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Best of the Law Firms – December 2019 edition

Welcome to the December 2019 edition of the Best of the Law Firms.  In this feature, we recommend some of the best recent articles and analyses authored by top investment management lawyers.  These articles offer a more comprehensive review of the issues that we address in our daily “Our Take” alerts.

The laws firms have published some extensive articles on important investment management topics.  Dechert answers all our questions about ESG investing, Thompson Hine instructs on how to convert a mutual fund into an ETF, and Sadis tackles Opportunity Zone funds.  Groom always brings the ERISA good stuff, and Winston & Strawn has the best (longest) article title of the year in its piece about digital assets.

Dechert on ESG: An Overview for Asset Managers (Dechert)

Converting a Mutual Fund to an ETF: Key Considerations (Thompson Hine)

SEC and DOL Working Together on Retirement Advice Rules (Groom)

Private Equity and Venture Capital Investment in Opportunity Zones (Sadis)

Consecutive Private and Public Offerings for Registered Funds (Seward & Kissel)

Potential Regulatory Developments for Non-Traded Closed-End Funds (Drinker Biddle)

When It Comes to Analyzing Utility Tokens, the SEC Staff’s “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets” May Be the Emperor Without Clothes (Or, Sometimes an Orange Is Just an Orange) (Winston & Strawn)

New SEC Proposal May Complicate Proxy Voting & Engagement by Advisers (Stradley Ronon)

New Rules on Cross-Border Distribution of Investment Funds in the EU (K&L Gates)

The California Consumer Privacy Act: Key Points for Private Fund Managers (Schulte Roth & Zabel)

CFP Board’s New Standard of Conduct (Eversheds Sutherland)

SEC Finds Pervasive Regulatory Failures by Registered Funds and Boards

 

The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) has warned the registered fund industry about rampant regulatory violations involving compliance programs, disclosure, advisory contract approvals, and Codes of Ethics.  In a recent Risk Alert detailing common deficiencies and weaknesses uncovered during 300 examinations over the last two years, OCIE chided the industry for weak compliance programs including policies and procedures that failed to prevent violations of investment guidelines or to ensure fulsome disclosure in fund marketing materials; breakdowns in providing the Board with adequate fair valuation information and broker quotes; weak service provider and subadviser oversight; and inadequate annual reviews.  OCIE also criticized the information used to approve advisory contracts as well as shareholder disclosure in offering documents.  OCIE also warned that funds need to enhance their Codes of Ethics including reporting and how to define “access persons.”

Hire better service providers.  Not every lawyer knows the Investment Company Act Board approval, disclosure, and reporting rules.  Not every compliance person understands Rule 38a-1 and how to implement fund procedures and testing.  Not all administrator/distributors understand the differences between private funds and registered funds.  You wouldn’t hire a neurologist to perform surgery.  You shouldn’t hire just any lawyer or compliance consultant to implement your registered fund regulatory program. 

SEC Inspections Staff Chides Advisers for Weak Supervision and Compliance

The staff of the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) has issued a Risk Alert reporting significant compliance and supervision deficiencies.  Based on data collected from a 2017 sweep of over 50 advisers, OCIE found significant weaknesses in how firms hired, supervised, and disclosed information about employees with disciplinary histories.  The OCIE staff also cited frequent compliance deficiencies including failures to supervise how fees are charged, what marketing materials are distributed, and whether remote workers complied with firm policies.  OCIE also discovered that many advisers allocated compliance responsibilities but failed to assign those responsibilities or neglected to require documentation.  The OCIE staff recommends that advisers “reflect on their practices” and implement such best practices as enhanced hiring due diligence, background checks, heightened supervision, and remote-office monitoring.

 

How many times must OCIE warn the industry about compliance, and how many enforcement actions will it take, before firms implement a legitimate compliance program?  An investment adviser should spend at least 5% of revenue on compliance, hire a dedicated Chief Compliance Officer, adopt tailored policies and procedures, test the program every year, and prepare a written compliance report of deficiencies and remediation. 

Top 5 Regulatory Alerts – Q2 2019

Here are our Top 5 Regulatory Alerts for Q2 2019 (April-June), ranked by significance.  We have also included the Top 5 most read Alerts.

 

Top 5 Regulatory Alerts – Q2 2019

  1. SEC ADOPTS REGULATION BEST INTEREST, RAISING BROKER STANDARD OF CARE (6/6/19)
  2. SEC ALERTS RIAS/BDS TO CLOUD PROVIDER MONITORING OBLIGATIONS (5/24/19)
  3. SEC SAYS THAT ICO IS NOT A SECURITIES OFFERING (4/4/19)
  4. LARGE CUSTODY BANK TO PAY $89 MILLION FOR MARKING UP OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES (6/28/19)
  5. HEDGE FUND FINED $5 MILLION FOR WEAK VALUATION PROCEDURES (6/5/19)

 Most Read – Q2 2019

  1. ADVISER FACES INDUSTRY DEATH PENALTY AND CRIMINAL PROSECUTION FOR IGNORING CUSTODY RULE (4/1/19)
  2. BIG 4 FIRM FINED $50 MILLION FOR STEALING EXAM ANSWERS (6/18/19)
  3. CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER STOLE EMPLOYEE INFORMATION TO BID AT AUCTIONS (6/4/19)
  4. DUAL-HAT PRINCIPAL/CCO CAUSED MULTIPLE COMPLIANCE VIOLATIONS (5/29/19)
  5. FRAT BRO RAN PONZI SCHEME (6/11/19)

Hedge Fund Fined $5 Million for Weak Valuation Procedures

The SEC fined a hedge fund $5 Million, and its Chief Investment Officer another $250,000, for failing to properly value portfolio securities. The SEC maintains that the firm over-relied on the discretion of traders to value Level 3 mortgage-backed securities rather than use required observable market inputs. The SEC contends that the firm consistently undervalued bonds to maximize profit upon sale. The SEC faults the CIO for failing to properly review valuation decisions and ensure that the traders followed the firm’s valuation procedures. The SEC asserts violations of the compliance rule (206(4)-7) because the firm failed to implement reasonable policies and procedures to ensure fair valuation of portfolio securities. As part of the settlement, the firm hired an experienced Chief Compliance Officer rather than rely on its prior Risk Committee comprised of executives with limited regulatory and valuation experience.

Valuation is about process. Firms that buy Level 3 securities must create a consistent, documented and contemporaneous process based on objective criteria in order to defend pricing decisions. For compli-pros, one way to test valuation is to sample whether liquidation prices vary consistently (either always higher or lower) than the firm’s internal valuations before liquidation.

SEC Official Warns Firms Not to Shortchange Compliance

In a recent speech, the Director of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, Peter Driscoll, admonished firms who do not adequately resource the compliance function. Calling compliance officers “partners,” Mr. Driscoll lauded their role on the “front lines” of regulatory compliance. Mr. Driscoll said that he could not “underscore enough a firm’s continued need to assess whether its compliance program has adequate resources to support its compliance function.” OCIE is concerned “when we hear directly from industry participants and read press reports that compliance resources and budgets are being cut or are not keeping up with firms’ risk profiles.” He stressed the importance of compliance as equal to other key business lines, critical to the success of the overall business in its role to protect the trust of clients, investors, and customers.

We have observed OCIE staff specifically ask about compliance resources and spending during examinations. Based on various research studies and our own empirical experience, firms should benchmark to spend at least 5% of revenue on compliance resources including personnel and technology. Of course, the actual spending should vary depending on the complexity and size of the business.

The Friday List: 10 Reasons Outsourcing Compliance Beats Hiring an In-House Chief Compliance Officer

Today, we offer our “Friday List,” an occasional feature summarizing a topic significant to investment management professionals interested in regulatory issues.  Our Friday Lists are an expanded “Our Take” on a particular subject, offering our unique (and sometimes controversial) perspective on an industry topic. 

Over the last several years, an increasing number of investment management firms have chosen to outsource the Chief Compliance Officer role and associated compliance function.  In our experience, these firms make this decision for rational business reasons based on an assessment that outsourcing the compliance function is better than hiring a full-time employee.  Usually, firms consider outsourcing because of an external event such as a less-than-perfect SEC exam or an institutional due diligence process that suggests unknown weaknesses.  Some firms decide to outsource after yet another internal CCO changes jobs.  Other times, firm management simply gets frustrated with the inherent limitations of the one internal compliance person.  Regardless, we list below the top 10 reasons investment firms should outsource the CCO role and compliance function rather than hire an in-house employee.

10 Reasons Outsourcing Compliance Beats Hiring an In-House CCO

  1. Experience: A team of professionals can draw on decades of aggregate compliance experience to address a firm’s regulatory challenges.
  2. Knowledge: No one person can provide the depth of knowledge of several compliance professionals working collaboratively. 
  3. Independence: A third party firm offers investors and other stakeholders an independent assessment of a firm’s compliance strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Industry best practices: A multi-person team working with multiple clients across the country has the industry vision to inform the compliance program.
  5. Accountability: A compliance firm stands behind its work and advice with a service level agreement and professional liability insurance. 
  6. 24/7/365 support: A person may take PTO, but a team of professionals is available at all times for any emergency including unplanned client due diligence and SEC exams.
  7. Personal liability: Serving as CCO involves significant personal liability, which is better left to professionals that understand and accept the regulatory and career implications. 
  8. Frees up internal resources: Internal personnel can focus on core activities such as portfolio management and fund-raising.   
  9. Management: Senior managers can avoid the confusing and time-consuming process of hiring, retaining, and managing an internal CCO, only to start the process anew in the event the CCO leaves. 
  10. Cost savings: Because of program efficiencies, outsourcing generally costs less than hiring a full-time employee. 

Marketplace Lender Fined $3 Million for Overstating Returns Due to Coding Errors


A marketplace lender agreed to pay a $3 Million fine for overstating returns because of coding errors.  The SEC asserts that the firm’s legacy coding omitted charged-off loans from historical performance calculations once the charged-off loans were sold to a third party.  According to the SEC, the firm knew as far back as 2014 that its legacy code had significant issues but failed to fix the code affecting the return calculations.  The firm used the inflated returns in client reporting and marketing. 

As firms implement FinTech and RegTech, they cannot simply set it and forget it.  Compliance, operations, and IT personnel must work together in real time to ensure that systems reflect current regulatory requirements.  Technology is a great tool, but it is not the complete answer to regulatory compliance. 

SEC Alleges that RIA and Principal Ignored Compliance Obligations

The SEC has commenced enforcement proceedings against an adviser and its principal for disregarding its compliance obligations for over 10 years.  The SEC alleges that the firm did not even draft or adopt compliance procedures until an SEC examination commenced in 2015, 11 years after it initially registered.  The SEC also asserts that the principal named two individuals on Form ADV as Chief Compliance Officers even though neither person had responsibility for compliance, and one of the individuals did not even know that he was named as CCO.  The SEC also charges the firm with failing to conduct annual compliance reviews, comply with the custody rule, and maintain required books and records. 

The SEC will offer no quarter to RIAs who ignore their basic compliance responsibilities.  At a bare minimum, firms must appoint a dedicated and qualified CCO, adopt tailored policies and procedures, annually test the program, and generally attempt to comply with the Advisers Act.  The initiation of proceedings, rather than a settled order, suggests that the SEC intends to pursue aggressive penalties. 

Best of the Law Firms – February 2019 edition

Welcome to the February 2019 edition of the Best of the Law Firms.  In this feature, we recommend some of the best recent articles and analyses authored by top investment management lawyers.  These articles offer a more comprehensive review of the issues that we address in our daily “Our Take” alerts. 

The best law firms cranked out some great articles during the last several weeks, perhaps feeling a post-holiday burst of energy.  Paul Hastings offers a great overview of the esoteric world of Section 13 and Section 16 filings.  Morgan Lewis addresses best execution issues when recommending mutual fund share classes.  Dechert tries to discern the future of Brexit.  There were also some great pieces on co-investments from Pepper Hamilton, political and lobbying activities from K&L Gates, and a CFTC survey from WilmerHale.

SEC Reporting Obligations Under Section 13 and Section 16 of the Exchange Act (Paul Hastings)

When Best Execution Isn’t Best: Mutual Fund Share Class Selection (Morgan Lewis)

Brexit Manoeuvres: Potential Implications of a “Hard Brexit” for Fund Managers: A UK Perspective (Dechert)

Common Considerations and Complications of Co-Investments (webinar) (Pepper Hamilton)

Involuntary Termination of Investment Adviser: The Nuclear Option (Perkins Coie)

Fund Boards Are Not Immune to Activists (Skadden)

A Guide to Political and Lobbying Activities (K&L Gates)

A Year to Remember for Business Development Companies (Mayer Brown)

2018 CFTC Year-In-Review (WilmerHale)

Artificial Intelligence in Financial Services: Tips for Risk Management (Kramer Levin)

Preparing for the Next Generation of Actively Managed ETFs (Thompson Hine)

Securities Cases That Will Matter Most In 2019 (Willkie Farr & Gallagher)