SIFMA Issues Guidance on Rule 506(c) Verification

On June 23, 2014, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”) issued a memorandum (the “Memorandum”) containing guidance for broker-dealers and investment advisers with respect to verifying the status of purchasers as accredited investors in connection with offerings made pursuant to Rule 506(c) (Reg D offerings utilizing general solicitation, as we have previously blogged about).

Pursuant to Rule 506(c), an issuer utilizing general solicitation for a Reg D offering must, among other things, take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers in the offering are accredited investors. The reasonable verification requirement is a separate condition from the condition that all purchasers in a Rule 506(c) offering must be accredited investors, and the requirement has generated significant commentary.

The Rule 506(c) adopting release provided four non-exclusive safe harbor methods that an issuer can utilize for such reasonable verification, two of which require the issuer to obtain detailed financial information from a purchaser. An issuer may also rely on the written confirmation of a purchaser’s accredited investor status issued by a registered broker-dealer or investment adviser, licensed attorney or certified public accountant. Any such third party must, however, take reasonable steps to verify the purchaser’s accredited investor status before providing written confirmation to the issuer.

To this end, the Memorandum provides two verification methods for broker-dealers and investment advisers to use in verifying natural persons as accredited investors that SIFMA believes satisfies the “reasonable verification” requirement.

One verification method (the “account balance method”) is essentially a determination by the broker-dealer or investment adviser of the purchaser’s net worth. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize the account balance method, a purchaser must have been a client of the broker-dealer or investment adviser for at least six months, must have (either individually or together with a spouse, if applicable) at least $2 million in cash and marketable securities in the purchaser’s account prior to making the investment in the Rule 506(c) offering, must make certain representations (pursuant to purchaser representations provided by SIFMA as part of the Memorandum) regarding, among other things, the purchaser’s indebtedness, and the broker-dealer or investment adviser must be unaware of any facts to indicate that the client is not an accredited investor.

The other method (the “investment amount method”) uses the purchaser’s investment amount as a proxy for the purchaser’s status as an accredited investor. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize the investment amount method, a purchaser must have been a client of the broker-dealer or investment adviser for at least six months, must invest, or unconditionally commit to fund, at least $250,000 in a Rule 506(c) offering, which commitment is callable in whole at any time, must make certain representations (pursuant to purchaser representations provided by SIFMA as part of the Memorandum) including, among other things, that the investment in the Rule 506(c) offering is less than 25% of the purchaser’s net worth (either individually or together with a spouse), and the broker-dealer or investment adviser must be unaware of any facts to indicate that the client is not an accredited investor and, in the case of a commitment, the broker-dealer or investment adviser has knowledge that the purchaser has fulfilled a call under a prior commitment.

The Memorandum also provides a method for broker-dealers and investment advisers to use in verifying legal entities (i.e., corporations, LLCs, etc.) as accredited investors. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize this method, a purchaser-entity must be named on the broker-dealer’s or investment adviser’s current list of clients that qualify as “institutional accounts” as defined in FINRA Rule 4512(c)(3)or as Qualified Institutional Buyers (which are required to have investible assets of at least $100 million), or the purchaser-entity must make an investment in the Rule 506(c) offering in excess of $5 million and must provide a written representation that it was not formed for the purpose of making that investment and that it has made at least one prior investment in securities (whether in a primary offering or in the secondary market).

If issuers begin to use Rule 506(c) offerings with increasing frequency, SIFMA’s guidance in the Memorandum may be an important guidepost for broker-dealers and investment advisers and other third parties (e.g., attorneys and accountants) in assisting issuers to comply with the “reasonable verification” requirement set forth in Rule 506(c). This guidance may also be useful to issuers and other market participants.

Private Fund Advisers Get Custody Rule Relief With Respect To Certificated Privately-Offered Securities

On August 1, 2013, the SEC’s Division of Investment Management issued IM Guidance Update No. 2013-04 (Guidance).  The Guidance provides relief to private fund advisers with respect to the requirement to maintain certain certificated, privately-offered securities with a qualified custodian.  Specifically, the Guidance provides the following:

“The Division would not object if an adviser does not maintain private stock certificates with a qualified custodian, provided that (1) the client is a pooled investment vehicle that is subject to a financial statement audit in accordance with paragraph (b)(4) of the custody rule; (2) the private stock certificate can only be used to effect a transfer or to otherwise facilitate a change in beneficial ownership of the security with the prior consent of the issuer or holders of the outstanding securities of the issuer; (3) owner­ship of the security is recorded on the books of the issuer or its transfer agent in the name of the client; (4) the private stock certificate contains a legend restricting transfer; and (5) the private stock certificate is appropriately safeguarded by the adviser and can be replaced upon loss or destruction.”

Advisers wanting to rely on this relief should revise their compliance manuals and adopt additional policies and procedures related to the safeguarding of private stock certificates that are not maintained with a qualified custodian.

 

SEC Issues Letter to New Investment Advisers Regarding Presence Exams

On October 9, 2012, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) of the SEC issued a letter directed to senior officers of newly registered investment advisers that manage private equity funds introducing them to the National Exam Program (NEP). The letter explains that the NEP is launching an initiative to conduct Presence Exams, which are focused, risk-based examinations of investment advisers to private funds.  In the letter, the SEC explains that the Presence Exams initiative will take place over the next two years and will be comprised of three phases: engagement, examination and reporting. 

Engagement Phase.  The NEP is currently engaged in an outreach program to inform newly registered investment advisers about their obligations under the Advisers Act.  As part of such outreach, the NEP has published various materials, including staff letters, risk alerts, special studies and speeches.  The letter contains a list of some of these resources and their reference links. 

Examination Phase.  The letter states that the NEP staff will contact advisers separately if and when they are selected for an examination.  If an adviser is selected for examination, the NEP staff will review one or more of the following higher risk areas: marketing, portfolio management, conflicts of interest, safety of client assets and valuation.   Upon completion of an on-site examination, the NEP staff may send the investment adviser a letter (i) indicating that the exam has concluded without findings, or (ii) describing the deficiencies identified and asking the firm to take corrective action.  Serious deficiencies may be referred to the Division of Enforcement of the SEC or other regulators.

Reporting Phase.  Upon completion of the examination phase, the NEP will report its observations, such as common practices and industry trends, to the SEC and the public.

SEC Extends Compliance Date for Third-Party Solicitor Provisions of Advisers Act Pay-to-Play Rule

On June 8, 2012, the SEC extended the compliance date for the third-party solicitor provisions of Rule 206(4)-5 of the Advisers Act (the “Pay-to -Play Rule”). The Pay-to-Play Rule, among other things, prohibits an adviser from providing or agreeing to provide, directly or indirectly, compensation to any person to solicit a government entity for investment advisory services on behalf of such adviser unless the person is an executive officer, general partner, managing member or employee of the adviser, or such person is a registered investment adviser, a registered broker-dealer, or a registered municipal adviser. 

The SEC extended the compliance date for the third-party solicitor provisions of the Pay-to-Play Rule until nine months after the compliance date of a final rule adopted by the SEC related to the registration of municipal advisor firms. Once the final rule regarding the registration of municipal advisor firms is adopted, the SEC will issue the new compliance date for the ban on third-party solicitations.

SEC Issues New FAQs Related to Form ADV

 

The SEC recently issued two new FAQs clarifying certain reporting requirements in Form ADV.  The first new FAQ explains how assets are defined for purposes of responding to Form ADV’s question as to whether an adviser had $1 billion or more in assets as of the last day of the adviser’s most recent fiscal year end. The other new FAQ explains that an investment adviser registered with the SEC that files an annual updating amendment reporting that the adviser is not eligible for SEC registration must withdraw from registration within 180 days of its fiscal year end, unless the adviser then is eligible for SEC registration. Therefore, if a firm is registered with the SEC and reports having regulatory assets under management of less than $90 million on its annual updating amendment, but subsequently obtains $90 million or more in regulatory assets under management during the 180 day period, such adviser does not need to withdraw from SEC registration.