINRA president is working to make this better.

In any event, the CAB rules will be effective next Friday and more information on CABs can be found here for those who are interested.  We have not heard of any groups decided to go the CAB route instead of the traditional broker-dealer route, and we will be interested to hear if this changes in the future.

SEC Increases Crowdfunding Limits – pursuant to the requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act that the SEC increase the limits proscribed in the crowdfunding regulations, the SEC increased certain limits under those regulations.  Among other increases, the maximum aggregate amount an issuer can sell in a 12-month period increases to $1,070,000 from $1,000,000 and the maximum amount that can be sold to an investor in a 12-month period increases to $107,000 from $100,000.  More information on the adjustments can be found in the SEC press release on this topic.


Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP and focuses his legal practice on the investment management industry.  He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Bitcoin Hedge Funds (Cryptocurrency / AltCurrency Funds)

Overview of Blockchain Based Digital Currency Investment Fund Structures

Bitcoin has recently been in the news again due to strong results over the last couple of months. Bitcoin and other digital currencies have been a bit of a fringe phenomenon in the investment management industry since inception. However, the power of the idea of distributed computing/ledgers has been evangelized in various parts of the tech industry and has attracted a significant amount of institutional investment into various digital currencies, and related infrastructure. It is not surprising then to see asset managers beginning to explore this space either through dedicated fund products, or through side pocket investments separate from more traditional products. This post discusses the various structural, regulatory, and operational issues that arise for managers who invest in these instruments.

Foundational Items – Definition

For purposes of this article, we make references to the term Bitcoin and digital currencies. These references will generally mean references to other blockchain-based currencies and/or digital tokens, which are sometimes referred to as cryptocurrencies or altcurrencies. There are various governmental agencies looking into how to define and regulate this space, and the CFTC has specifically defined the term “Bitcoin” in the following way:

Bitcoin is a “virtual currency,” defined here as a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of change, a unit of account, and/or a store of value, but does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are distinct from “real” currencies, which are the coin and paper money of the United States or another country that are designated as legal tender, circulate, and are customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance. [See note 2 of the CFTC order discussed below.]

Another foundational item of this post is whether Bitcoin is a “security” under securities laws, or a currency under commodities laws, or both, or something else. We will discuss this issue in greater depth below under regulations, but for the general purposes of this article, we will take the position that Bitcoin is not a security regulated by the SEC nor state securities regulators. We will also take the position that Bitcoin is likely a currency that is subject (in some instances) to regulation by the CFTC.

Structural Considerations for Fund Formation

Although there are unique qualities of Bitcoin (it does not act like a security and it is debatable whether it acts like a commodity/currency), the big picture structural considerations for a fund manager in this space will not be significantly different than for a traditional hedge fund investing in securities and/or commodities.

Hedge Fund or Private Equity Strategy. For the Bitcoin funds we have worked with, the strategies tend to be more hedge fund styled than private equity styled. This generally makes sense given the relatively “liquid” nature of the instrument. If a fund invests directly into operating companies in the digital currency ecosystem, or if a fund sets up operations to mine for Bitcoin, there may be the need for side-pocket private equity style sleeves within a larger liquid framework.

Fund Terms. Normally we see standard hedge fund style terms; as well as expenses and fees that are generally similar to standard securities type fund programs (if anything, there may be greater management and performance fees because of the novel strategy / managers tend to have deep backgrounds in cryptography, mathematics and coding). Contribution provisions will also be standard. However, we tend to see greater attempts to limit withdrawals. Such measures could include longer withdrawal periods with longer notice provisions (60-90 days), and the use of investor level or fund level gates. Custody is a big issue, and valuation has the potential to be an issue as well. The use of leverage does not tend to be a major part of this investment strategy.

Onshore / Offshore Structures. As with other non-traditional hedge funds, the structure will be influenced by the taxation of the underlying investments and the nature of the investors. As of right now, we are not aware of any adverse tax consequences with respect to digital currencies for U.S. based investors; therefore, a standard domestic Delaware limited partnership structure should be sufficient. If the fund will have U.S. tax exempt investors, the domestic structure should be sufficient if the fund does not utilize leverage. To the extent the tax code changes in the future to tax digital currencies specifically, the structural considerations may change.

If the fund complex intends to have non-U.S. investors, the manager will choose between a mini-master structure or a master-feeder structure. Jurisdiction of any offshore structure will likely be the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands. We have not seen and do not necessarily believe there would be a reason for a fund complex to introduce SPV structures to accommodate digital currency investment, but if that occurred, such structuring discussions would be based on normal factors like jurisdiction of the underlying asset, corporate necessity, etc.

Regulatory and Other Considerations for Bitcoin Investment Managers

There are a number of instrument-related issues which arise for fund managers who are investing in this space. Because of the relatively nascent stage of these instruments, managers and service providers are working out the below issues, and the way these issues are handled should become more standardized in the near future.

Federal & State Regulatory System.

SEC – Bitcoin and other digital currencies are most likely not securities; but, the SEC is currently examining how to deal with Bitcoin and other digital currencies. The biggest question is whether these instruments are securities or some other kind of asset subject to (or not subject to) regulation. If these digital currencies are securities, then the SEC will have jurisdiction to regulate the instruments, as well as the transfer of such instruments (including the regulation of any exchange facilitating such transfer). Because the SEC has not released any definitive guidance on the issue, Coinbase, a large Bitcoin wallet and exchange platform, has released the following discussion about how digital currencies fit into the SEC regulatory landscape (see Securities Law Framework for Bitcoin). Until we receive definitive guidance, or even informal guidance, from the SEC, the Coinbase framework discussion is probably the best reference material with respect to this particular issue.

CFTC – While it is clear that Bitcoin is fundamentally different from normal currencies traded on the Interbank or forex markets, what is less clear is whether and to what extent the CFTC has jurisdiction over the instrument and the exchanges on which they are traded on. Unfortunately, the answer is not exactly clear and the uncertainty, in part, comes from parts of the Dodd-Frank Act which provided the CFTC with new jurisdiction over parts of the currency trading systems in place in the United States. Because of certain the technical aspects of trading currencies both on the spot (interbank) and futures markets, and how those technical aspects inform the jurisdictional reach of the CFTC post Dodd-Frank, some part of this discussion is theoretical (what is delivery of a digital currency? what is custody of a digital currency and is this different from custody of a password?). While our law firm is currently in discussion with the CFTC as to whether a straight digital currency (as opposed to a digital currency forward or future) is a contract subject to CFTC jurisdiction, we currently believe that a private fund’s purchase of a Bitcoin or similar digital currency would not be subject to CFTC oversight (which would require the private fund manager to register as a CPO and CTA, or fit within exemptions). Notwithstanding the above, some types of instruments involving Bitcoin are commodities subject to CFTC oversight—please see Coinflip CFTC Order. In this order, there were a number of issues that led to the finding of regulatory oversight (products were deemed to be swaps; CFTC specifically mentioned OTC Bitcoin forward contracts as other contracts which may be subject to CFTC jurisdiction, see note 4).

CFTC and SEC? – In the future, it is likely that we will begin to see products linked to and based on Bitcoin, which have both the characteristics of a security and a futures product, thus subjecting such future instruments potentially to both CFTC and SEC jurisdiction. We would expect to see future legislation enacted both to define the nature of digital currencies, and any derivatives thereon, and also to define the scope of the CFTC and SEC’s jurisdiction over such products.

State – We have not heard of any state orders, actions or interpretations involving Bitcoin. We would expect the regulation of such assets to be driven by federal authorities, but we do not discount the fact that many state securities regulators (especially on the west coast) can take aggressive positions regarding new products.

Regulation of Management Company. Depending on where the manager fits within the regulatory spectrum discussed above, the manager may be subject to oversight and regulation. If the manager is deemed to be an investment adviser, or CTA and/or CPO, based on the above, the manager would be subject to the normal registration and compliance frameworks associated therewith. Managers who invest in other Bitcoin or cryptocurrency funds are definitely investing in securities (a private fund is a security), so a bitcoin fund of funds manager is deemed to be an investment adviser and would need to be registered (or fall within an exemption from registration) with the SEC or state securities commission. While we have seen some significant investment into the space, we acknowledge that the sector is still in its infancy and that we will probably begin to see more institutionalization among managers in this space.

Custody. Perhaps the biggest issue with respect to these instruments is how and where they are custodied, and also how and where the passwords, keys or other information related to the proof ownership are custodied. We believe that each manager needs to develop their own methods to deal with the custody issue, and that these methods will need to address the associated risks of ownership or the particular currency (as discussed in the Securities Law Framework for Bitcoin, each instrument has unique characteristics). In addition to the managers we have worked with, we have heard anecdotal stories about the many different ways managers store and protect the fund’s ownership and evidence of ownership of the digital currencies, including the use of thumb drives and bank safety deposit boxes.

Risks. A fund in this space will need to focus of the normal risks inherent for any private investment vehicle, but there are additional risks to consider related to the strategy, including: general risk of digital currencies, liquidity, ability to hedge, volatility, loss of private keys, technology and security issues, risk of exchanges (e.g. Mt. Gox), lack of FIDC or SIPC protection.

Service Providers. The typical service providers in this space (lawyers, administrators and auditors) have been working together to figure out how to deal with the novel and unique issues presented from these instruments.

Other Issues. There are a host of other issues which arise in this space that will continue to be flushed out over time. These include IT infrastructure for managers and general security over passwords. Valuation has the potential to be an issue depending on the exact nature of the digital currency, and whether the currency is fungible and traded on different exchanges that have different pricing. Valuation also may be an issue if it is determined that there is no public market or exchange for the instrument. Taxation of the gains on these instruments may also change in the future (right now, they presumably are taxed under IRC Section 988). Additionally, there may be capacity constraints as a large number of investors begin to pile into these investments, including when the derivatives markets take hold.


We have worked with a number of groups in this space over the past two years, and have seen an uptick in interest in managing a private fund to invest in Bitcoin and digital currencies. We believe the interest stems from the strong returns of Bitcoin, as well as the public’s growing acceptance of alternative currencies. We also think that a general increase in exposure of Bitcoin has contributed to an interest in being able to invest in digital currencies. As these investments become more standardized and regulated, we believe we will continue to see growth in this area.

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Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Cole-Frieman & Mallon has been instrumental in structuring the launches of some of the first digital currency-focused hedge funds. For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Mallon directly at 415-868-5345.

Cole-Frieman & Mallon 2016 End of Year Update

Below is our quarterly newsletter. If you would like to be added to our distribution list, please contact us


January 4, 2016

Clients, Friends, Associates:

While the holiday season is a cause for celebration and reflection, it is also the busiest time of the year for most investment managers.  Year-end administrative upkeep and 2017 planning are particularly important, especially for General Counsels, Chief Compliance Officers, and key operations personnel.  As we head into 2017, we have put together this checklist to help managers stay on top of the business and regulatory landscape for the coming year.

This overview includes the following:

  • Annual Compliance & Other Items
  • Annual Fund Matters
  • Annual Management Company Matters
  • Regulatory & Other Changes in 2016
  • Compliance Calendar


Annual Compliance & Other Items:

Annual Privacy Policy Notice. On an annual basis, registered investment advisers (“RIAs”) must provide natural person clients with a copy of the firm’s privacy policy, even if there are no changes to the policy.

Annual Compliance Review. On an annual basis, the Chief Compliance Officer (“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 that firms discuss the annual review with their outside counsel or compliance firm, who can provide guidance about the review process as well as a template for the assessment and documentation. Advisers should be careful that sensitive conversations regarding the annual review 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 Form ADV within 90 days of the end of their fiscal year. 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”. Note that for SEC-registered advisers to private investment vehicles, a “client” for purposes of this rule include the vehicle(s) managed by the adviser. State-registered advisers need to examine their state’s rules to determine who constitutes a “client”.

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 by filing Form ADV-W. Such managers should consult their state securities authorities 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.Exempt Reporting Advisers. 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, if necessary, generally within 90 days after the filing of the annual amendment.

Custody Rule Annual Audit.

SEC-Registered IA. SEC-registered advisers must comply with certain 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.

Advisers 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 the fund or, in certain cases, investors in the fund, within 120 days after the fund’s fiscal year-end. Managers should review their custody procedures to ensure compliance with the rules.

California-Registered IA. California-registered investment advisers (“CA RIAs”) that manage pooled investment vehicles and are deemed to have custody of client assets 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. CA RIAs to pooled investment vehicles may avoid the independent party and surprise examinations requirements by having audited financial statements prepared by an independent public accountant registered with the PCAOB and distributing such audited financial statements to all limited partners (or members or other beneficial owners) of the pooled investment vehicle, and to the Commissioner of the California Department of Business Oversight (“DBO”).

Advisers registered in other states should consult with legal counsel about those states’ custody requirements.

California Minimum Net Worth Requirement and Financial Reports.

RIAs with Custody. Every CA RIA that has custody of client funds or securities must maintain at all times a minimum net worth of $35,000. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the minimum net worth for a CA RIA (A) deemed to have custody solely because they act as general partner of a limited partnership, or a comparable position for another type of pooled investment vehicle; and (B) that otherwise comply with the California custody rule described above (such advisers, the “GP RIAs”), is $10,000.

RIAs with Discretion. Every CA RIA that has discretionary authority over client funds or securities but does not have custody, must maintain at all times a minimum net worth of $10,000.

Financial Reports. Every CA RIA that either has custody of, or discretionary authority over, client funds or securities must file an annual financial report with the Department of Business Oversight within 90 days after the adviser’s fiscal year end. The annual financial report must contain a balance sheet, income statement, supporting schedule, and a verification form. These financial statements must be audited by an independent certified public accountant or independent public accountant if the adviser has custody and is not a GP RIA.

Annual Re-Certification of CFTC Exemptions. Commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) and commodity trading advisers (“CTAs”) currently relying on certain exemptions from registration with the 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 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. 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 corrected promptly, and the corrected version must be distributed promptly to pool participants.

Trade Errors. Managers should make sure 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 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 acquisition of 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 the SEC’s large trader thresholds (in general, 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 the 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 have at least $150 million in regulatory AUM must file Form PF. Smaller private advisers (fund managers with less than $1.5 billion in regulatory AUM) 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 regulatory AUM) must file Form PF within 60 days of the end of each fiscal quarter.

SEC Form D. Form D filings for most funds need to be amended on an annual basis, on or before the anniversary of the most recently filed Form D. Copies of Form D can be obtained by potential investors via 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 renewal 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 are due on December 16, 2016. If you have not already done so, you should submit full payment now.

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 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. Investment professionals (employees who spend at least one-third of their time managing the assets or securities of the manager) are statutorily excluded from California’s “placement agent” definition, and thus do not have to register as lobbyists. 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 we recommend reviewing your reporting requirements in the states in which you operate to make sure you are in compliance with the 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 FINRA Rules 5130 and 5131. Most managers reconfirm investors’ eligibility via negative consent (i.e. investors are informed of their status on file with the manager and are asked to inform the manager of any changes). 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.

Wash Sales. Managers should carefully manage wash sales for year-end. Failure to do so could result in embarrassing 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 set forth 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 2016 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 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 and UK FATCA. Funds should monitor their compliance with U.S. FATCA and UK FATCA. U.S. FATCA reports are due on March 31, 2017 or September 30, 2017, depending on where the fund is domiciled. UK FATCA reports are due May 31, 2017. As a reminder for this year, 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. We recommend managers contact their tax advisors to stay on top of these requirements and avoid potential penalties.

Annual Management Company Matters:

Management Company Expenses. Managers who distribute profits on an annual basis 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 important 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 insurance or other liability insurance, the policy should be reviewed on an annual basis 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 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 Changes in 2016:

The Supreme Court Declines to Follow Newman in Ruling on Insider Trading Case. On December 6, 2016, The Supreme Court decided Salman v. United States, unanimously upholding the Ninth Circuit’s decision to affirm Bassam Salman’s conviction of insider trading, a decision we discussed previously. Salman was a closely-watched “tipper-tippee” liability case in which Mr. Salman traded on inside information he received from his future brother-in-law, who in turn received the information from his brother, a former investment banker at Citigroup. Historically, the Supreme Court has held that “tippers” are liable if they disclose material, nonpublic information in breach of a fiduciary duty and in order to receive a “personal benefit”; and tippees are liable for trading on the tip if they know the tipper’s disclosure was in breach of a duty and to receive a personal benefit. Salman sought to rely on the Second Circuit’s holding in Newman that a tipper must receive something of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” in arguing that a gift of confidential information to a friend or family member was alone insufficient to establish the “personal benefit” required for tippee liability. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that gifting inside information to “a relative or friend” constitutes a sufficient personal benefit to the tipper. Salman does not completely overturn Newman, and key questions remain unanswered (including how close the relationship must be between tipper and tippee) but it makes clear that gifting nonpublic confidential information to a friend or relative who trades on that information can trigger insider trading liability.

SEC Updates.

SEC Revised Qualified Client Threshold. Effective August 15, 2016, the SEC increased the “net worth” threshold in the definition of “Qualified Client” under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”), from $2,000,000 to $2,100,000 to account for inflation. The Qualified Client threshold is critically important for investment advisers because performance fees and incentive allocations can only be charged to investors who are Qualified Clients in nearly all jurisdictions. All investment advisers should examine their subscription documents to ensure that new investors have provided accurate representations regarding their Qualified Client status.

SEC Proposes Rule Requiring RIAs to Adopt Business Continuity and Transition Plans. The SEC’s proposed rule would require SEC RIAs to implement written business continuity and transition plans designed to mitigate the effects of significant internal or external disruptions in operations, such as natural disasters, cyber-attacks, technology failures, and departure of key personnel. The content of such plans would be based upon risks associated with a RIA’s operations and would include policies and procedures designed to address different elements of a firm’s business. Firms would also be required to review the adequacy and effectiveness of their plans at least annually and retain certain records.

SEC Emphasis on Cybersecurity. Throughout 2016, cybersecurity remained an enforcement priority for the SEC. In June, the SEC appointed Christopher R. Hetner, a career information security expert, to the role of Senior Advisor to the Chair for Cybersecurity Policy. Later that month, it was announced that Morgan Stanley had settled SEC charges brought against the firm for failure to protect digital customer information through failure to adopt the statutorily required written policies and procedures.  Given the SEC’s continued emphasis on cybersecurity, firms should be moving forward with cybersecurity implementation and may want to discuss with counsel or other outside service providers.

SEC Implemented Business Conduct Standards for SBS Dealers and Major SBS Participants. On April 15, 2016, the SEC adopted new rules that would require security-based swap (“SBS”) entities to comply with a comprehensive set of business conduct standards and CCO requirements. The new rules aim at enhancing accountability and transparency in transactions with investors and special entities in the over-the-counter derivatives market, which, according to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, has lacked fundamental customer protections for years. Additional provisions and heightened protections apply in transactions with special entities, such as municipalities, pension plans, and endowments.

SEC Amended Form ADV and Rule 204-2. On August 25, 2016, the SEC adopted rules to enhance the information reported by investment advisers on Form ADV with a goal of increasing transparency, efficiency and compliance. The rules increase reporting on Form ADV with respect to SMAs, formalize umbrella registration requirements for related investment advisers, and expand the books and records required to be kept related to performance. Advisers will need to begin complying with the amendments on October 1, 2017.

SEC Approved FINRA Pay-To-Play Rule. The SEC approved FINRA’s proposed Rule 2030 which applies to investment advisers who are also FINRA member firms (i.e. also broker-dealers).  Rule 2030 was modeled after Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-5 and addresses pay-to-play practices by investment advisers who are also broker-dealers. The elements and terms of FINRA’s rule are substantially similar to the SEC’s pay-to-play rule and prohibit covered members from engaging in distribution and solicitation activities for compensation with government entities on behalf of an investment adviser within two years after a contribution is made to an official of the government entity by the covered member. FINRA member firms that are not yet subject to the pay-to-play rule should familiarize themselves with its provisions.

Outgoing SEC Chair. SEC Chair Mary Jo White announced recently that she plans to step down from that role around when President Obama leaves office in January. During Ms. White’s tenure, the SEC focused on tightening rules implementing the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and pursued record numbers of enforcement cases. President-elect Trump will appoint Ms. White’s successor, and it is not yet clear how the SEC’s focus and priorities may change under new leadership.

CFTC and NFA Updates.

NFA Proposed Amendments to Financial Reporting Rule and Amended Compliance Rule 2-46. The NFA proposed to revise forms PQR and PR to require CPOs and CTAs respectively to disclose two ratios related to their financial health that would measure the firm’s ability to pay its short-term obligations with current assets and the firm’s pricing strategy and operating efficiency. CPOs and CTAs would also be required to keep records demonstrating how the ratios were calculated. Additionally, effective September 30, 2016, each late Form CPO-PQR or CTA-PR will be subject to a $200 fee for each business day it is late. Generally, Form CTA-PR is due within 45 days and Form CPO-PQR within 60 days of the relevant calendar quarter end. Note, however, that payment and acceptance of the fees does not preclude the NFA from filing a disciplinary action for failure to comply with the deadlines imposed by NFA Compliance Rules.

CFTC Amended CPO Financial Report Requirements. On November 25, 2016, the CFTC published final rules amending certain CPO financial report requirements. Effective December 27, 2016, the amendments will permit the use of additional alternative generally accepted accounting principles, standards or practices; provide relief from the Annual Report audit requirement under certain circumstances; and clarify that an audited Annual Report must be distributed and submitted at least once during the life of a commodity pool. The amendments codify certain exemptions provided by the Commission over the years on a case-by-case basis through exemptive or no-action letters.  We recommend contacting counsel, or reviewing the Federal Register to determine eligibility for the amended regulations.

Prudential Regulators and CFTC Adopted Margin Rules for Uncleared Swaps. The prudential regulators – the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Department of the Treasury (the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Farm Credit Administration and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – (“PRs”) adopted a joint final rule covering swap entities that are supervised by one of the PRs (such covered swap entities, “CSEs”). Shortly thereafter, the CFTC adopted its own final rule covering swap entities that are not supervised by one of the PRs, but that are registered with CFTC (“Non-Bank CSEs”). Both the PRs and the CFTC emphasized that the margin requirements are intended to reduce risk for individual CSEs and for the financial system as a whole. We recommend that you speak with your firm’s outside counsel to determine if either rule applies to you.

NFA Guidance Regarding Cybersecurity. Beginning March 1, 2016, each NFA member firm should have established a written information systems securities program (“ISSP”) discussing, among other items, the firm’s current cybersecurity risks and ongoing cybersecurity training, and creating an “incident response” plan to help manage, contain and mitigate identified security breaches. Each ISSP must be reviewed annually by an executive-level officer of the firm. NFA members should review their cybersecurity programs and promptly take appropriate steps to make sure they are in compliance with the new rule.

Municipal Advisor Rulemaking. On August 17, 2016, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) extended pay-to-play standards to municipal advisors. Amended Rule G-37 prohibits municipal advisors from engaging in municipal securities business for two years after making certain political contributions and from soliciting or coordinating contributions with certain municipal officials and political parties with which the municipal advisor is engaging, or seeking to engage, in business. The rule also requires quarterly disclosures of certain contributions to the MSRB. Municipal advisors should review their current policies and consider whether they adequately address the new pay-to-play rules.

Other Updates.

DOL Defined Fiduciary of an Employee Benefit Plan under ERISA. The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a new rule that will extend fiduciary status to all advisers offering investment advice to employee benefit plans, plan fiduciaries, and IRAs when the rule comes into effect early next year. Under the new rule, all investment advisers who provide such advice will be required to make recommendations that are in the “best interest” of their clients. Under certain exemptions, an investment adviser would be able to continue using methods of conflicted compensation as long as the adviser meets specific conditions that mitigate conflicts of interest and ensure that investment advice is in the best interest of their clients. The general fiduciary standard becomes effective on April 10, 2017. There is a fair amount of uncertainty regarding the new rule’s application to private fund advisers, but at this time we have no reason to believe it will apply to private funds that are not “plan assets” funds (i.e., funds that do not exceed the 25% ERISA threshold). Investment advisers are encouraged to review their client base and discuss with legal counsel to determine whether they are subject to this new regulation.

New Due Diligence Requirements for Covered Financial Institutions. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued new customer due diligence (“CDD”) requirements that covered financial institutions must comply with by May 11, 2018. Covered financial institutions (which include banks, broker-dealers in securities, mutual funds, futures commission merchants and introducing brokers in commodities) will be required to verify the identity of any natural person that is a beneficial owner of at least 25% of any legal entity applying to open a new account, develop a customer risk profile for each customer, and establish an account-monitoring system to report suspicious transactions. Certain types of customers are exempted from these requirements.

New Filing Deadline for Form 1099-MISC. The IRS now requires Form 1099-MISC to be filed on or before January 31, 2017, when reporting nonemployee compensation payments. Otherwise, Form 1099-MISC may be filed by February 28, 2017, if it is filed on paper, or by March 31, 2017, if it is filed electronically. Automatic 30-day extension is available by filing Form 8809 by January 31, 2017. No signature or explanation is required for the extension.

Offshore Updates.

Cayman Islands Publishes Limited Liability Company Law. The highly-anticipated Cayman Islands Limited Liability Companies Law came into effect on July 8, 2016, and allows for the formation and operation of a limited liability company similar in structure and flexibility to that of a Delaware limited liability company (“LLC”). We have been in discussions with certain Cayman law firms about how managers might use such LLCs in their offshore structures in future. It seems like the best use will be for certain management company entities or as single-purpose investment vehicles under a larger fund structure. At this time, we do not expect the LLC form to supersede the Ltd. form for actual fund entities in the Cayman Islands. If you are interested in how you might be able to utilize these vehicles in the future, we recommend that you speak with your firm’s offshore counsel to discuss the entity’s advantage and disadvantages.

ESMA Proposed Extension of Funds Passport to 12 Non-EU Countries. The European Securities and Markets Authority (“ESMA”) recommended this year that the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (“AIFMD”) passport should apply to 12 non-EU countries: Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Japan, Jersey, Isle of Man, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States. The passport is currently available to EU entities, but according to ESMA, there are generally no significant obstacles impeding the application of AIFMD in these 12 countries. ESMA’s advice will be considered next by the European Commission, Parliament and Council. If the passport is extended, it will be easier for non-EU alternative investment fund managers and alternative investment funds to market and manage funds throughout the EU.

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

Deadline – Filing

  • December 16, 2016 – IARD Preliminary Renewal Statement payments due (submit early to ensure processing by deadline)
  • December 27, 2016 – Last day to submit form filings via IARD prior to year-end
  • December 31, 2016 – Review AUM to determine 2017 Form PF filing requirement
  • January 15, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for large liquidity fund advisers (if applicable)
  • January 31, 2017 – “Annex IV” AIFMD filing
  • February 14, 2017 – Form 13F due
  • February 14, 2017 – Annual Schedule 13G updates due
  • February 14, 2017 – Annual Form 13H updates due
  • March 1, 2017 – Deadline for re-certification of CFTC exemptions
  • March 1, 2017 – Quarterly Form PF due for larger hedge fund advisers (if applicable)
  • March 31, 2017 – Annual ADV amendments due
  • March 31, 2017 – Annual Financial Reports due for CA RIAs (if applicable)
  • February 14, 2017 – Annual Form 13H updates due
  • April 15, 2017 – Extended FBAR deadline for certain individuals with signature authority over, but no financial interest in, one or more foreign financial accounts
  • April 30, 2017 – Annual Form PF due for all other advisers (other than large liquidity fund advisers and large hedge fund advisers)
  • Periodic – Form D and blue sky filings should be current
  • Periodic – Fund managers should perform “Bad Actor” certifications annually.


Bart Mallon is a founding partner of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP.  Mr. Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.