Asset Management

California Enacts Legislation Requiring Public Investment Funds to Make Disclosures Concerning Fees and Expenses Paid to Private Fund Managers

 

On September 14, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown approved an amendment to the California Government Code, effective January 1, 2017, that requires a “public investment fund,” defined to mean “any fund of any public pension or retirement system, including that of the University of California,” to make certain disclosures at least annually concerning investments in each “alternative investment” vehicle in which it invests.  An “alternative investment vehicle” is defined to mean “the limited partnership, limited liability company, or similar legal structure through which a public investment fund invests in an alternative investment.”  An “alternative investment,” in turn, means an investment in a private equity fund, venture fund, hedge fund, or absolute return fund.”

Such disclosures include: (i) the fees and expenses that the public investment fund pays directly to the alternative investment vehicle, the fund manager or related parties; (ii) the public investment fund’s pro rata share of fees and expenses not included in (i) that are paid by the alternative investment vehicle; (iii) the public investment fund’s pro rata share of carried interest distributed to the fund manager or related parties; and (iv) the public investment fund’s pro rata share of aggregate fees and expenses paid by all of the portfolio companies held within the alternative investment vehicle to the fund manager or related parties.

These disclosure requirements are in alignment with: (i) enforcement actions brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past several years against private fund managers for failure to adequately disclose conflicts of interest and the fees and expenses borne by investors in their funds; (ii) similar legislative initiatives in other states; and (iii) the publication by the Institutional Limited Partners Association of a proposed reporting template that captures greater detail on fees, expenses and carried interest paid to private fund managers and their affiliates.

SEC Adopts Amendments to Form ADV

 

On August 25,  2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments to Form ADV that are designed to provide additional information regarding advisers, including information about their separately managed account business, incorporate a method for private fund adviser entities operating a single advisory business to register using a single Form ADV, and make clarifying, technical and other amendments to certain Form ADV items and instructions. The SEC also adopted amendments to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 books and records rule.

In particular, the amendments to Part 1A of Form ADV are intended to provide a more efficient method for the registration on one Form ADV of multiple private fund adviser entities operating a single advisory business (“umbrella registration”). Although under existing staff guidance a large number of advisers have already been making umbrella registration filings, the method outlined in the staff guidance for filing an umbrella registration was limited by the fact that the form was designed for a single legal entity. These amendments are intended to eliminate confusion for filers and the public. Press release.

New Jersey Appellate Court Clarifies Definition of Compensation under Advisers Act

 

On August 12, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court of New Jersey and held in United States v. Everett C. Miller that the defendant was an “investment adviser” within the meaning of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”), notwithstanding defendant’s arguments that he did receive “compensation” and was not engaged “in the business” of acting as an investment adviser.

The Advisers Act does not explicitly define “compensation” or what constitutes being engaged “in the business.”  Consequently, the Court of Appeals based its decision on a 1987 Release issued by the Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (Investment Advisers Release No. 1092) which states, in part: “The Staff considers a person to be ‘in the business’ of providing advice if the person . . . holds himself out as an investment adviser or as one who provides investment advice.” In reaching its decision that the defendant provided advice for “compensation,” the Court recognized that the Advisers Act also does not define “compensation.”  The Court again cited the SEC Release which defines compensation as “any economic benefit, whether in the form of an advisory fee or some other fee relating to the total services, rendered, commissions, or some combination of the foregoing . . .” and concluded that: “It is not necessary that an investor pay a discrete fee specifically earmarked as payment for investment advice.”  Opinion.

FinCEN Issues Customer Due Diligence Rule (CDD) FAQs

On July 19, 2016, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued FAQs regarding the customer due diligence requirements (“CDD”) that it published on May 11, 2016, for certain financial institutions, including brokers, dealers, future commission merchants and introducing brokers in commodities.  The FAQs provide interpretive guidance with respect to these requirements, including, in particular, the new regulatory requirement to identify and verify the identity of the “beneficial owners” of virtually all legal entity customers, other than a sole proprietorship and an unincorporated association.  The CDD defines “beneficial owner” as:

  • each individual, if any, who, directly or indirectly, owns 25% or more of the equity interests of a legal entity customer; and
  • a single individual with significant responsibility to control, manage, or direct a legal entity customer, including an executive officer or senior manager. . .
  • or any other individual who regularly performs similar functions.”

The FAQs states:  “In short, covered financial institutions are now required to obtain, verify, and record the identities of the beneficial owners of legal entity customers.”

SEC Proposes Rule Requiring Investment Advisers to Adopt Business Continuity and Transition Plans

On June 28, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a new rule that would require registered investment advisers to adopt and implement written business continuity and transition plans.  In announcing the proposed rule the SEC stated that:  “The proposed rule is designed to ensure that investment advisers have plans in place to address operational and other risks related to a significant disruption in the adviser’s operations in order to minimize client and investor harm.”

The risks identified by the SEC include: business disruptions – whether temporary or permanent – such as a natural disaster, cyber-attack, technology failures, and the departure of key personnel.

The proposed rule also would require an adviser’s plan to include policies and procedures addressing the following specified components: maintenance of systems and protection of data; pre-arranged alternative physical locations; communication plans; review of third-party service providers; and plan of transition in the event the adviser is winding down or is unable to continue providing advisory services.

The proposed rule and rule amendments also would require advisers to review the adequacy and effectiveness of their plans at least annually and to retain certain related records.

In addition to the proposed rule, SEC staff issued related guidance addressing business continuity planning for registered investment companies, including the oversight of the operational capabilities of key fund service providers.

The proposed rule can be found by clicking here. Comments are due on or before September 6, 2016.

Financial Stability Board Issues Asset Management-Related Policy Recommendations

On June 22, 2016, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) published for public consultation Proposed Policy Recommendations to Address Structural Vulnerabilities from Asset Management Activities. The document sets out 14 proposed policy recommendations to address the following structural vulnerabilities from asset management activities that could potentially present financial stability risks:

  1. Liquidity mismatch between fund investments and redemption terms and conditions for fund units;
  2. Leverage within investment funds;
  3. Operational risk and challenges in transferring investment mandates in stressed conditions; and
  4. Securities lending activities of asset managers and funds.

The key recommendations for liquidity mismatch and leverage focus on both public and private funds.

The FSB reported that it “intends to finali[z]e the policy recommendations by the end of 2016, some of which will be operationalized by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).”

SEC Issues Order Increasing the Net Worth Test Under Rule 205-3 Under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to $2.1 Million

Section 205(a)(1) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) generally prohibits an investment adviser from entering into, extending, renewing, or performing any investment advisory contract that provides for compensation to the adviser based on a share of capital gains on, or capital appreciation of, the funds of the client. Rule 205-3 under the Advisers Ac exempts an investment adviser from this prohibition in certain circumstances when the client is a “qualified client.”  The definition of “qualified client” includes an assets under management standard set as $1,00,000 and a net worth test that set at (in the case of a natural person, with assets held jointly with a spouse), more than $2,000,000.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) amended Section 205(e) of the Advisers Act to provide that, by July 21, 2011 and every five years thereafter, the SEC shall adjust for inflation the dollar amount thresholds included in rules issued under Section 205(e), rounded to the nearest $100,000.  Rule 205-3 now states that the SEC will issue an order on or about May 1, 2016, and approximately every five years thereafter, adjusting for inflation the dollar amount thresholds of the rule’s assets-under-management and net worth tests based on the Personal Consumption Expenditures Chain-Type Price Index (published by the United States Department of Commerce).  Based upon this requirement, no change in the assets under management test is required, but the dollar amount of the net worth test would increase to $2,100,000.

Accordingly, on June 14, the SEC issued an Order, effective as of August 15, 2016, that:

  1. for purposes of Rule 205-3(d)(1)(i) under the Advisers Act, a “qualified client” means a natural person who, or a company that, immediately after entering the contract has at least $1,000,000 under the management of the investment adviser; and
  2. for purposes of Rule 205-3(d)(1)(ii)(A) under the Advisers Act, a “qualified client” means a natural person who, or a company that, the investment adviser entering into the contract (and any person acting on his behalf) reasonably believes, immediately prior to entering into the contract, has a net worth (together, in the case of a natural person, with assets held jointly with a spouse) of more than $2,100,000.

SEC Finds that Private Equity Fund Adviser Acted as Unregistered Broker

On June 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that a private equity fund advisory firm and its owner agreed to pay more than $3.1 million to settle charges that they engaged in brokerage activity, charged fees without registering as a broker-dealer and committed other securities law violations.

An SEC investigation found that Blackstreet Capital Management, LLC (“Blackstreet”) and its principal performed in-house brokerage services rather than using investment banks or broker-dealers to handle the acquisition and disposition of portfolio companies for a pair of advised private equity funds. Of particular interest is the SEC highlighted that “Blackstreet fully disclosed to its funds and their investors that it would provide brokerage services in exchange for a fee” and that the limited partnership agreements of the advised funds “expressly permitted” the adviser “to charge transaction or brokerage fees.”  However, this did not suffice.

In the press release announcing the Order, Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division, emphasized that the rules are clear that “before a firm provides brokerage services and receives compensation in return, it must be properly registered within the regulatory framework that protects investors and informs our markets.”

Of note, the Order did not address whether or not Blackstreet offset transaction fees payable by the advised funds against its management fee. This is significant because in April 2013 the Chief Counsel of the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets gave a speech in which he stated that “to the extent [a private equity fund] advisory fee is wholly reduced or offset by the amount of [a] transaction fee, one might view the fee as another way to pay the advisory fee, which, in my view, in itself would not appear to raise broker-dealer registration concerns.”  Since the Order does not disclose whether or not there was a fee offset in the case presented, it is unclear whether the current SEC staff holds the view expressed by the Chief Counsel in 2013.

 

Treasury Announces Key Regulations and Legislation to Counter Money Laundering and Corruption, Combat Tax Evasion

On May 5, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced several actions to strengthen financial transparency.  Treasury announced a Customer Due Diligence (CDD) Final Rule, proposed Beneficial Ownership legislation and proposed regulations related to foreign-owned, single-member limited liability companies (LLCs).

CDD Final Rule

The CDD Final Rule adds a new requirement that financial institutions – including banks, brokers or dealers in securities, mutual funds, futures commission merchants, and introducing brokers in commodities – collect and verify the personal information of the beneficial owners who own, control, and profit from companies when those companies open accounts.  The Final Rule also amends existing Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regulations to clarify and strengthen obligations of these entities.

Specifically, the rule contains three core requirements: (1) identifying and verifying the identity of the beneficial owners of companies opening accounts; (2) understanding the nature and purpose of customer relationships to develop customer risk profiles; and (3) conducting ongoing monitoring to identify and report suspicious transactions and, on a risk basis, to maintain and update customer information.  With respect to the new requirement to obtain beneficial ownership information, financial institutions will have to identify and verify the identity of any individual who owns 25 percent or more of a legal entity, and an individual who controls the legal entity.  The final rule extends the proposed implementation period from one year to two years, expands the list of exemptions and makes use of a standardized beneficial ownership form optional as long as a financial institution collects the required information.

Beneficial Ownership Legislation

Treasury announced it is sending beneficial ownership legislation to Congress.  As part of the legislation, companies formed within the United States would be required to file beneficial ownership information with the Treasury Department, and face penalties for failure to comply.

Foreign-Owned Single-Member LLC Proposed Regulations

Treasury also announced proposed regulations to require foreign-owned “disregarded entities,” including foreign-owned single-member limited liability companies (LLCs), to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) with the IRS.

SEC’s Division of Investment Management Issues Letter Regarding Independent Verification Required by Rule 206(4)-2 Under the Advisers Act

On April 25, 2016, the Staff of the Division of Investment Management of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a no-action letter that provides that it would not recommend enforcement action to the Commission under Section 206(4) of, and Rule 206(4)-2 under, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 if an investment adviser does not obtain a surprise examination by an independent public accountant (as is generally required) where it acts as a sub-adviser in an investment advisory program for which a “related person” “qualified custodian” is the primary adviser (or an affiliate of the primary adviser), and the primary adviser is responsible for complying with Rule 206(4)-2.  A “related person” of another generally is a person who is directly or indirectly controlling or controlled by the other person or under common control with such person.  A “qualified custodian” is a bank, a registered broker-dealer, a registered futures commission merchant and certain foreign financial institutions.”

The Staff’s position was based, in particular, on the following:

  1. the sole basis for the sub-adviser having custody is its affiliation with the qualified custodian and the primary adviser;
  2. the primary adviser will comply with Rule 206(4)-2 (including by having client funds and securities in the investment advisory program verified by a surprise examination conducted by an independent public accountant registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) pursuant to an agreement entered into by the primary adviser);
  3. the sub-adviser does not: (i) hold client funds or securities itself; (ii) have authority to obtain possession of clients’ funds or securities; or (iii) have authority to deduct fees from clients’ accounts; and
  4. the sub-adviser will continue to be required to obtain from the primary adviser or qualified custodian annually a written internal control report prepared by an independent public accountant registered with and subject to regular inspection by the PCAOB as required by Rule 206(4)-2(a)(6).