On October 13, 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted (i) a new Rule 13f-2 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) which will require a wide range of firms to file monthly reports with the SEC for large short positions in equity securities on a new Form SHO, as well as (ii) an amendment to the National Market System plan governing the Consolidated Audit Trail (the “CAT NMS Plan”) which adds an additional reporting requirement for CAT-reporting firms relying on the bona fide market maker exception to Reg SHO’s locate requirement. The Final Rules, described in greater depth below, will require a significant compliance effort from firms and could potentially risk the exposure of certain valuable proprietary data. Continue Reading SEC Adopts New Short Position Reporting Requirements for Market Participants
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”) released its 2024 examination priorities on October 16, 2023 (the “2024 Priorities”), launching a new release schedule to align with the fiscal year. As in the 2023 examination priorities (the “2023 Priorities”), private fund advisers received special focus, with broad topic areas spanning both the existing Staff sweeps on custody, marketing and artificial intelligence, as well as renewed scrutiny of valuations and investment processes. Despite its release causing much fanfare, there was surprisingly little overlap between the 2024 Priorities and the newly adopted Private Fund Adviser Rules; the focus on fees and expense allocation carried over from the Private Fund Adviser Rules, and the Division picks up a theme from its adopting release by taking a shot at limited partnership advisory committees (“LPACs”) and compliance with private fund governance procedures. Continue Reading SEC Staff Play the Hits: 2024 Exam Priorities Focus on Private Funds, Marketing and Crypto
On October 8, 2023, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 54 (the “VC Diversity Law”) requiring “venture capital companies” with business ties to California to file annual reports detailing (1) specified demographic data for the founding teams of all portfolio companies invested in during the prior year and (2) the aggregate amounts of investments made by the venture capital company during the prior year and investments in specified categories of portfolio companies. Demographic data must be obtained through voluntary surveys sent to each founding team member of a portfolio company that receives funding from the venture capital company. The data, in anonymized form, will be publicly available – and searchable and downloadable – on the California Civil Rights Department’s website. The VC Diversity Law is stunning both in its scope and its plain objective to impose State-level requirements that go beyond Federal requirements. And this at a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission has exponentially increased those Federal requirements.Continue Reading California Adds To Private Fund Adviser Woes; Adopts New Diversity Reporting for Venture Capital Funds
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.
On September 9, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced charges against several investment advisers for failure to comply with requirements of Section 206(4) of the Advisers Act and the rules promulgated thereunder (commonly known as the “Custody Rule”) and deficiencies related to Form ADV filings. The advisers included BiscayneAmericas Advisers L.L.C., Garrison Investment Group, LP, Janus Henderson Investors US LLC, Lend Academy Investments, LLC, Polaris Equity Management, Inc., QVR, LLC, Ridgeview Asset Management Partners, LLC, Steward Capital Management, Inc., and Titan Fund Management, LLC. The advisers all agreed to settle the charges and will pay combined penalties of over $1 million.
Continue Reading SEC Releases Slate of Enforcement Actions Against Advisers Related to Custody Rule Violations and Form ADV Deficiencies
On July 21, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York charged Ishan Wahi, a former employee of the digital asset trading platform Coinbase (the “Company”), as well as his brother and friend, with engaging in insider trading ahead of certain of the Company’s digital asset listing announcements (i.e., announcements in which the Company publicly discloses the specific digital assets that it plans to make available for trading on its platform), which allegedly generally increase the value of the relevant digital assets.
Continue Reading SEC and DOJ Charge Employee of Digital Asset Trading Platform and His Associates With Alleged Insider Trading in Digital Assets
On June 13, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged three Charles Schwab investment adviser subsidiaries—Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Charles Schwab Investment Advisory, Inc. (“CSIA”); and Schwab Wealth Investment Advisory, Inc. (“SWIA,” and together with Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. and CSIA, “Charles Schwab”)—with violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 for alleged misconduct associated with its robo-advisor, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios (“SIP”). Unlike most other robo-advisers, Charles Schwab did not charge an advisory fee for the SIP service. However, Charles Schwab required its SIP clients to hold pre-set amounts of cash—rather than investing in equities under market conditions where equities were outperforming cash—that was then loaned out by Charles Schwab Bank at higher interest rates than it paid to the SIP clients, resulting in a profitable spread for Charles Schwab and the equivalent of a hidden fee for its clients, since holding cash lowered their returns. Charles Schwab was ordered to pay almost $46 million in disgorgement, more than $5 million in prejudgment interest, and $135 million as a civil penalty. The $187 million in total sanctions will be returned to investors. Charles Schwab also agreed to an independent consultant to conduct a “comprehensive review” of its compliance policies, and agreed to provide ongoing cooperation to the SEC in an unusual provision—a sign that there may be additional charges yet to come.
Continue Reading SEC Brings Robo-Adviser Case Against Charles Schwab for Misleading Clients About Hidden Costs
On June 8, 2022, the SEC announced a notable settlement with national audit firm CohnReznick LLP, charging it with failure to uphold several professional standards during its 2017 audits of two public companies that had previously been sued by the SEC for accounting fraud. In its order, the SEC specifically alleged that CohnReznick violated professional standards and contributed to materially misleading financial statements by, among other things, failing to exercise sufficient professional skepticism and accepting assertions from company management without sufficient supporting evidence. The SEC fined CohnReznick $1.9 million, levied fines and suspensions against several of its audit partners, and imposed an independent consultant with a sweeping mandate to demand various audit-related and internal process reforms and veto new audit clients. This action is consistent with the SEC’s repeated warnings that “gatekeepers” such as auditors are in the agency’s crosshairs.
Continue Reading SEC Imposes Penalties and Sweeping Independent Consultant on CohnReznick for Alleged Audit Failures in Case Underscoring SEC’s Focus on “Gatekeepers”
On June 7, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it had charged software company Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. and seven of its current and former employees in connection with an alleged long-running accounting fraud involving improper revenue recognition of more than $46 million across six quarters. All of those implicated settled with the SEC and agreed to pay a range of penalties, except for the former CFO and controller, who will litigate against the SEC in New York federal court. Synchronoss was ordered to pay a $12.5 million penalty.
Continue Reading SEC Accounting Enforcement Action Signals Heightened Focus on Individual Accountability and Puts Public Company Executives on Notice for Potential SOX 304 Reimbursement
The SEC and a consortium of 32 states recently announced a $100 million settlement with BlockFi Lending LLC over its crypto lending product, BlockFi Interest Accounts. The SEC alleged BlockFi had violated the securities laws by failing to register its interest-bearing crypto lending product as a security, failing to register itself as an investment company,…