|April 22, 2013|
Previously published on April 19, 2013
The role of unregistered persons in the sale of interests in privately placed investment funds is an area of great interest for the SEC and the subject of recent enforcement actions. On March 8, 2013, the SEC filed and settled charges against a private fund manager, Ranieri Partners, LLC, one of the manager’s senior executives and an external marketing consultant regarding the consultant’s failure to register as a broker-dealer. The Ranieri Partners enforcement actions are especially interesting for two reasons: (i) there were no allegations of fraud and (ii) the private fund manager and former senior executive, in addition to the consultant, were charged.
On April 5, 2013, David Blass, the Chief Counsel to the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets, addressed a subcommittee of the American Bar Association. His remarks have been posted on the SEC website. Mr. Blass referenced a speech by the former Director of the Division of Investment Management, who expressed concern that some participants in the private fund industry may be inappropriately claiming to rely on exemptions or interpretive guidance to avoid broker-dealer registration.
In addition, Mr. Blass noted Securities Exchange Act Rule 3a4-1’s safe harbor for certain associated persons of an issuer generally is not or cannot be used by private fund advisers. He suggested that private fund managers should consider how they raise capital and whether they are soliciting securities transactions, but he did acknowledge that a key factor in determining whether someone must register as a broker-dealer is the presence of transaction-based compensation. The Chief Counsel also raised the question of whether receiving transaction-based fees in connection with the sale of portfolio companies’ required broker-dealer registration. He suggested that private fund managers may receive fees additional to advisory fees that could require broker-dealer registration, e.g., fees for investment banking activity.
On a related note, in two recent "no-action" letters, the SEC has established fairly clear rules regarding how Internet funding network sponsors may operate without being required to register as broker-dealers. On March 26 and 28, 2013, the SEC's Division of Trading and Markets addressed this narrow, fact-specific issue in response to requests from FundersClub Inc. and AngelList LLC seeking assurances that their online investment matchmaking activities would not result in enforcement action by the SEC.