Year-End Client Letter
As we turn the page on 2022, we would like to highlight the following legal, regulatory and business matters that may affect you or your clients heading into the new year. As always, feel free to reach out to us should you have any questions.
Investment Advisers and Exempt Reporting AdvisersAnnual Amendment of Form ADV. Each registered investment adviser (RIA) and exempt reporting adviser (ERA) must file an annual updated amendment to its Form ADV. The annual amendment must be filed within 90 days of the adviser’s fiscal year-end.
Each RIA should also provide to each client an updated Form ADV Part 2A brochure and a summary of material changes to the brochure, if any (or simply a summary of material changes, if any, accompanied by an offer to provide the updated brochure).
Investment Adviser Registration Depository (IARD) Renewal Fees. Annual renewal fees for Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and state RIAs, as well as SEC ERAs, are due to the IARD by December 12, 2022. Please visit www.iard.com for more information.
Form PF. An investment adviser must file Form PF if it (i) is registered or required to be registered with the SEC; (ii) advises one or more private funds; and (iii) has at least $150 million in private fund assets under management. Investment advisers must file Form PF on an annual basis within 120 days of the fund’s fiscal year-end.
Form 13H Amendments. All large traders that have made a Form 13H filing with the SEC are required to submit an annual filing within 45 days of the end of each calendar year.
New SEC Investment Adviser Marketing Rules are Now in Full Effect. The SEC’s new marketing rules took effect on November 4, 2022. As of that date, RIAs are no longer permitted to choose to comply with the previous advertising and cash solicitation rules.
Broadly, the new marketing rules include updates to (i) the definition of an advertisement; (ii) generally prohibited advertising practices; (iii) the parameters for including testimonials, endorsements and third-party ratings; and (iv) the parameters for including performance results. The SEC also amended the books and records rules to require investment advisers to maintain records of certain advertisements, as well as amended Form ADV to require advisers to disclose their marketing practices.
On September 19, 2022, the SEC released guidance regarding how examinations will focus on the new marketing rules. Specific areas of review will include whether advisers have (i) adopted and implemented written policies and procedures designed to prevent violations of the new rules; (ii) a reasonable basis for believing they can substantiate material statements of fact in advertisements; (iii) complied with the new rules regarding performance advertising; and (iv) followed the amendments to the books and records requirements and accurately completed the new portion of Form ADV relating to the marketing rules.
The new portion of Form ADV was added to Item 5 of Part 1A.
SEC Proposes Significant Changes in Private Fund Regulation. On February 9, 2022, the SEC proposed new rules and regulations under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 applicable to both SEC-registered and unregistered private fund advisers. The intent of the proposed rules is to require fund managers “to provide transparency to their investors regarding the full cost of investing in private funds and the performance of such private funds.”
See our full blog post with a summary of the proposed rules here. Generally, the proposed rules require annual audits and quarterly statements for RIAs (in lieu of the surprise examination option) and prohibit certain activities for SEC-registered and unregistered private fund advisers. Notably, one of the proposed prohibited practices involves the use of side letters that provide select fund investors with favorable terms. Under the proposed rules, these side letters would need to be disclosed to all prospective and current investors. The initial comment period for the proposed rules was set to end on April 25, 2022. The SEC later extended the comment period to June 13, 2022.
SEC Proposes Amendments to Form PF. On August 10, 2022 the SEC proposed amendments to Form PF in an effort to bolster the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s ability to assess systemic risk along with the SEC’s regulatory authority over fund managers and its investor protection efforts. Generally, the proposed amendments seek to (i) enhance reporting by large hedge fund advisers on qualifying hedge funds; (ii) enhance reporting on basic information about advisers and the private funds they advise; (iii) enhance reporting concerning hedge funds; (iv) amend how advisers report complex structures; and (v) remove aggregate reporting for large hedge fund advisers.
Notable to the digital asset space, the proposed amendments add a new sub-asset class for digital assets and include a definition for the term “digital asset.” The SEC specifically requested comments with respect to how digital assets should be categorized and disclosed. The comment period ended on October 11, 2022.
SEC Charges Advisory Firms for Custody Rule and ADV Violations. On September 9, 2022, the SEC issued a press release detailing charges against multiple investment advisers for failing to comply with SEC custody rules and/or failing to update the status of their audited financial statements on Form ADV. The firms ultimately agreed to pay civil penalties totaling more than $1 million. In detailing the charges, the SEC re-emphasized that RIAs managing private funds should ensure they are distributing audited financial statements to investors in a timely manner and updating their Form ADVs when audited financial statements are received. Specifically, the SEC noted that if an RIA checks “Report Not Yet Received” under Part 1A, Schedule D, Section 7.B.23 of its Form ADV, it must promptly file an amendment when the report is available. ERAs should also keep this in mind to the extent their funds are subject to an annual audit.
The charges follow an SEC settlement with another registered adviser in March for failing to maintain adequate policies and procedures regarding the custody rule and failing to deliver audited statements in a timely manner. RIAs managing private funds should review their policies and procedures to confirm they are currently compliant.
SEC Proposes New Requirements for Outsourced Services. On October 26, 2022, the SEC proposed new rules for RIAs that prohibit outsourcing certain functions without appropriate due diligence and monitoring of the service providers. The proposed rules apply to “covered functions,” which are functions or services that (i) are “necessary to provide advisory services in compliance with the Federal securities laws”; and (ii) “if not performed or performed negligently, would be reasonably likely to cause a material negative impact on the adviser’s clients or on the adviser’s ability to provide investment advisory services.” The proposed rules outline the due diligence procedures required before retaining a service provider to perform a “covered function” and require advisers to obtain reasonable assurances that third-party recordkeepers meet certain enumerated standards regarding their recordkeeping procedures. The SEC is currently accepting comments regarding the proposed rules until December 27, 2022.
Commodity Trading Advisors and Commodity Pool Operators
Annual Reaffirmation of CPO Exemption. Commodity pool operators (CPOs) and commodity trading advisors (CTAs) relying on an exemption from registration with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are required to reaffirm their exemption eligibility within 60 days of the calendar year-end.
Forms CPO-PQR and CTA-PR. Registered CPOs and CTAs must file Form CPO-PQR and Form CTA-PR, respectively, using the NFA’s EasyFile system. Registered CPOs must file Form CPO-PQR on a quarterly basis within 60 days of the quarters ending in March, June and September, as well as within 90 days of the calendar year-end. Registered CTAs must file Form CTA-PR on a quarterly basis within 45 days of each quarter-end.
Advisers that are dually registered with the SEC and the CFTC may satisfy certain Form CPO-PQR filing requirements by filing Form PF by the Form CPO-PQR deadline.
CPO and CTA Annual Report Updates. Registered CPOs—including CPOs utilizing the CFTC Regulation 4.7 exemption—must distribute an Annual Report to each participant in each pool that they operate, as well as submit a copy of the Annual Report and key financial balances to the National Futures Association (NFA), within 90 days of the pool’s fiscal year-end. An independent certified public accountant must certify the Annual Report.
CPOs should also check the date of the most recent disclosure document of each pool they operate. CPOs are generally prohibited from soliciting clients with a disclosure document that has not been updated within the past 12 months.
CFTC and NFA Matters
CFTC Releases Enforcement Results for 2022. On October 20, 2022, the CFTC released its annual enforcement results for the fiscal year 2022. In total, the CFTC obtained orders imposing over $2.5 billion in payments and filed 82 enforcement actions. Notably, 18 of the CFTC actions involved digital assets. The digital asset-related actions largely involved either unregistered exchange activity or untrue/misleading statements made in connection with digital assets. The CFTC has general authority over most digital asset derivative transactions and has broad anti-fraud authority over spot digital asset transactions. The CFTC’s Division of Enforcement has a task force specifically dedicated to digital assets, and we expect to see the CFTC continue to prioritize bringing regulatory actions in the digital assets space.
CFTC Finds DAO Liable as an Unincorporated Association. On September 22, 2022, the CFTC filed an enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California charging a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) with illegally offering retail commodity transactions in digital assets. The CFTC alleged the DAO solicited customers for its software protocol that allowed users “to open leveraged positions whose ultimate value was determined by the price difference between two digital assets from the time the position was established to the time it was closed.” The CFTC classified these transactions as retail commodity transactions that were unlawful since they did not take place on a designated contract market.
The founders of the protocol transferred the protocol from a limited liability company to the DAO and then touted the DAO’s ability to avoid regulation. However, the CFTC stated that the DAO and its members should nevertheless be liable based on the existence of the DAO as an unincorporated association. The CFTC also filed an enforcement action against the original LLC and its founders. Significantly, the enforcement action and order demonstrate the CFTC’s willingness to go after DAOs and their participants. Fund managers should keep this regulatory risk in mind when investing in decentralized finance (DeFi) projects involving DAOs.
Digital Assets Matters
FTX Fallout. On November 11, 2022, FTX Trading Ltd. and its affiliates (FTX) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware. The bankruptcy sent shockwaves through the crypto industry not seen since the Mt. Gox collapse in 2014. We are actively working with our clients impacted by FTX’s collapse to develop appropriate responses, from both a legal and a business operations standpoint. Although the collapse is a repeat of financial fraud as old as time rather than an indictment of blockchain technology and decentralization (it is arguably the opposite), it does shine a light on the need for clearer regulation. We continue to expect the SEC to emerge as the leading regulator of crypto exchanges and tokens and are monitoring potential legislative responses from Congress. Although there appears to be bipartisan support for certain reforms such as separating custody from trading platforms, unique challenges remain such as how to prevent non-US exchanges that may fall outside the US regulatory regime from interacting with US customers.
SEC Scales Up Crypto Enforcement Team. On May 3, 2022, the SEC announced it was nearly doubling its Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit in its Division of Enforcement from 30 to 50 dedicated positions. The expanded Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit is tasked with focusing on securities law violations related to crypto asset offerings, exchanges and lending products, as well as DeFi platforms, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and stablecoins. The expansion of the SEC’s crypto enforcement arm is consistent with SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s sustained push to establish the SEC as crypto’s chief regulator of the asset class.
DOJ Charges Former OpenSea Employee in First Digital Asset Insider Trading Scheme. On June 1, 2022, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced charges against a former product manager at OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace, for a scheme to commit insider trading. The OpenSea employee allegedly used confidential information regarding which NFTs were going to be featured on OpenSea’s homepage to invest ahead of the announcements. Interestingly, the DOJ elected to sidestep the issue of whether the underlying NFTs were securities by charging the defendant with wire fraud and money laundering.
SEC Charges Former Coinbase Manager with Insider Trading. On July 21, 2022, the SEC announced insider trading charges against a former Coinbase product manager and others for trading ahead of multiple announcements regarding tokens that were being added to the Coinbase trading platform. The SEC appeared to use the charges to regulate through enforcement by explicitly noting that many of the underlying tokens are securities. While the SEC has previously identified tokens as securities, those charges typically involved direct enforcement actions against an issuer. As SEC Division of Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal noted, the case highlights the SEC’s focus on treating many tokens as securities regardless of label.
SEC Charges Influencer for Touting Token. On October 3, 2022, the SEC announced charges against Kim Kardashian for touting EthereumMax tokens on her Instagram account without disclosing that she was paid $250,000 to publish the post. Ms. Kardashian agreed to settle the charges, cooperate with the SEC’s ongoing investigation and pay $1.26 million in penalties, disgorgement and interest. In addition to reinforcing the SEC’s position that many tokens are securities offerings subject to federal securities laws, the charges and settlement were a highly publicized warning to celebrities and influencers to avoid promoting tokens on their social media accounts without disclosing compensation received from the token issuer.
Additional Compliance Matters
Verification of New Issues Status. Fund managers must conduct an annual verification of each account to ensure investors are eligible to participate in initial public offerings or new issues pursuant to FINRA Rules 5130 and 5131. While the initial verification requires affirmative representations by account holders, FINRA allows subsequent verifications to be completed using negative consent letters.
Annual Audited Financial Statements. RIAs that manage private funds are generally required to distribute audited financial statements to each fund investor within 120 days of each year-end.
Form D Annual Amendments. Form D filings for funds maintaining continuous offerings must be amended annually, on or before the anniversary of the Form D filing or the filing of the most recent amendment. When amending Form D, the fund should review the entire form and ensure all information is up to date.
Blue Sky Filings. Fund managers should review their state blue sky filings to ensure they have met any applicable state renewal requirements.
If you require assistance with any of the above items, please do not hesitate to contact Kevin Cott at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we appreciate your continued business and support. From all of us at Cott Law Group, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year.