July 15, 2020
Clients, Friends, Associates:
We hope that you are staying safe and healthy while finding ways to enjoy the summer. As you endeavor to re-establish your routine in our ever-changing “new normal,” we would like to highlight some items we hope will help you stay on top of the business and regulatory landscape in the coming months.
Compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) was Required as of June 30, 2020. Reg BI established a “best interest” standard applicable to SEC-registered investment advisers (“SEC RIAs”), broker-dealers, and associated persons when making securities recommendations to retail customers. Moving forward, SEC RIAs with “retail customers” must file the new Form ADV, Part 3 (“Form CRS”) electronically via IARD in addition to providing the Form CRS to prospective and existing clients as well as posting the form on their official website. Also, broker-dealers with retail customers must file Form CRS electronically via Web CRD with the understanding that its Form CRS will be made publicly available through BrokerCheck.
The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) has published Risk Alerts for Reg BI and Form CRS, shedding light on the practical considerations to be aware of during initial examinations following June 30, 2020. For further instructions, please see the SEC’s guidance in response to frequently asked questions on Form CRS. For more complete analysis as to how this new regulatory requirement may apply to you, please visit our LinkedIn page.
“Volcker Rule” Restrictions Eased. Five federal regulatory agencies, including the SEC and Federal Reserve Board, have approved the proposed changes to the “Volcker Rule” which are to take effect as of October 1, 2020. The new final rule effectively narrows the definition of covered funds and gives banks the green light to offer financial services to certain venture capital funds and engage in other activities that the original Volcker Rule was not intended to prohibit. Separately, regulators also relaxed margin requirements applicable to derivatives trades between affiliates.
SEC Turns an Eye Toward Business Continuity Plans (“BCPs”). In light of the widespread disruption caused by COVID-19, the SEC has been submitting requests for information to firms regarding their BCPs. Such information requests have included: (i) the firm’s formal BCP; (ii) company techniques and procedures tailored to address the continuity of operations specific to pandemics; (iii) cybersecurity policies and procedures applicable to remote working; and (iv) general inquiries regarding critical systems and operations impacted by the pandemic. It should be expected that regular examinations will involve a heightened focus on BCPs as well. Please contact us for further information or to request assistance in making sure your BCP is up to date.
Use of the Word “may” Could be Misleading. The SEC has maintained that the use of the word “may” in disclosures to investors can be considered misleading if the underlying conduct or condition is, in fact, actually occurring. The SEC demonstrated its commitment to this position in a recent enforcement action against the manager of a private equity fund which provided operational services to its portfolio companies for which the manager charged additional fees. The manager’s Form ADV disclosed that “under specific circumstances, certain [of the manager’s] operating professionals may provide services to portfolio companies that typically would otherwise be performed by third parties” and that the manager “may be reimbursed” for associated costs. The SEC reasoned that this method of disclosure did not sufficiently disclose the fact that the manager did perform such services and receive such compensation on a routine basis. The manager was ordered to pay approximately $1.5 million in disgorgement of fees plus interest and a $200,000 penalty. The action serves as a reminder to all managers that required disclosures must be routinely reviewed to ensure clear and complete descriptions of existing conflicts of interest.
SEC Proposes Modernized Framework for Fund Valuation. In April, the SEC proposed a new rule which will allow a fund’s board to delegate the determination of fair value to the fund’s investment adviser, subject to certain conditions. The new rule is aimed at clarifying how fund boards can meet their valuation obligations which require them to identify and address significant risks associated with fair value determinations; select, implement, and verify fair value determination methods; actively monitor any third-party services used; adopt and implement policies and procedures; and maintain certain records.
SEC Brings Action Against Manager for Violation of the Custody Rule. As a method of satisfying the “Custody Rule” (Rule 206(4)-2 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended (the “Advisers Act”)), many managers of private funds rely on the “Audited Financials Alternative” which requires the delivery of audited financial statements to all limited partners of a fund within 120 days of the end of the fund’s fiscal year. In a recent enforcement action, the SEC censured a New Jersey-based manager and issued a $60,000 fine for violations of the Custody Rule which took place from 2014-2018 when the firm attempted to avail itself of the Audited Financials Alternative. In 2014 and 2015, the firm mailed the audited financial statements to investors 686 days and 927 days late, respectively; while in 2016-2018, the firm failed to engage an audit firm at all. In addition to these violations, the SEC also cited the firm for failing to implement reasonable policies and procedures aimed at preventing such violations of the Custody Rule.
SEC Charges Los Angeles Private Equity Firm with MNPI-Related Compliance Violations. In a recent enforcement action, the SEC issued a stern reminder of the requirement under the Advisers Act that investment advisers must enact and follow written policies reasonably designed to prevent violations of the rules governing the use of material non-public information (“MNPI”), particularly in the case where an investment adviser maintains employee board representation on a public company in its investment portfolio. Despite the fact that the manager had written policies in place during the relevant time period to prevent misuse of MNPI, the SEC reasoned that such policies afforded the manager’s compliance staff too much discretion to be adequately enforced. The SEC ordered the payment of a $1 million penalty.
Cayman Island Monetary Authority (“CIMA”) Provides Further Guidance on the Definition of a “Private Fund.” As discussed in our previous update, the Cayman Islands Private Funds Law 2020 (the “PF Law”) now requires any Cayman Islands closed-ended fund that falls under the definition of a private fund (“Private Fund”) to register with CIMA. On May 7, 2020, CIMA issued a notice clarifying such definition under the PF Law. Per CIMA’s new guidance, any “collective investment scheme” is considered to be a Private Fund if all of the following factors are “present or otherwise established”: (i) the undertaking does not have a general commercial or industrial purpose; (ii) the undertaking pools together funds gathered for the purpose of investment with the goal of creating pooled returns for investors; and (iii) the undertaking’s investors have no collective daily control. Notably, the fact that one or more investors exercises daily control over the undertaking does not establish that the undertaking is not a “collective investment scheme” and, thus the undertaking may well still qualify as a Private Fund that must register.
The notice also provides further guidance regarding the treatment of segregated portfolio companies, alternative investment vehicles, practical instructions on the CIMA registration process, as well as valuation and cash monitoring requirements applicable to Private Funds.
CIMA Publishes New Marketing Rules. Effective May 2020, CIMA enacted new rules governing the contents of the offering documents of mutual funds regulated under the Mutual Funds Law (2020 Revision) (“Regulated Mutual Funds”). CIMA published separate rules applicable to the contents of all marketing materials (including offering documents) of Private Funds registered under the Private Funds Law (2020 Revision) (“Registered Private Funds”) which apply prospectively as well as to the marketing materials of all Registered Private Funds with ongoing offerings. Since the new rules applicable to Regulated Mutual Funds and those applicable to Registered Private Funds each mandate a particular disclosure which must be included verbatim in the offering documents, all new offering documents (and all future updates to offering documents) of Regulated Mutual Funds and all marketing materials of Registered Private Funds will be impacted. Please contact us if you think you may be in need of an update to your offering documents or marketing materials.
Digital Asset Matters
Coinbase Announces Agreement to Acquire Crypto Prime Brokerage Platform. Yet another indicator of the burgeoning demand for digital assets among institutional and professional investors, Coinbase announced its intention to buy Tagomi, a leading cryptocurrency brokerage platform. In addition to providing custody solutions and professional trading features, Tagomi provides its users access to 14 digital asset exchanges from a single account. The acquisition is aimed at creating a digital asset trading experience more aligned with the expectations of professional traders in equities and other traditional markets. The terms of the deal are yet to be announced as the acquisition is pending regulatory review.
SEC Charges San Jose-based Issuer of Unregistered ICO. A blockchain services start-up conducted an unregistered ICO in which it issued Consumer Activity Tokens (“CAT”) to approximately 9,500 investors between June and November of 2017. The SEC determined that the CAT were sold as investment contracts and, as such, were indeed “securities” under the Howey Test which can only be lawfully issued as part of a registered offering or pursuant to a valid exemption under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended. In support of its determination, the SEC’s order reasoned that the issuer’s offering materials (i) created a reasonable expectation by the investor of earning a future profit based on the issuer’s plans of development and marketing of the CAT protocol following the offering; and (ii) assured investors of the liquidity of the CAT on digital asset trading platforms. To settle the charges, the issuer has agreed to pay $25.5 million in disgorgement of funds raised in addition to pre-judgment interest of over $3 million and a penalty of $400,000.
FINRA Shares Remote Working Best Practices. In an effort to help firms navigate challenges associated with many of their employees working from home, FINRA’s recent Regulatory Notice provides guidance to brokerage firms regarding (i) operational considerations during the transition to a remote working model and (ii) maintenance of adequate supervision while doing so. The regulatory notice does not impose further obligations on FINRA regulated entities, but is meant to share best practices which have been and continue to be implemented by firms of all sizes. The notice provided tips and feedback on ways of assisting customers, providing additional support and communication to employees, and maintaining cybersecurity in this new environment. Additionally, the notice discussed methods of maintaining oversight of trading and staff communication with customers, as well as adjustments to ongoing branch inspection programs.
FINRA Warns of Increased Threat of Fraudulent Activity and Scams During COVID-19. The onset of significant economic disruption creates increased opportunities for fraudulent behavior. In a recent Regulatory Notice, FINRA outlined the following four frequently occurring scams: (i) fraudulent account openings and transfers of funds; (ii) firm impersonation schemes; (iii) false information technology inquiries; and (iv) email phishing scams. Most notably, FINRA reminds firms to examine their own compliance policies relating to the opening of accounts to ensure such policies meet the requirements of the following implicated FINRA Rules: 2090 (Know Your Customer), 4512 (Customer Account Information), and 3310 (Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Program). FINRA provides suggested best practices as to how to be a hard target against such behavior and also encourages firms to report any suspicious activity.
CFTC Extends Certain COVID-19 Relief Measures. No-action relief measures enacted by the CFTC during the first quarter of 2020 which were set to expire on June 30 have been extended in large part until September 30, 2020. Included in those extended relief measures are the measures applicable to members of designated contract markets and swap execution facilities, futures commission merchants (“FCMs”) and introducing brokers (“IBs”), floor brokers, retail foreign exchange dealers, swap dealers, swap execution facilities and designated contract markets. In CFTC Letter No. 20-19, the Division of Swap Dealer and Intermediary Oversight (“DSIO”) and the Division of Market Oversight (“DMO”) listed the specific relief measures which will not be extended including (i) audit trail and associated requirements applicable to members of designated contract markets; and (ii) requirements pertaining to the recording of voice communications applicable to swap execution facilities. The DSIO and DMO have also stated that affected market participants should reach out to the applicable contact person at each division with requests for specific relief which shall be considered on a case-by-case basis. Inquiries should be sent to Frank Fisanich, Chief Counsel, DSIO or Roger Smith, Special Counsel, DMO, as appropriate.
Further Relief Provided to FCMs and IBs. In CFTC Letter No 20-15, the DSIO has allowed eligible FCMs and IBs who have received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, pursuant to the CARES Act, to add back certain amounts under covered forgivable loans when making net capital calculations. DSIO has also allowed FCMs and IBs to add back accrued annual FINRA assessment fees so long as such FCM or IB is a registered broker-dealer with the SEC, qualifies as a small firm as defined by FINRA, and is otherwise eligible for the add-back of accrued unpaid annual assessments per FINRA guidance.
CFTC Extends Phase 5 Compliance Date of Initial Margin Requirements for Uncleared Swaps. In light of continued COVID-19-related disruption, the CFTC has announced it has extended the deadline for compliance with the amended margin requirements for uncleared swaps as applicable to swap dealers and major swap participants for which there is no prudential regulator. The deadline for compliance has been extended a full year until September 20, 2021.
Private Equity Industry Continues to Battle for Access to Defined Contribution Market. The private equity industry seems to have won a small victory in the form of an Information Letter from the Department of Labor which suggested that private equity investments could be used in multi-asset class investment vehicles such as target-date or target-risk funds. CFM’s own Bart Mallon was quoted in the article released by Barrons discussing this exciting new development which could one day lead to private equity investments being made from investors’ 401(k)s.
Enforcement of California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) Began July 1, 2020. The CCPA, which has been in effect since January 1, 2020, was not delayed beyond the scheduled enforcement date of July 1, 2020. The California Attorney General confirmed the enforcement date despite the formal request for an extension submitted by more than 60 businesses and trade groups led by the Association of National Advertisers due to COVID-19-related disruption. Please see our previous update for a more complete discussion of the CCPA and its implications for fund managers.
New York’s Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (“SHIELD Act”) Fully Implemented as of March 21, 2020. The SHIELD Act, New York’s version of the CCPA, made several significant changes to the state’s data protection regime including: (i) expanded definitions of “private information” and covered “breaches”; (ii) increased scope of applicability of data protection laws to include any business that owns or licenses private information of a New York resident; and (iii) a requirement for companies to adopt a program of policies and procedures designed to protect the private information of individuals. Although the SHIELD Act’s data breach notification requirements have been effective since the fall of 2019, covered businesses were required to establish the requisite data protection program as of March 21, 2020.
Reminder: Sexual Harassment Training Requirement under California Law. California state law now requires that all employers with five or more employees provide company-wide sexual harassment training. The first training must be held by January 1, 2021 and thereafter must be held every two years. The law formerly only applied to employers with 50 or more employees but has been expanded under Senate Bill No. 778, which was approved by the governor of California on August 30, 2019.
CoinAlts Webinar. In lieu of the CoinAlts Fund Symposium, the CoinAlts Webinar Series was held on May 14, 2020. The widely attended event featured updates and analysis of the latest trends in the digital asset space from Cynthia Pederson of Cohen & Co., Lewis Chong of Harneys, Matt Stover and Seth Altman of MG Stover, and our own, Bart Mallon. The event was capped with an enlightening Q&A session featuring Gary Newlin of MG Stover and Matt Perona of Polychain Capital. For a summary of the event, please contact us. On behalf of the CFM team, as well as our co-sponsors, we want to thank all who attended this iteration of the CoinAlts Webinar and we look forward to hosting you at the next installment. Please stay tuned for the announcement of the details of the next event and let us know if you have any specific questions or interesting topics you would like discussed.
Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) Webinar with Aspect Advisors. CFM co-sponsored a live webinar with Aspect Advisors on May 28, 2020. The discussion covered practical, regulatory, and other considerations regarding Reg BI and the new Form CRS, as described earlier in this update. We would like to thank Justin Schleifer of Aspect Advisors for hosting and look forward to future events. Aspect Advisors is a modern regulatory consultant providing customized compliance solutions to entrepreneurs. The firm has a focus on fintech companies, broker-dealers, and investment managers (hedge fund, VC, PE, RIA, etc.).
Compliance Calendar Please note the following important dates as you plan your regulatory compliance timeline for the coming months.
|June 30||Deliver audited financial statements to investors (private fund managers to fund of funds, including SEC, state and CFTC registrants.|
|June 30||SEC deadline for initial Form CRS (ADV Part 3) submission through IARD for SEC-registered investment advisers (if necessary).|
|June 30||CIMA deadline for Cayman Island registered funds with a fiscal year end of December 31 to file the Fund Annual Return and audited financial statements.|
|June 30||Deadline for making available AIFMD annual report for funds operating in or advertising in the EU (Alternative Investment Funds with a financial year ending on December 31).|
|July 10||Review holdings to determine Form PF filing requirements.|
|July 15||SEC deadline to file 2nd Quarter 2020 Form PF for quarterly filers (Large Liquidity Fund Advisers), through PFRD.|
|July 15*||CFTC 1st Quarter extended deadline for CPOs to file Schedules A and B of CFTC Form CPO-PQR, through NFA EasyFile.|
|July 20||FINRA deadline to complete annual account Entitlement Certification through IARD (firms with more than one IARD user).|
|July 30||Collect quarterly Transaction Reports from access persons for their personal securities transactions (SEC registered advisers).|
|July 30*||Quarterly account statements due (CPOs claiming the 4.7 exemption). DSIO will not recommend an enforcement action against a CPO provided that the statements are distributed by August 14.|
|July 30||Deliver initial Form CRS (ADV Part 3) to clients qualifying as “retail investors” for SEC-registered investment advisers.|
|August 14||SEC deadline to file Form 13F for 2nd Quarter of 2020.|
|August 14||NFA deadline to file Quarterly Commodity Trading Advisor Form PR filing, through NFA EasyFile.|
|August 28||SEC deadline to file 2nd Quarter 2020 Form PF filing for quarterly filers (Large Hedge Fund Advisers), through PFRD.|
|August 28||CFTC deadline for CPOs to file Schedules A, B, and C of CFTC Form CPO-PQR, for 2nd Quarter of 2020, through NFA EasyFile.|
|September 18*||Cayman Islands CRS reporting deadline. The deadline for reports under US FATCA has been extended to November 16, 2020.|
|October 9||Review transactions and assess whether Form 13H needs to be amended.|
|October 15||SEC deadline to file 3rd Quarter 2020 Form PF for quarterly filers (Large Liquidity Fund Advisers), through PFRD.|
|Variable||Distribute copies of K-1 to fund investors.|
|Periodic Filings||Form D and Blue Sky filings should be current.|
Karl Cole-Frieman, Bart Mallon, Lilly Palmer, David Rothschild, & Scott Kitchens
Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a premier boutique investment management law firm, providing top-tier, responsive, and cost-effective legal solutions for financial services matters. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP services both start-up investment managers, as well as multi-billion-dollar firms. The firm provides a full suite of legal services to the investment management community, including hedge fund, private equity fund, venture capital fund, mutual fund formation, adviser registration, counterparty documentation, SEC, CFTC, NFA and FINRA matters, seed deals, hedge fund due diligence, employment and compensation matters, and routine business matters. The firm also publishes the prominent Hedge Fund Law Blog, which focuses on legal issues that impact the hedge fund community. For more information, please add us on LinkedIn and visit us at colefrieman.com.