On August 23, 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted new rules under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) that will significantly impact private fund advisers (the “Final Rules”). Although the Final Rules abandoned most of the headline prohibitions in the SEC’s original proposal (the “Proposed Rules”) from February 10, 2022 (discussed in our Alert Memo here) — which created shock waves through the industry for its proscriptive requirements and tone — the Final Rules still contain onerous and market practice-changing requirements. The Final Rules do not prohibit indemnification for negligence or ban the standard practice of accounting for taxes in clawback requirements, as the Proposed Rules threatened. But they do impose substantial new and detailed quarterly reporting requirements, two prohibitions and many new disclosure requirements for side letters and expense allocations, and restrict certain other activities, which the SEC explicitly warned that Exam and Enforcement Staff will be closely reviewing. With a few limited exceptions, all registered advisers (“RIAs”) will have their hands full implementing new and modified reporting, and RIAs, exempt reporting advisers (“ERAs”) and other advisers exempt from registration must develop processes — and make difficult judgments — about providing preferential treatment to selected investors and engaging in the targeted activities.Continue Reading Fund Rules Dampened, Not Defanged: SEC’s final private fund rules drop proposed bans on certain activities, but still have bite.
Robin M. Bergen’s practice focuses on government and internal investigations, and regulatory enforcement and examination of broker-dealers and investment advisers.
On September 2 and 3, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced settlements with Pareteum Corporation (“Pareteum”) and Kraft Heinz Co. (“KHC”) for accounting fraud following years of alleged accounting improprieties and financial restatements at both companies. The underlying facts differed in significant ways, including with respect to the alleged involvement of senior executives, but both companies apparently received cooperation credit for their prompt and proactive remediation and cooperation with the SEC Division of Enforcement’s investigations. The messaging in relation to the announcement of these cases and their timing, coming in the early days of new Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal’s tenure, is instructive. We expect the SEC to continue to focus on accounting fraud and to credit companies who provide cooperation in these challenging and resource-intensive investigations. To see a meaningful increase in the frequency and nature of cooperation, the SEC would be well-served to provide even more explicit guidance on how cooperation results in improved settlement terms. That said, these recent settlements are helpful in understanding the benefits of cooperation at this time.
Continue Reading Two Recent Settlements Highlight Heightened SEC Focus on Accounting Fraud and Potential Benefits of Cooperation
On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”)—formerly the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations—released its 2021 Examination Priorities (“2021 Priorities”). The 2021 Priorities generally retain perennial risk areas as the Division’s core focus, but do include several new and emerging risk areas reflecting broader policy shifts under new SEC leadership.
The 2021 Priorities include: retail investors; information security and operational resilience; financial technology (“Fintech”), including digital assets; anti-money laundering; transition from the London Inter‑Bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”); several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies; market infrastructure; and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies. Although not formal priorities, the Division will also focus on climate-related risks and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters in light of recent market developments and broader attention in these areas.
Continue Reading Turning the Page: Highlights of the SEC’s Division of Examination’s 2021 Priorities
The tumultuous events of 2020, including the ongoing pandemic and the election of a new U.S. President, will have direct and lasting impacts on white-collar and regulatory enforcement in the years to come. As we enter 2021, we anticipate that white-collar and regulatory enforcement will be more active under the Biden administration, as policy priorities shift toward financial and corporate fraud, as well as ESG issues, environmental and social justice, more generally. At the same time, we expect the already-visible pandemic and recession-related enforcement trends to continue, with a sustained focus on financial statement and accounting fraud. Finally, we expect that the increased reliance on whistleblowers will continue (and potentially grow) in 2021.
Continue Reading Priorities, Trends and Developments in Enforcement and Compliance
On December 22, the SEC finalized significant revisions to its rules under the Investment Advisers Act governing advertising and solicitation by investment advisers. The new Marketing Rule represents the first substantive changes to the Advertising Rule and Solicitation Rule since their adoption more than 40 years ago.
The Final Rule made several significant changes to…
On September 30, 2020, amidst a blizzard of cases filed at the end of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fiscal year, the SEC announced a settlement with BGC Partners, Inc. (“BGC”) involving allegedly misleading disclosures concerning how it calculated a key non-GAAP financial measure (“NGFM”). This settlement is the latest in a string of enforcement actions relating to what the SEC views as improper uses of NGFMs. In advance of year-end reporting, this action is a useful reminder to companies to carefully consider the SEC guidance and recent enforcement actions related to NGFMs. At least 95% of all Fortune 500 companies publish NGFMs, and the SEC has indicated that it will be reviewing NGFMs with particular scrutiny this year-end in light of the challenges of reporting on performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Continue Reading SEC Brings Enforcement Action Against Global Brokerage Company, Finding False and Misleading Statements In Connection With Non-GAAP Financial Measures
On the eve of the U.S. presidential election last week, the SEC Enforcement Division released its annual report for fiscal year 2020 (the “Report”), providing an overview of the Division’s enforcement figures, developments, and areas of focus in what Director Stephanie Avakian described as “the most challenging year in recent memory.” This past year has marked, together with the longest shutdown in government history the year prior, a challenging but reasonably productive time for the SEC’s enforcement program. Just as last year’s report highlighted the Division’s struggles during the fiscal shutdown, the final annual report of the Clayton-led SEC focuses on the significant disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the Division’s operations, investigations, and priorities, including the suspension of testimony for several months, establishment of a Coronavirus Steering Committee, and redirection of resources toward COVID-related fraud. This time around, however, the Division could not avoid a drop-off in the number of enforcement cases, which seems attributable at least in part to the pandemic and its profound impact on the SEC’s operations.
Continue Reading From Government Shutdown to COVID-19: SEC Enforcement Division Releases Final Chapter of Jay Clayton-led SEC
On September 17, 2020, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce gave a speech that focused on potential issues raised by investment advisers that—while purporting to follow environmental, social and governance (“ESG”)-labeled investment strategies—did not, in Commissioner Peirce’s words, “walk the ESG walk.” Her comments are the latest reminder that, while the SEC has continued to struggle with whether to mandate specific ESG disclosures, there seems to be consensus behind the SEC’s focus on determining whether advisers’ disclosures concerning ESG are sufficiently accurate and understandable. Thus, asset managers would be well served to review and, where warranted, enhance their ESG-related disclosures and compliance policies in an area where the SEC’s Enforcement Division may well be looking to bring cases.
Continue Reading Despite Disagreements, SEC Commissioners Emphasize Need for Clear Disclosure by ESG Funds
On September 10, 2020, the Division of Enforcement (“Division”) of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) released guidance (“CFTC Guidance”) outlining factors the Division will consider when evaluating compliance programs in connection with enforcement actions. The CFTC Guidance ties into guidance released by the Division in May directing staff to consider an entity’s compliance program…
On June 22, 2020, the Supreme Court held in Liu v. SEC that the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) may seek, and courts have the power to grant, disgorgement as an equitable remedy for violations of the securities laws. However, the Court also placed potentially important limitations on disgorgement, holding that—to qualify as an equitable…