SEC Adopts Package of Reforms Aimed at Raising the Standard of Conduct for Brokers and Clarifying an Investment Adviser’s Fiduciary Duty

On June 5, 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted a package of rules and interpretations relating to the standards of conduct for broker-dealers and investment advisers, including a new “best interest” rule for broker-dealers. The package was adopted by a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Robert J. Jackson Jr. as the lone dissenter. Chairman Jay Clayton, who supported the package, stated that the SEC was not adopting a uniform fiduciary rule for broker-dealers and investment advisers. Instead, Chairman Clayton explained that “Regulation Best Interest incorporates fiduciary principles, but is appropriately tailored to the broker-dealer relationship model and will preserve retail investor access and choice.” Chairman Clayton, as well as the SEC’s press release, emphasized that Regulation Best Interest cannot be satisfied by disclosure alone, but rather through compliance with each of the rule’s four substantive obligations.

The actions taken on June 5 include the following:

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SEC Fund-of-Fund Rule Proposal: Potentially Disruptive Impact of Redemption Limitation

As we touched upon briefly in our previous post on the SEC’s recent Fund-of-Fund (“FOF”) rule proposal, proposed Rule 12d1-4 includes a provision that would limit an acquiring fund’s ability to redeem shares of an acquired fund. Specifically, proposed Rule 12d1-4(b)(2) would prohibit a fund that acquires more than 3% of an acquired fund’s outstanding shares from attempting to redeem more than 3% of the acquired fund’s shares in any 30-day period. Unlike most current exemptions from Section 12(d)(1), this limitation would apply to acquiring and acquired funds that are part of the same group of investment companies. However, the release asked for comments on whether to exempt funds within a group of investment companies from the limitation on redemptions.

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SEC Brings First Enforcement Actions against Robo-Advisers

On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced enforcement actions against two robo-advisers, Wealthfront Advisors LLC (“Wealthfront”) and Hedgeable Inc. (“Hedgeable”), for making false statements about investment products and publishing misleading advertising. “Robo-advisers” are investment advisers that provide automated, software-based portfolio management services. In a press release related to these actions, the Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit stated that “[t]echnology is rapidly changing the way investment advisers are able to advertise and deliver their services to clients … [but] [r]egardless of their format … all advisers must take seriously their obligations to comply with the securities laws, which were put in place to protect investors.” These enforcement actions, the first by the SEC against robo-advisers, highlight the nuanced risks and requirements for robo-advisers under U.S. securities laws.

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SEC Proposes Potentially Broadening and Disruptive New Fund-of-Funds Framework

On December 19, 2018, the SEC released a set of rule proposals (the “Proposals”) intended to streamline the regulatory framework for fund-of-funds (“FOF”) arrangements under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “1940 Act”). Investment advisers managing FOFs should consider looking closely with counsel at the impact these Proposals could have on their businesses and compliance programs. They might also consider responding to the substantive comment requests included in the Proposals.

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OCIE Announces Risk-Based Exam Initiatives for Mutual Funds—Part 2

My first post discussed the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examination’s (“OCIE’s”) recent Risk Alert (the “Alert”) and specific fund categories in its crosshairs. This post will cover the three remaining fund categories and general examination issues identified by OCIE in the Alert.

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OCIE Announces Risk-Based Exam Initiatives for Mutual Funds—Part 1

Recently, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a Risk Alert (the “Alert”) identifying six categories of mutual funds and mutual fund advisers it plans to examine: (i) index funds tracking custom-built indexes; (ii) smaller and thinly-traded exchange traded funds (“ETFs”); (iii) funds with aberrational underperformance relative to their peers; (iv) funds with higher allocations to securitized assets; (v) advisers “new” to managing mutual funds; and (vi) advisers who also manage private funds with similar strategies or that share managers with the mutual funds. The Alert provides a list of practices, risk and conflicts for each specific type of fund, but also notes OCIE will also look at standard fund examination topics.

This post reviews the first three specific categories of funds identified in the Alert. A subsequent post will discuss the final three categories, general examination issues mentioned in the Alert and additional considerations for any exam.

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2018 Recap: Tokens, Coins, Cryptocurrencies, and Other Digital Assets under the Federal Securities Laws

This post continues my recap of where things stand regarding the treatment of tokens, coins, cryptocurrencies, and other digital assets under the federal securities laws. My prior post discussed actions and statements made by the SEC in 2017. This post reviews significant enforcement actions and statements this year prior to the recent Coburn enforcement action. Continue Reading

2017 Recap: Tokens, Coins, Cryptocurrencies, and Other Digital Assets under the Federal Securities Laws – Facts and Circumstances

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) recent action against a digital trading platform illustrates the continued uncertainty surrounding the treatment of tokens, coins, cryptocurrencies, and other digital assets under the federal securities laws. Senior SEC officials have expressed concern that a significant amount of activity in this industry may not comply with federal securities laws and increasing SEC enforcement activity evinces these concerns. This set of posts offers a recap of the SEC’s previous enforcement actions and statements, providing a reminder to market participants that there is not yet any formal, comprehensive guidance on the reach of federal securities laws in this area. As a result, whether the SEC or a court determines that a particular token, coin, cryptocurrency or digital asset is a security remains a case-by-case, facts and circumstances analysis.

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EtherDelta Founder Sanctioned for Operating an Unregistered Securities Exchange

On November 8, the SEC announced an enforcement action charging the founder of a digital “token” trading platform for operating as an unregistered national securities exchange. The SEC has previously brought enforcement actions relating to unregistered broker-dealers and unregistered ICOs, including some of the tokens traded on EtherDelta. Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, commented that “EtherDelta had both the user interface and underlying functionality of an online national securities exchange and was required to register with the SEC or qualify for an exemption.”

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SEC Staff Warns About Cash Solicitation Rule Compliance

Periodically, SEC staff issue alerts describing deficiencies observed during exams, as a tool to help advisers improve their compliance programs. the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations issued a Risk Alert identifying common deficiencies in adviser compliance with Rule 206(4)-3 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Cash Solicitation Rule”), and suggesting that deficiencies in this area could indicate that an adviser is struggling with its fiduciary duties to clients under Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Advisers Act.

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