Risk & Reward

Private Equity in ERISA DC Plans: DOL Issues Guidance

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released new guidance yesterday that will likely facilitate the inclusion of private equity (PE) exposure in participant-directed defined contribution (DC) plans subject to the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). The guidance concerns the viability of multi-asset target-date, target-risk and balanced funds made available on a plan lineup, including as a designated investment alternative under a Section 404(c) plan and/or as a qualified default investment alternative, with a PE component. This new guidance does not address participants investing directly in a standalone PE fund, which raises considerable securities laws issues. Here are the key takeaways:

  • The guidance is relevant to ERISA plan sponsors, as well as plan advisers and private equity managers.
  • DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia indicated that the DOL issued this guidance in response to President Donald Trump’s May 19, 2020 Executive Order, in which the President directed agencies “to remove barriers to the greatest engine of economic prosperity the world has ever known: the innovation, initiative, and drive of the American people” in order that we may “overcome the effects the virus has had on our economy.” According to the DOL’s news release, Jay Clayton, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said the DOL’s new guidance “will provide our long-term Main Street investors with a choice of professionally managed funds that more closely match the diversified public and private market asset allocation strategies pursued by many well-managed pension funds as well as the benefit of selection and monitoring by ERISA fiduciaries.”
  • Plan sponsors, consultants and fund managers have for years wrestled with how to enable participants in a DC plan to gain exposure to PE to increase diversification and returns without running afoul of ERISA. The illiquid nature of PE presents practical challenges for plan fiduciaries considering participants’ needs for liquidity. The complexity and cost of PE have also been hindrances to DC plan adoption, particularly in light of the widespread fee litigation brought against plan fiduciaries. This new guidance provides a helpful roadmap for plan sponsors and other fiduciaries when considering the inclusion in the plan lineup of a fund with PE exposure.
  • The selection and monitoring of an investment fund made available in a participant-directed plan is subject to ERISA’s stringent fiduciary duties. This guidance explains how a fiduciary, in a manner consistent with its fiduciary duties, can select an investment option that has PE exposure. As a general matter, “the fiduciary must engage in an objective, thorough, and analytical process that compares the asset allocation fund with appropriate alternative funds that do not include a private equity component, anticipated opportunities for investment diversification and enhanced investment returns, as well as the complexities associated with the private equity component.”
  • Fiduciaries will still have to deal with any prohibited transaction concerns under ERISA, as well as securities, banking and other laws, which the guidance does not address. The responsible fiduciary must also still comply with existing DOL regulations relating to participant-directed plans, as applicable, such as 29 C.F.R. § 2550.404a-5, 29 C.F.R. § 2550.404c-1 and 29 C.F.R. § 2550.404c-5.
  • The types of funds the DOL has in mind under the new guidance are those with partial exposure to PE; the remainder of the fund’s portfolio would need to have “a range of asset classes with different risk and return characteristics and investment horizons.” The DOL specifically envisions the non-PE asset classes to be both liquid and have readily ascertainable market values, such as publicly-traded securities. The DOL is agnostic as to whether the investment fund itself invests in PE or if it operates as a fund-of-funds. The DOL implies that it may be advisable for the fiduciary to (i) seek funds that fix and designate their PE exposure and/or (ii) ensure that the private equity investments are independently valued according to agreed-upon valuation procedures that satisfy the Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 820, “Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures.”
  • As part of the decision-making process in evaluating a prospective fund with PE exposure for inclusion on the plan’s lineup, the plan sponsor or other responsible fiduciary should consider whether:
    • it has the skills, knowledge and experience to actually determine that the fund is prudent for the plan (taking into account the plan’s demographics, anticipated employee turnover, liquidity needs, etc.) or whether it should instead seek outside assistance in doing so;
    • the fund “would offer plan participants the opportunity to invest their accounts among more diversified investment options within an appropriate range of expected returns net of fees (including management fees, performance compensation, or other fees or costs that would impact the returns received) and diversification of risks over a multi-year period”;
    • the fund is overseen by a plan fiduciary or managed by “investment professionals that have the capabilities, experience, and stability to manage an asset allocation fund that includes private equity investments effectively given the nature, size, and complexity of the private equity activity”; and,
    • the fund “has limited the allocation of investments to private equity in a way that is designed to address the unique characteristics associated with such an investment, including cost, complexity, disclosures, and liquidity, and has adopted features related to liquidity and valuation designed to permit the asset allocation fund to provide liquidity for participants to take benefits and direct exchanges among the plan’s investment line-up consistent with the plan’s terms.”

In sum, the DOL guidance may facilitate the inclusion of PE within DC plan lineups and allay fiduciary duty concerns regarding the selection and monitoring of target-date, target-risk and balanced funds that have a PE component.

1940 Act Issues to Consider During the Pandemic – Part 10

Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force will be updating this high-level overview of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) related issues for registered investment companies and fund managers as developments warrant.

UPDATED ISSUES:

  • Market Closures and Market Restrictions: A list of securities market closures and market restrictions is available here(Updated 6/1/2020)
  • Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has established the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), which will provide non-recourse funding to eligible borrowers owning eligible collateral in the form of AAA-rated asset-backed securities backed by newly and recently originated consumer and small business loans.1 A TALF borrower must have significant operations in and a majority of its employees based in the United States. The New York Fed has provided guidance that, for a borrower organized as an investment fund, this test will be applied to the borrower’s investment manager.2 The facility initially will make up to $100 billion of loans available, and each loan provided under the facility will have a maturity of three years. Unless the program is extended, no new credit extensions will be made after Sept. 30, 2020. The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009 provided no-action guidance to allow registered funds to participate in a similar facility established in 2008.3 The SEC staff has confirmed that the 2009 guidance is also applicable to the current facility, and it has provided guidance that a fund or business development company may participate in TALF indirectly through a private fund.4 (Updated 6/1/2020)
  • Transfer Agents and Fingerprinting Requirements: The SEC has provided a broad exemption from requirements applicable to transfer agents except for the safeguarding requirement.5 The exemption also applies to broker-dealers and other persons who are subject to a fingerprinting requirement. Transfer agents and other persons relying on the relief must provide notice to the SEC. The SEC encourages transfer agents and the issuers for whom they act to inform affected security holders. The SEC has extended the period covered by the exemption to June 30; it originally was due to expire May 31.6 (Updated 6/1/2020)
  • Exchange-Traded Funds:
    • The New York Fed has established the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF), which will purchase in the secondary market corporate bonds issued by U.S. companies and shares of U.S.-listed ETFs whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds.7 The New York Fed has retained BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory as a third-party vendor to serve as the investment manager for this facility.8 The SMCCF will cease making such purchases no later than Sept. 30, 2020, unless extended. The Federal Reserve Board announced on April 9 that the SMCCF had been expanded and, together with the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, will have a combined size of up to $750 billion.9 The SMCCF may purchase any U.S.-listed ETF whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds, although the preponderance of ETF holdings will be ETFs whose primary investment objective is exposure to U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds. The SMCCF will not purchase shares of an ETF if it then would own more than 20% of the ETF’s shares. The facility began making purchases on May 12, 2020, and is transacting initially with primary dealers that deal directly with the New York Fed. As of May 19, the SMCCF had made purchases of approximately $1.307 billion, all in ETFs, and it had an additional $287 million of purchases that had not yet reached settlement.10 (Updated 6/1/2020)
    • For an ETF that invests in foreign markets that close, the ETF may wish to consider whether to invest in alternative instruments, such as ADRs, in order to achieve the desired exposure to the foreign securities. In circumstances where there is no ability to make additional investments in appropriate alternative instruments, an ETF may wish to stop accepting creation unit purchases. The SEC previously has noted that ETFs generally may suspend the issuance of creation units only for a limited time and only due to extraordinary circumstances, such as when the markets on which the ETF’s portfolio holdings are traded are closed for a limited period of time.11 ETF issuers should be aware that any decision to suspend creations could have an impact on the arbitrage efficiency of the ETF and could lead to greater deviations between the market price of the ETF shares and the NAV of the shares. Like other open-end funds, ETFs cannot suspend redemptions unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed or there is appropriate guidance from the SEC. ETFs are permitted to charge transaction fees of up to 2% on redemptions. Such fees are designed to offset the costs of redemptions to the ETF. Some fixed-income ETFs that deliver cash redemptions instead of in-kind redemptions reportedly have increased their transaction fees on redemptions in light of increased transaction costs in the bond market. (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Money Market Mutual Funds:
    • Liquidity Facility: The Federal Reserve Board has announced a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) that is intended to assist money market funds in meeting demands for redemptions.12 Under the MMLF, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston will lend to depository institutions and bank holding companies, taking as collateral assets purchased by the borrower from prime money market funds (i) concurrently with the borrowing or (ii) or on or after March 18, but before the opening of the facility. The facility is similar to the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility that operated from late 2008 to early 2010 but will purchase a broader range of assets. The Federal Reserve Board expanded the facility to cover certain assets purchased from tax-exempt municipal money market funds.13 The Federal Reserve Board has announced that the facility opened March 23, and full documentation and additional guidance are available.14 As of May 14, 2020, the total outstanding amount of the loans under the facility was approximately $39.4 billion (down from $51.1 billion as of April 14).15 (Updated 6/1/2020)
    • Form N-CR: Several money market funds filed on Form N-CR in March to report financial support, and one money market fund filed on Form N-CR in March to report downward deviations of its shadow price by more than ¼ of 1%. An amended report is required to be filed within four business days of the provision of financial support or downward deviation that describes the reason for the support and terms of the support or the reason for the deviation, as applicable. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Purchases by Affiliated Banks: The Federal Reserve Board has issued a template exemptive letter allowing banks to purchase assets from affiliated money market funds, subject to certain conditions, including that the assets must be investment grade and purchased at fair market value.16 In addition, the SEC staff has granted no-action relief to permit certain bank affiliates of money market funds to purchase securities from the funds in accordance with the Federal Reserve Board guidance, but otherwise pursuant to rule 17a-9, subject to certain conditions.17 The SEC no-action letter does not affect the ability of other money market fund affiliates to purchase assets from the fund in accordance with rule 17a-9. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Guaranty: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted into law on March 27, suspends the existing prohibition on the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund for the establishment of any guaranty programs for the money market fund industry.18 Any such guarantee shall be limited to a guarantee of the total value of a shareholder’s account in a participating fund as of the close of business on the day before the announcement of the guarantee and terminate not later than Dec. 31, 2020. This provision allows the Department of the Treasury to establish a Money Market Funds Guaranty Program but does not require it to do so. (Updated 3/31/2020)

ISSUES:

  • Paycheck Protection Program: The Paycheck Protection Program authorizes forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.19 Borrowers submitting a PPP application must certify that current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant. The Small Business Administration, which implements the program, has announced that any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification in good faith. Hedge funds and private equity funds are not eligible for PPP loans, but their portfolio companies may be able to qualify.20 The SEC staff has provided guidance that an advisory firm that receives a PPP loan may be required to disclose the loan and its financial condition to clients.21 (New 5/15/2020)
  • Division of Investment Management Statement: The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has issued a statement emphasizing the ongoing importance of updating and delivering the required information to fund investors in a timely manner, even during this period of operational challenge.22 The statement reminds funds of the obligation to update prospectuses and deliver them to new investors,23 and it encourages funds to consider whether disclosures should be revised based on how COVID-19-related events may affect the fund and its investors. (New 4/20/2020)
  • Closed-End Funds: A closed-end fund is required to suspend its offering of shares until it amends its prospectus if the fund’s net asset value declines more than 10% from the NAV as of the effective date of the registration statement. The SEC staff has released guidance allowing the use of a prospectus supplement, with notice to the SEC staff, rather than an amendment to the registration statement.24 (New 4/20/2020)
  • Shareholder Meetings: The SEC staff has provided guidance to both operating companies and funds that is intended to provide regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of shareholders meetings and to use new technologies, such as “virtual” shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.25 The guidance notes that the ability to conduct a “virtual” meeting is governed by state law, where permitted, and the issuer’s governing documents. Note that companies seeking to conduct a virtual meeting may, under state law, need to have an appropriate process for shareholders to vote at the meeting. The guidance has been revised to extend to special meetings as well as annual meetings and to provide further guidance on notice requirements. (Updated 4/20/2020)
  • Business Development Companies: The SEC has provided limited and conditional exemptive relief for business development companies that provides additional flexibility to BDCs to issue and sell senior securities.26 In addition, for BDCs with an SEC order permitting co-investment transactions with certain affiliates, the SEC relief allows the BDC to participate in certain follow-on investments with regulated funds and affiliated funds. The relief is available until Dec. 31, 2020. (New 4/13/2020)
  • Regulation BI/Form CRS: SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has announced that the SEC believes that the June 30, 2020, compliance date for Regulation Best Interest and other requirements, including the requirement to file and begin delivering Form CRS, remains appropriate.27 To the extent that a firm is unable to make certain filings or meet other requirements because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, including as a result of efforts to comply with national, state or local health and safety directives and guidance, the firm should engage with the SEC. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued two Risk Alerts that provide broker-dealers and investment advisers with advance information about the expected scope and content of the initial examinations for compliance with Regulation BI and Form CRS,28 and FINRA has provided guidance on best practices in preparing for Regulation BI.29 The SEC staff has announced that it is now accepting filings on Form CRS.30 (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Paper Submissions: Although most SEC filings are now made electronically via EDGAR, there are still some submissions that normally must be submitted in paper form.
    • The SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets has announced relief for certain submissions that are required to be filed in paper format with a manual signature and for related notarization requirements.31 The affected filings include audited annual reports submitted by broker-dealers. Filers should contact Division staff to discuss the appropriate process for filing. The staff statement covers submissions for the period from and including March 16, 2020, to June 30, 2020. (New 4/7/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance has announced that notices of proposed sales of securities on Form 144 may be filed via email and, subject to certain conditions, may have a typed form of signature rather than a manual signature.32 (New 4/13/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has announced that requests for hearing applications on notices of applications for exemptive orders under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 must be submitted by email.33 (New 4/13/2020)
  • Accounting Issues: SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia has announced that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant recognizes that the accounting and financial reporting implications of COVID-19 may require companies to make significant judgments and estimates in a number of accounting areas, including fair value and impairment considerations.34 The OCA has consistently not objected to well-reasoned judgments that entities have made, and it will continue to apply this perspective. The OCA remains available for consultation and encourages stakeholders to contact it with questions they encounter as a result of COVID-19. (New 4/7/2020)
  • Affiliated Purchases of Debt Securities: The SEC staff has issued no-action relief to affiliates of open-end funds, other than exchange-traded funds and money market funds, to allow them to purchase debt securities from the funds.35 The relief is subject to conditions, including that the price must be the security’s fair market value per Section 2(a)(41) of the 1940 Act, provided that this price is not materially different from the value indicated by a reliable third-party pricing service, and that the fund must publicly disclose the purchase on its website and inform the staff. In addition, if the purchaser thereafter sells the security for a higher price, it must promptly pay the difference to the fund, unless the purchaser is a bank or bank affiliate and this condition would conflict with Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act. The relief will be in effect until further notice from the staff. (New 3/31/2020)
  • SEC Lending and Borrowing Relief: The SEC has issued an order providing additional flexibility for open-end funds (other than money market funds) and insurance company separate accounts registered as unit investment trusts to obtain short-term funding.36 The relief is available until a notice terminating it is issued, which will be at least two weeks from the date of the notice and no earlier than June 30, 2020. Prior to relying on any of the relief, the fund would have to notify SEC staff. In addition, interfund lending requires notification on a fund’s public website.
    • Fund affiliates may lend money to the fund on a collateralized basis, provided the board makes determinations that the borrowing is in the best interest of the fund and its shareholders and that it will be for the purposes of satisfying shareholder redemptions.
    • For fund families with an SEC order permitting an interfund lending and borrowing facility, a lending fund may lend up to 25% of its current net assets and the term may be for any period that does not extend beyond the expiration of the relief, notwithstanding the terms of the order, provided, among other conditions, that the board reasonably determines that the maximum term for interfund loans is appropriate. (Recent orders typically limit lending funds to 15% of current net assets and the term to seven days.)
    • For fund families without an interfund lending order, funds may lend and borrow in accordance with the terms of any such order issued within the past twelve months, with the same modifications.37
    • Funds are not required to seek shareholder approval if lending under the relief would violate a fundamental policy, provided that the board reasonably determines that the lending or borrowing is in the best interests of the fund and its shareholders. (New 3/27/2020)
  • OCIE Statement: The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued a statement that it has moved to conduct examinations off-site through correspondence unless it is absolutely necessary to be on-site, and that it will work with registrants to ensure that its work can be conducted in a manner consistent with maintaining normal operations and with necessary or appropriate health and safety measures.38 OCIE also stated that reliance on regulatory relief would not be a risk factor utilized in determining whether OCIE commences an examination, and it encourages registrants to utilize available regulatory relief as needed. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Signatures on EDGAR Filings: The SEC staff has issued a statement on the manual signature and record requirements for documents filed electronically with the SEC.39 The staff will not recommend enforcement action if a signatory retains a document adopting the signature and provides the document to the filer for retention, with the time and date executed, and the filer establishes and maintains policies and procedures governing this process. (New 3/27/2020)
  • FINRA Guidance: FINRA has issued guidance that provides temporary relief and guidance with respect to a number of requirements, including filings that would otherwise be required for temporary relocations and the timing of FOCUS reports and certain other filings.40 The guidance will be available until FINRA publishes a Regulatory Notice announcing a termination date. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Blue Sky Guidance: A number of state and provincial securities regulators have published guidance that provides relief or other COVID-19-related updates. The North American Securities Administrators Association has established a resource page to collect these updates.41 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • SEC Filings: The SEC has updated its previous orders under both the 1940 Act and the Investment Advisers Act to extend the time periods of the relief.42 Entities must notify the SEC staff and/or investors, as applicable, of the intent to rely on the relief, but generally no longer need to describe why they are relying on the order or estimate a date by which the required action will occur. The 1940 Act Orders provide relief from the timeliness requirements of Form N-CEN, Form N-PORT, and Form N-23C-2 when a fund is unable to meet a deadline due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. The relief for Forms N-CEN and N-PORT applies to filing obligations for which the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, while the relief for Form N-23C-2 extends to Aug. 15, 2020. The Advisers Act Orders provide timeliness relief for Form ADV and Form PF filings and for Form ADV Part 2 client delivery obligations for 45 days from the original due date, when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020. The SEC previously posted staff guidance that Form ADV does not have to be updated to reflect temporary teleworking locations.43 The SEC has also provided relief from timeliness requirements for certain filings under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.44 Note that filings not covered by the orders continue to be required on a timely basis, including filings on Form N-LIQUID, Form N-CR, and Form N-MFP, although it is possible that the SEC will consider issues with these forms on an individualized basis. The SEC provided information on contacting the staff with issues, including issues with these filings, in press releases announcing the actions.45 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • In-Person Board Meetings: The 1940 Act Orders allow fund boards to meet telephonically or by video conference to consider and vote on matters that would otherwise require an in-person vote. The relief applies whenever reliance upon it is necessary or appropriate due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19 and is available until Aug. 15, 2020. The SEC’s Division of Investment Management previously provided no-action relief for the period from March 4 to June 15.46 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports: The 1940 Act Orders also provide relief from the obligations to timely transmit annual and semiannual reports to shareholders and to file them with the SEC. The relief applies when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, and the fund is unable to prepare or transmit the report due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. In addition, the SEC announced that it would not provide a basis for an SEC enforcement action if a fund does not timely deliver a current prospectus because of circumstances related to COVID-19 when delivery was originally required during this period. The position is not available to an initial purchase by the investor of the fund’s shares. (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • State and Local Closures: Many states, counties and cities have announced business closures in connection with “shelter-in-place” public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some of the orders may contain broad exceptions for the financial services industry, while others may not. Beyond the direct impact on firms in those localities, review the location of service providers and the terms of these orders carefully to determine whether necessary support functions will remain available. FINRA has posted a resource page with links to state “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders.47 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Tax Implications for Funds with Institutional Shareholders: For institutional funds with few shareholders, beware that the fund could fall into personal holding company status if at any time during the last half of the taxable year more than 50% in value of the fund’s shares are owned, directly or indirectly, by or for not more than 5 “individuals.” For purposes of this rule, employee pension trusts, private foundations, trusts forming part of a plan providing for the payment of supplemental unemployment compensation benefits, and a trust, a portion of which is permanently set aside or to be used exclusively for charitable purposes, are considered individuals. (New 3/23/2020)
  • CPO NFA Filings: The CFTC staff has provided no-action relief to commodity pool operators that extends certain filing deadlines.48 With respect to Form CPO-PQR filings under CFTC Regulation 4.27, Small and Mid-Sized CPOs have until May 15, 2020, to submit their annual filings for 2019, while Large CPOs have until July 15, 2020, to submit their filings for Q1 2020. For pool annual reports under CFTC Regulations 4.7(b)(3) or 4.22(c) that are due on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing and distributing the report, which must include certified financial statements, has been extended until 45 days after the due date specified in the regulations. For monthly or quarterly reports to pool participants under CFTC Regulation 4.7(b)(2) or 4.22(b) for all reporting periods ending on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for distribution to participants has been extended to 45 days after the end of the reporting period (instead of 30 days as stated in the regulations). The National Futures Association has issued similar relief for CPO Members and has provided Commodity Trading Advisor Members with similar relief for NFA Form PR filings.49 (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Liquidity Risk Management: Current developments raise a number of issues for the management of funds’ liquidity risk:
    • Assessment, management, and periodic review of liquidity risk: Funds should review fund liquidity risk in light of current and reasonably expected market events and redemption patterns and may need to consider appropriate mitigating steps for strengthening the fund’s ability to meet redemptions, including readying borrowing and other liquidity facilities. Some fund managers may wish to consider use of the relief provided by the SEC and its staff for affiliated transactions.
    • Classification of portfolio investments: Rule 22e-4 requires funds to review their portfolio investments’ liquidity classifications more frequently than monthly if changes in relevant market, trading, and investment-specific considerations are reasonably expected to materially affect classifications. Such reviews should focus especially on holdings that could be considered illiquid investments as a result of these developments or that could fall out of highly liquid investment status. An important consideration will be a review of the reasonably anticipated trading sizes in light of redemption expectations. Funds should be alert to the possibility that vendor classifications may be based on historical rather than current data.
    • Highly liquid investment minimum: For funds that currently hold primarily highly liquid assets, and therefore are not required to have an HLIM, the program administrator may need to examine whether the fund can still qualify for that status. For HLIM funds, the HLIM may need to be reviewed under the required factors in light of current market and redemption developments and, if a shortfall is reasonably anticipated, a shortfall response plan should be developed, which must include a plan for reporting shortfalls to the fund’s board.
    • Illiquid investments: During this period of extreme market volatility, the fund should monitor closely whether there is a need to reclassify holdings as illiquid investments. Funds should be prepared to file Form N-LIQUID if the fund’s illiquid assets exceed 15% of its net assets. The program administrator should have guidance designed to prevent purchases that would violate the prohibition on acquiring illiquid investments when over the 15% limit. We do not yet know if the SEC will provide guidance relieving funds from filing Form N-LIQUID in the event of foreign or other market closings that are beyond the scope of existing guidance on extended foreign holidays.
    • Redemptions in kind: Funds may wish to consider whether redemptions in kind would be an appropriate tool for large redemption requests, including whether operational logistics are in place to accommodate any such redemption requests. (Updated 3/19/2020)
  • MiFID II Reporting: Under the MiFID II delegated regulation, investment firms providing the service of portfolio management and subject to MiFID II must inform the client where the overall value of the portfolio, as evaluated at the beginning of each reporting period, depreciates by 10% and thereafter at multiples of 10%, no later than the end of the business day in which the threshold is exceeded or, in a case where the threshold is exceeded on a non-business day, the close of the next business day.50 (New 3/19/2020)
  • Fund Boards: Fund directors should stay up to speed on current market events so they can properly apply their business judgment as necessary from a governance standpoint. In many cases, fund boards are receiving periodic status reports or attending status updates from fund advisers. Examples of areas for directors to consider include, for funds, fund flows, liquidity levels, valuation, and performance; and for fund advisers, status of operations under business continuity plans, market assessments, and the assessment of critical fund service providers. Board reporting from fund advisers is particularly important during times of market stress. To strike an appropriate balance between staying apprised and being efficient and respectful of fund advisory personnel time, boards may seek to channel questions or communications through independent counsel or the board chair/lead independent director. (New 3/19/2020)
  • Business Continuity Plans: Business continuity at the current time is key. In most cases, those plans already are in effect. Consideration should be given to contingency planning in the event that fund managers, transfer agents, pricing services, or other service providers are unable to provide services because of employee absences. Funds and fund managers should make and communicate revisions to their plans as they adjust to the developing environment.
  • Valuation: Funds should examine whether they are able to obtain valid prices for their investments, especially in markets that may be closed or have limited availability. Experience from the 2008 financial crisis shows that vendor reassurances as to the quality of their pricing information may provide false comfort, so vendor prices should be checked for reliability. At this time, we do not expect the SEC to provide relief from the daily pricing requirement.
  • Redemptions: Under Section 22(e) of the 1940 Act, open-end funds generally may not suspend the right of redemption unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed, or the SEC provides guidance that daily redemptions are not required because trading is restricted or an emergency exists. At this point, funds should assume that they must continue to provide daily redemptions. Funds should review any borrowing arrangements that may need to be utilized. We are closely monitoring for any relevant guidance from the SEC or its staff on this topic.
  • Cybersecurity: Firms are at increased risk of cyberattacks, particularly with the use of remote offices and telework. Anxious employees may be more vulnerable to email phishing attacks. Employees should be reminded of the continued need for vigilance.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Stradley Ronon contact, or to any member of Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force, with any questions and concerns you may have during this period. You can reach Sara Crovitz at 202.507.6414 or scrovitz@stradley.com, or John Baker at 202.419.8413 or jbaker@stradley.com.


1 Policy Tools: Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/talf.htm.

3 Franklin Templeton Investments, SEC No-Action Letter (June 19, 2009), https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2009/franklintempleton061909.htm. Stradley Ronon acted as counsel for this no-action request.

4 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (May 27, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/ici-sifma-052720. The guidance on participating through a special purpose vehicle makes generally available to funds and BDCs a 2009 no-action position that originally was available only to the requesting party. See T. Rowe Price Associates, SEC No-Action Letter (Oct. 8, 2009), https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2009/troweprice100809.htm.

5 Release No. 34-88448 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88448.pdf.

Release No. 34-88960 (May 27, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88960.pdf.

Policy Tools: Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/smccf.htm.

9 Press Release, Federal Reserve takes additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm.

10 Periodic Report: Update on Outstanding Lending Facilities Authorized by the Board under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act (May 28, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/pmccf-smccf-talf-5-29-20.pdf. The Federal Reserve Board is making publicly available detailed information on its transactions and holdings under the facility. See SMCCF Transaction-specific Disclosures (May 29, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/smccf-transition-specific-disclosures-5-29-20.xlsx.

11 Release Nos. 33-10695, IC-33646 (Sept. 25, 2019), 84 Fed. Reg. 57162, 57178 (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2019-21250.

12  Press Release, Federal Reserve Board broadens program of support for the flow of credit to households and businesses by establishing a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) (Mar. 18, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200318a.htm.

13 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board expands its program of support for flow of credit to the economy by taking steps to enhance liquidity and functioning of crucial state and municipal money markets (Mar. 20, 2020) https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200320b.htm.

14 Policy Tools: Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/mmlf.htm.

15 Periodic Report: Update on Outstanding Lending Facilities Authorized by the Board under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act (May 23, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/pdcf-cpff-mmlf-5-24-20.pdfsee also Periodic Report: Update on Outstanding Lending Facilities Authorized by the Board under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act (Apr. 23, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/pdcf-mmlf-and-cpff-4-24-20.pdf.

16 Money Market Mutual Funds Template Letter (Mar. 17, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/supervisionreg/legalinterpretations/fedreserseactint20200317.pdf.

17 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-031920-17a.

18 H.R. 748, § 4015, 116th Cong. (2020), https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf.

20 Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program—Requirements—Promissory Notes, Authorizations, Affiliation, and Eligibility, 85 Fed. Reg. 23450, 23451 (Apr. 28, 2020), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-09098.

21 Division of Investment Management Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response FAQs, Q&A II.4, https://www.sec.gov/investment/covid-19-response-faq.

22 SEC Division of Investment Management, Importance of Delivering Timely and Material Information to Investment Company Investors (Apr. 14, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/delivering-timely-material-information.

23 As discussed below, the SEC has provided limited conditional relief from the obligation to timely deliver prospectuses to existing shareholders. See infra Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports.

24 Division of Investment Management Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response FAQs, Q&A III.5, https://www.sec.gov/investment/covid-19-response-faq.

25 Staff Guidance for Conducting Annual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocr/staff-guidance-conducting-annual-meetings-light-covid-19-concerns.

26 Release No. IC-33837 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/ic-33837.pdf.

27 SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Investors Remain Front of Mind at the SEC: Approach to Allocation of Resources, Oversight and Rulemaking; Implementation of Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-clayton-investors-rbi-form-crs.

28 OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert%20Regulation%20Best%20Interest%20Exams.pdf; OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Form CRS (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert%20-%20Form%20CRS%20Exams.pdf.

29 FINRA Highlights Firm Practices from Regulation Best Interest Preparedness Reviews (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/regulation-best-interest/preparedness.

30 Frequently Asked Questions on Form CRS, https://www.sec.gov/investment/form-crs-faq#filing.

31 Division of Trading and Markets Staff Statement Regarding Requirements for Certain Paper Submissions in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/tm/paper-submission-requirements-covid-19.

32 SEC Division of Corporation Finance, Statement Regarding Requirements for Form 144 Paper Filings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 10, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/form-144-paper-filings-email-option.

33 IM Information Update IM-INFO-2020-03 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/im-info-2020-03.pdf.

34 SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia, Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-teotia-financial-reporting-covid-19-2020-04-03.

35 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-032620-17a.

36 Release No. IC-33821 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33821.pdf.

37 Recent interfund lending orders are available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/icreleases.shtml#interfundlending.

38 OCIE Statement on Operations and Exams – Health, Safety, Investor Protection and Continued Operations are our Priorities (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocie/announcement/ocie-statement-operations-health-safety-investor-protection-and-continued.

39 Staff Statement Regarding Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/staff-statement-regarding-rule-302b-regulation-s-t-light-covid-19-concerns.

40 Frequently Asked Questions Related to Regulatory Relief Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/guidance/faqs/coronavirus. FINRA guidance, updates, and other information on COVID-19 are available at https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19. Other self-regulatory organizations are also providing relief and guidance. See, e.g., Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-021 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-021-Filing-Extensions-for-Annual-Reports-and-FOCUS-Reports.pdf; Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-022 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-022-Extension-of-Time-for-Certain-Filings-Currently-Due-April-1-2020.pdf.

41 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates, https://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/covid-19-updates/.

42 For the 1940 Act Orders, see Release No. IC-33824 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33824.pdf; Release No. IC-33817 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33817.pdf. For the Advisers Act Orders, see IA-5469 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5469.pdf; Release No. IA-5463 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5463.pdf. The various forms of relief provided by the SEC are subject to conditions that are set out in the respective orders, such as subsequent ratification of votes, notice to the SEC of filing delays, and website disclosure of issues with the delivery of shareholder reports, prospectuses, and Form ADV client brochures.

44 Release No. 34-88465(Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88465.pdf; Release No. 34-88318 (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/34-88318.pdf.

45 Press Release 2020-73, SEC Extends Conditional Exemptions from Reporting and Proxy Delivery Requirements for Public Companies, Funds, and Investment Advisers Affected by Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-73; Press Release 2020-63, SEC Takes Targeted Action to Assist Funds and Advisers, Permits Virtual Board Meetings and Provides Conditional Relief from Certain Filing Procedures (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-63.

46 SEC Division of Investment Management, Staff Statement on Fund Board Meetings and Unforeseen or Emergency Circumstances Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/staff-statement-im-covid-19.

47 State “Shelter-in-Place” and “Stay-at-Home” Orders, https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19/shelter-in-place.

48 Press Release No. 8136-20, CFTC Issues Third Wave of Relief to Market Participants in Response to COVID-19 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8136-20.

49 Notice to Members I-20-15 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.nfa.futures.org/news/newsNotice.asp?ArticleID=5218.

50 European Commission Delegated Regulation art. 62, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2016/EN/3-2016-2398-EN-F1-1.PDF.

Cord-Cutting: DOL Embraces Technology with New Retirement Plan Disclosure Safe Harbor

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently adopted a new optional safe harbor for plan administrators to harness online and mobile-based technology to furnish information to participants and beneficiaries of retirement plans subject to the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). The safe harbor permits plan administrators to (i) provide participants and beneficiaries a notice that certain disclosures will be made available on a website or mobile app (a notice of internet availability or NOIA) or (ii) furnish disclosures via email, subject to various conditions. While the DOL has long evaluated ways to modernize disclosure, a critical nudge came in the form of the President’s Executive Order 13847, Strengthening Retirement Security in America, on Aug. 31, 2018, which called for an “exploration of the potential for broader use of electronic delivery as a way to improve the effectiveness of disclosures and to reduce their associated costs and burdens.” The DOL released a proposal of the safe harbor last October in response to the Executive Order.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • The safe harbor only applies to retirement plans (e., employee welfare benefit plans are not covered).
  • The safe harbor’s scope is limited to covered individuals and covered documents.
    • A covered individual is a participant, beneficiary or other person entitled to the covered documents. This individual must provide the plan sponsor or administrator an email address or smartphone number at which the covered individual may receive a NOIA or an email with the attachments. This information could be obtained from the job application, for example. A company-provided email address is generally sufficient; however, the plan administrator must take steps to ascertain a different email address (or smartphone number) should the individual no longer be employed by the plan sponsor. If the administrator is alerted that the email address or cell number is inoperable (g., a bounce-back), then the administrator must promptly take reasonable steps to cure the problem. The DOL indicates that the plan administrator may ultimately have to utilize cell phone carriers’ validator services to distinguish landline numbers from cell numbers.
    • A covered document is any document or information that the plan administrator must provide participants and beneficiaries under Title I of ERISA, such as QDIA notices, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) and summary annual reports. Notably, this does not include documents that have to be provided by the plan upon request.
  • Covered documents must be stored on a website or mobile app. Covered individuals must be provided reasonable access to the website or app. This includes such requirements as:
    • The document is made available no later than the date on which the covered document must otherwise be furnished under ERISA and remain available online for the later of at least one year from the date they were first posted or the date the document is superseded by a subsequent version of the covered document. An SPD, for example, must remain digitally available on the website or the app until superseded by a subsequent version, even if longer than a year from when it was originally made available.
    • The covered document is in a widely-available format that is suitable to be read online and printed clearly on paper. The requirement that the documents be printable may present challenges for certain apps.
    • The covered document is searchable by numbers, letters or words.
    • The administrator takes measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the website or app protects the confidentiality of personal information relating to a covered individual. The safe harbor does not create liability for security breaches.
    • The safe harbor is not lost merely because the covered documents become temporarily unavailable for a reasonable period of time due to technical maintenance or unforeseeable events or circumstances beyond the control of the administrator, provided, among other things, the documents become available again as soon as reasonably practicable.
  • The administrator must furnish to each such individual an initial notification of electronic delivery on paper. This initial notification must include, among other things, the email address or cell number that will be used for the individual, instructions to access the covered documents, and a statement of the right to opt out of electronic delivery and receive a paper version of the document free of charge.
  • A NOIA must be sent by the administrator to the covered individual’s designated email address or cell phone number (e., a text message) each time a covered document becomes available digitally on the website or app. The regulation imposes a number of content-specific requirements for a NOIA, such as a prominent statement (e.g., a subject line) that reads, “Disclosure About Your Retirement Plan,” as well as a statement that reads, “Important information about your retirement plan is now available. Please review this information.”
    • The NOIA must also provide the website address or a hyperlink to the website. The address or hyperlink needs to lead the individual directly to the document (before or after a login page).
    • As with the initial disclosure, the NOIA must include a statement of the right, free of charge, to opt out of electronic delivery and receive only paper versions of covered documents.
    • The regulation permits an administrator to furnish each plan year one aggregate NOIA with respect to certain documents, such as an SPD and QDIA notice. Quarterly benefit statements are not includible in a combined NOIA.
  • An administrator may alternatively email the actual covered documents as attachments or in the body of the email to the covered individual. The subject line would have to read, “Disclosure About Your Retirement Plan.” The regulation imposes content-specific requirements on the email, such as identification or brief description of the covered documents. The document must also be in a widely-available format that is suitable for reading online, as well as printed on paper, as otherwise be searchable. These documents must be furnished no later than the date on which the covered document must be provided under ERISA.
  • Upon request from a covered individual, the administrator must promptly furnish, free of charge, a single paper copy of the covered document. Multiple copies may be furnished for a fee.
  • Covered individuals must also have the right to globally opt-out of electronic delivery of documents.
  • This new safe harbor does not replace the existing 2002 electronic disclosure safe harbor, 29 C.F.R. § 2520.104b-1, which remains available for plan administrators. This means that plan administrators who wish to rely on the 2002 safe harbor (or furnish paper documents by hand or mail) may continue to do so.
  • The safe harbor supersedes the DOL’s prior guidance relating to electronic disclosure, other than the 2002 safe harbor. For example, the DOL issued Field Assistance Bulletins 2006-03 and 2008-03 on this topic. The DOL has provided an 18-month transition period following the new safe harbor’s effective date to allow plan administrators to continue to rely on such prior guidance.
  • The DOL intends for the new safe harbor to align with the Treasury Department’s electronic media regulation, 26 C.F.R. § 1.401(a)-21. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service have indicated that they intend to issue additional guidance relating to the use of electronic delivery for participant notices.
  • The safe harbor becomes effective and applicable on July 27, 2020. The DOL will not, however, take any enforcement action against a plan administrator that relies on the safe harbor before that date.

The new safe harbor contains numerous other conditions. We encourage plan sponsors and administrators to review the regulation carefully.

The Thrift Savings Plan/China Controversy – A Fiduciary Governance Perspective

The federal Thrift Savings Plan had planned to change the benchmark for its I Fund. This change would have resulted in federal employee-participants gaining exposure to Chinese equities. This proposal was not without controversy. Last Fall, for example, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) complained that the planned move by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, the government agency that oversees the plan, “will effectively fund companies that engage in human rights abuses and support China’s efforts to undermine America. It exposes nearly $50 billion in assets to severe and undisclosed material risks associated with many Chinese companies listed on the index.”

The multi-year planned implementation of the change in benchmark was set to be complete in early June until the recent and ongoing geopolitical headwinds ultimately led to the White House getting involved, as we noted here, here and here. As reported, the White House penned a May 11 letter to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, which stated, in pertinent part, that the change in benchmark “would expose the retirement funds to significant and unnecessary economic risk, and it would channel federal employees’ money to companies that present significant national security and humanitarian concerns because they operate in violation of U.S. sanctions law….” Secretary Scalia, in turn, wrote to the chair of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, stating, in part: “At the direction of President Trump, the Board is to immediately halt all steps associated with investing the I Fund according to the MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI, and to reverse its decision to invest Plan assets on the basis of that international equities index.”

In response, the Board halted the change in index.

The plan is established under FERSA and the assets of each participant are held in trust. The Board is bound by fiduciary duties in managing the plan. The question becomes, is there fiduciary duty risk for a fiduciary to change course after a decision has been made but before formal implementation? This question is relevant to all fiduciaries, even those who operate under ERISA.

I was recently quoted in the article, Politics pressuring TSP to halt investments that include China, in the May 18 edition of Pensions & Investments.  While political pressure on a plan fiduciary may raise fiduciary duty concerns, I stated, in part, the following: “A fiduciary that re-evaluates a prior decision, in light of significant geopolitical, public health and macroeconomic developments, is likely following a prudent process.”

COVID-19 Coverage: Part 9 of 1940 Act Issues to Consider During the Pandemic

Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force will be updating this high-level overview of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) related issues for registered investment companies and fund managers as developments warrant.

NEW ISSUES:

  • Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has established the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), which will provide non-recourse funding to eligible borrowers owning eligible collateral in the form of AAA-rated asset-backed securities backed by newly and recently originated consumer and small business loans.1 A TALF borrower must have significant operations in and a majority of its employees based in the United States. The New York Fed has provided guidance that, for a borrower organized as an investment fund, this test will be applied to the borrower’s investment manager.The facility initially will make up to $100 billion of loans available, and each loan provided under the facility will have a maturity of three years. Unless the program is extended, no new credit extensions will be made after Sept. 30, 2020. The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009 provided no-action guidance to allow registered funds to participate in a similar facility established in 2008.3 As the master loan and security agreement for the TALF has not been released, it is not yet clear whether the guidance needs to be updated to permit registered funds to participate in TALF. (New 5/15/2020)
  • Paycheck Protection Program: The Paycheck Protection Program authorizes forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.4 Borrowers submitting a PPP application must certify that current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant. The Small Business Administration, which implements the program, has announced that any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification in good faith. In addition, a borrower that repays the loan in full by May 18, 2020 (extended from May 14), will be deemed to have made the required certification in good faith and will not be subject to audit.5 Hedge funds and private equity funds are not eligible for PPP loans, but their portfolio companies may be able to qualify.The SEC staff has provided guidance that an advisory firm that receives a PPP loan may be required to disclose the loan and its financial condition to clients.(New 5/15/2020)

UPDATED ISSUES:

  • Market Closures and Market Restrictions: A list of securities market closures and market restrictions is available here. (Updated 5/15/2020)
  • Exchange-Traded Funds:
    • The New York Fed has established the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF), which will purchase in the secondary market corporate bonds issued by U.S. companies and shares of U.S.-listed ETFs whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds.The New York Fed has retained BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory as a third-party vendor to serve as the investment manager for this facility.9 The SMCCF will cease making such purchases no later than Sept. 30, 2020, unless extended. The Federal Reserve Board announced on April 9 that the SMCCF had been expanded and, together with the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, will have a combined size of up to $750 billion.10 The SMCCF may purchase any U.S.-listed ETF whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds, although the preponderance of ETF holdings will be ETFs whose primary investment objective is exposure to U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds. The SMCCF will not purchase shares of an ETF if it then would own more than 20% of the ETF’s shares. The facility began making purchases on May 12, 2020, and is transacting initially with primary dealers that deal directly with the New York Fed. (Updated 5/15/2020)
    • For an ETF that invests in foreign markets that close, the ETF may wish to consider whether to invest in alternative instruments, such as ADRs, in order to achieve the desired exposure to the foreign securities. In circumstances where there is no ability to make additional investments in appropriate alternative instruments, an ETF may wish to stop accepting creation unit purchases. The SEC previously has noted that ETFs generally may suspend the issuance of creation units only for a limited time and only due to extraordinary circumstances, such as when the markets on which the ETF’s portfolio holdings are traded are closed for a limited period of time.11 ETF issuers should be aware that any decision to suspend creations could have an impact on the arbitrage efficiency of the ETF and could lead to greater deviations between the market price of the ETF shares and the NAV of the shares. Like other open-end funds, ETFs cannot suspend redemptions unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed or there is appropriate guidance from the SEC. ETFs are permitted to charge transaction fees of up to 2% on redemptions. Such fees are designed to offset the costs of redemptions to the ETF. Some fixed-income ETFs that deliver cash redemptions instead of in-kind redemptions reportedly have increased their transaction fees on redemptions in light of increased transaction costs in the bond market. (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Money Market Mutual Funds:
    • Liquidity Facility: The Federal Reserve Board has announced a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) that is intended to assist money market funds in meeting demands for redemptions.12 Under the MMLF, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston will lend to depository institutions and bank holding companies, taking as collateral assets purchased by the borrower from prime money market funds (i) concurrently with the borrowing or (ii) or on or after March 18, but before the opening of the facility. The facility is similar to the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility that operated from late 2008 to early 2010 but will purchase a broader range of assets. The Federal Reserve Board expanded the facility to cover certain assets purchased from tax-exempt municipal money market funds.13 The Federal Reserve Board has announced that the facility opened March 23, and full documentation and additional guidance are available.14 As of April 14, 2020, the total outstanding amount of the loans under the facility was approximately $51.1 billion. (Updated 5/15/2020)
    • Form N-CR: Several money market funds filed on Form N-CR in March to report financial support, and one money market fund filed on Form N-CR in March to report downward deviations of its shadow price by more than ¼ of 1%. An amended report is required to be filed within four business days of the provision of financial support or downward deviation that describes the reason for the support and terms of the support or the reason for the deviation, as applicable. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Purchases by Affiliated Banks: The Federal Reserve Board has issued a template exemptive letter allowing banks to purchase assets from affiliated money market funds, subject to certain conditions, including that the assets must be investment grade and purchased at fair market value.15 In addition, the SEC staff has granted no-action relief to permit certain bank affiliates of money market funds to purchase securities from the funds in accordance with the Federal Reserve Board guidance, but otherwise pursuant to rule 17a-9, subject to certain conditions.16 The SEC no-action letter does not affect the ability of other money market fund affiliates to purchase assets from the fund in accordance with rule 17a-9. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Guaranty: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted into law on March 27, suspends the existing prohibition on the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund for the establishment of any guaranty programs for the money market fund industry.17 Any such guarantee shall be limited to a guarantee of the total value of a shareholder’s account in a participating fund as of the close of business on the day before the announcement of the guarantee and terminate not later than Dec. 31, 2020. This provision allows the Department of the Treasury to establish a Money Market Funds Guaranty Program but does not require it to do so. (Updated 3/31/2020)

ISSUES:

  • Division of Investment Management Statement: The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has issued a statement emphasizing the ongoing importance of updating and delivering the required information to fund investors in a timely manner, even during this period of operational challenge.18 The statement reminds funds of the obligation to update prospectuses and deliver them to new investors,19 and it encourages funds to consider whether disclosures should be revised based on how COVID-19-related events may affect the fund and its investors. (New 4/20/2020)
  • Closed-End Funds: A closed-end fund is required to suspend its offering of shares until it amends its prospectus if the fund’s net asset value declines more than 10% from the NAV as of the effective date of the registration statement. The SEC staff has released guidance allowing the use of a prospectus supplement, with notice to the SEC staff, rather than an amendment to the registration statement.20 (New 4/20/2020)
  • Shareholder Meetings: The SEC staff has provided guidance to both operating companies and funds that is intended to provide regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of shareholders meetings and to use new technologies, such as “virtual” shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.21 The guidance notes that the ability to conduct a “virtual” meeting is governed by state law, where permitted, and the issuer’s governing documents. Note that companies seeking to conduct a virtual meeting may, under state law, need to have an appropriate process for shareholders to vote at the meeting. The guidance has been revised to extend to special meetings as well as annual meetings and to provide further guidance on notice requirements. (Updated 4/20/2020)
  • Business Development Companies: The SEC has provided limited and conditional exemptive relief for business development companies that provides additional flexibility to BDCs to issue and sell senior securities.22 In addition, for BDCs with an SEC order permitting co-investment transactions with certain affiliates, the SEC relief allows the BDC to participate in certain follow-on investments with regulated funds and affiliated funds. The relief is available until Dec. 31, 2020. (New 4/13/2020)
  • Regulation BI/Form CRS: SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has announced that the SEC believes that the June 30, 2020, compliance date for Regulation Best Interest and other requirements, including the requirement to file and begin delivering Form CRS, remains appropriate.23 To the extent that a firm is unable to make certain filings or meet other requirements because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, including as a result of efforts to comply with national, state or local health and safety directives and guidance, the firm should engage with the SEC. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued two Risk Alerts that provide broker-dealers and investment advisers with advance information about the expected scope and content of the initial examinations for compliance with Regulation BI and Form CRS,24 and FINRA has provided guidance on best practices in preparing for Regulation BI.25 The SEC staff has announced that it is now accepting filings on Form CRS.26 (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Paper Submissions: Although most SEC filings are now made electronically via EDGAR, there are still some submissions that normally must be submitted in paper form.
    • The SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets has announced relief for certain submissions that are required to be filed in paper format with a manual signature and for related notarization requirements.27 The affected filings include audited annual reports submitted by broker-dealers. Filers should contact Division staff to discuss the appropriate process for filing. The staff statement covers submissions for the period from and including March 16, 2020, to June 30, 2020. (New 4/7/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance has announced that notices of proposed sales of securities on Form 144 may be filed via email and, subject to certain conditions, may have a typed form of signature rather than a manual signature.28 (New 4/13/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has announced that requests for hearing applications on notices of applications for exemptive orders under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 must be submitted by email.29 (New 4/13/2020)
  • Accounting Issues: SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia has announced that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant recognizes that the accounting and financial reporting implications of COVID-19 may require companies to make significant judgments and estimates in a number of accounting areas, including fair value and impairment considerations.30 The OCA has consistently not objected to well-reasoned judgments that entities have made, and it will continue to apply this perspective. The OCA remains available for consultation and encourages stakeholders to contact it with questions they encounter as a result of COVID-19. (New 4/7/2020)
  • Affiliated Purchases of Debt Securities: The SEC staff has issued no-action relief to affiliates of open-end funds, other than exchange-traded funds and money market funds, to allow them to purchase debt securities from the funds.31 The relief is subject to conditions, including that the price must be the security’s fair market value per Section 2(a)(41) of the 1940 Act, provided that this price is not materially different from the value indicated by a reliable third-party pricing service, and that the fund must publicly disclose the purchase on its website and inform the staff. In addition, if the purchaser thereafter sells the security for a higher price, it must promptly pay the difference to the fund, unless the purchaser is a bank or bank affiliate and this condition would conflict with Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act. The relief will be in effect until further notice from the staff. (New 3/31/2020)
  • SEC Lending and Borrowing Relief: The SEC has issued an order providing additional flexibility for open-end funds (other than money market funds) and insurance company separate accounts registered as unit investment trusts to obtain short-term funding.32 The relief is available until a notice terminating it is issued, which will be at least two weeks from the date of the notice and no earlier than June 30, 2020. Prior to relying on any of the relief, the fund would have to notify SEC staff. In addition, interfund lending requires notification on a fund’s public website.
    • Fund affiliates may lend money to the fund on a collateralized basis, provided the board makes determinations that the borrowing is in the best interest of the fund and its shareholders and that it will be for the purposes of satisfying shareholder redemptions.
    • For fund families with an SEC order permitting an interfund lending and borrowing facility, a lending fund may lend up to 25% of its current net assets and the term may be for any period that does not extend beyond the expiration of the relief, notwithstanding the terms of the order, provided, among other conditions, that the board reasonably determines that the maximum term for interfund loans is appropriate. (Recent orders typically limit lending funds to 15% of current net assets and the term to seven days.)
    • For fund families without an interfund lending order, funds may lend and borrow in accordance with the terms of any such order issued within the past twelve months, with the same modifications.33
    • Funds are not required to seek shareholder approval if lending under the relief would violate a fundamental policy, provided that the board reasonably determines that the lending or borrowing is in the best interests of the fund and its shareholders. (New 3/27/2020)
  • OCIE Statement: The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued a statement that it has moved to conduct examinations off-site through correspondence unless it is absolutely necessary to be on-site, and that it will work with registrants to ensure that its work can be conducted in a manner consistent with maintaining normal operations and with necessary or appropriate health and safety measures.34 OCIE also stated that reliance on regulatory relief would not be a risk factor utilized in determining whether OCIE commences an examination, and it encourages registrants to utilize available regulatory relief as needed. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Signatures on EDGAR Filings: The SEC staff has issued a statement on the manual signature and record requirements for documents filed electronically with the SEC.35 The staff will not recommend enforcement action if a signatory retains a document adopting the signature and provides the document to the filer for retention, with the time and date executed, and the filer establishes and maintains policies and procedures governing this process. (New 3/27/2020)
  • FINRA Guidance: FINRA has issued guidance that provides temporary relief and guidance with respect to a number of requirements, including filings that would otherwise be required for temporary relocations and the timing of FOCUS reports and certain other filings.36 The guidance will be available until FINRA publishes a Regulatory Notice announcing a termination date. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Blue Sky Guidance: A number of state and provincial securities regulators have published guidance that provides relief or other COVID-19-related updates. The North American Securities Administrators Association has established a resource page to collect these updates.37 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • SEC Filings: The SEC has updated its previous orders under both the 1940 Act and the Investment Advisers Act to extend the time periods of the relief.38 Entities must notify the SEC staff and/or investors, as applicable, of the intent to rely on the relief, but generally no longer need to describe why they are relying on the order or estimate a date by which the required action will occur. The 1940 Act Orders provide relief from the timeliness requirements of Form N-CEN, Form N-PORT, and Form N-23C-2 when a fund is unable to meet a deadline due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. The relief for Forms N-CEN and N-PORT applies to filing obligations for which the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, while the relief for Form N-23C-2 extends to Aug. 15, 2020. The Advisers Act Orders provide timeliness relief for Form ADV and Form PF filings and for Form ADV Part 2 client delivery obligations for 45 days from the original due date, when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020. The SEC previously posted staff guidance that Form ADV does not have to be updated to reflect temporary teleworking locations.39 The SEC has also provided relief from timeliness requirements for certain filings under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.40 Note that filings not covered by the orders continue to be required on a timely basis, including filings on Form N-LIQUID, Form N-CR, and Form N-MFP, although it is possible that the SEC will consider issues with these forms on an individualized basis. The SEC provided information on contacting the staff with issues, including issues with these filings, in press releases announcing the actions.41 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • In-Person Board Meetings: The 1940 Act Orders allow fund boards to meet telephonically or by video conference to consider and vote on matters that would otherwise require an in-person vote. The relief applies whenever reliance upon it is necessary or appropriate due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19 and is available until Aug. 15, 2020. The SEC’s Division of Investment Management previously provided no-action relief for the period from March 4 to June 15.42 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports: The 1940 Act Orders also provide relief from the obligations to timely transmit annual and semiannual reports to shareholders and to file them with the SEC. The relief applies when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, and the fund is unable to prepare or transmit the report due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. In addition, the SEC announced that it would not provide a basis for an SEC enforcement action if a fund does not timely deliver a current prospectus because of circumstances related to COVID-19 when delivery was originally required during this period. The position is not available to an initial purchase by the investor of the fund’s shares. (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • State and Local Closures: Many states, counties and cities have announced business closures in connection with “shelter-in-place” public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some of the orders may contain broad exceptions for the financial services industry, while others may not. Beyond the direct impact on firms in those localities, review the location of service providers and the terms of these orders carefully to determine whether necessary support functions will remain available. FINRA has posted a resource page with links to state “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders.43 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Transfer Agents: The SEC has provided a broad exemption for the period from March 16 to May 30 from requirements applicable to transfer agents except for the safeguarding requirement.44 Transfer agents relying on the relief must provide notice to the SEC by May 30. The SEC encourages transfer agents and the issuers for whom they act to inform affected security holders. (New 3/23/2020)
  • Tax Implications for Funds with Institutional Shareholders: For institutional funds with few shareholders, beware that the fund could fall into personal holding company status if at any time during the last half of the taxable year more than 50% in value of the fund’s shares are owned, directly or indirectly, by or for not more than 5 “individuals.” For purposes of this rule, employee pension trusts, private foundations, trusts forming part of a plan providing for the payment of supplemental unemployment compensation benefits, and a trust, a portion of which is permanently set aside or to be used exclusively for charitable purposes, are considered individuals. (New 3/23/2020)
  • CPO NFA Filings: The CFTC staff has provided no-action relief to commodity pool operators that extends certain filing deadlines.45 With respect to Form CPO-PQR filings under CFTC Regulation 4.27, Small and Mid-Sized CPOs have until May 15, 2020, to submit their annual filings for 2019, while Large CPOs have until July 15, 2020, to submit their filings for Q1 2020. For pool annual reports under CFTC Regulations 4.7(b)(3) or 4.22(c) that are due on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing and distributing the report, which must include certified financial statements, has been extended until 45 days after the due date specified in the regulations. For monthly or quarterly reports to pool participants under CFTC Regulation 4.7(b)(2) or 4.22(b) for all reporting periods ending on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for distribution to participants has been extended to 45 days after the end of the reporting period (instead of 30 days as stated in the regulations). The National Futures Association has issued similar relief for CPO Members and has provided Commodity Trading Advisor Members with similar relief for NFA Form PR filings.46 (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Liquidity Risk Management: Current developments raise a number of issues for the management of funds’ liquidity risk:
    • Assessment, management, and periodic review of liquidity risk: Funds should review fund liquidity risk in light of current and reasonably expected market events and redemption patterns and may need to consider appropriate mitigating steps for strengthening the fund’s ability to meet redemptions, including readying borrowing and other liquidity facilities. Some fund managers may wish to consider use of the relief provided by the SEC and its staff for affiliated transactions.
    • Classification of portfolio investments: Rule 22e-4 requires funds to review their portfolio investments’ liquidity classifications more frequently than monthly if changes in relevant market, trading, and investment-specific considerations are reasonably expected to materially affect classifications. Such reviews should focus especially on holdings that could be considered illiquid investments as a result of these developments or that could fall out of highly liquid investment status. An important consideration will be a review of the reasonably anticipated trading sizes in light of redemption expectations. Funds should be alert to the possibility that vendor classifications may be based on historical rather than current data.
    • Highly liquid investment minimum: For funds that currently hold primarily highly liquid assets, and therefore are not required to have an HLIM, the program administrator may need to examine whether the fund can still qualify for that status. For HLIM funds, the HLIM may need to be reviewed under the required factors in light of current market and redemption developments and, if a shortfall is reasonably anticipated, a shortfall response plan should be developed, which must include a plan for reporting shortfalls to the fund’s board.
    • Illiquid investments: During this period of extreme market volatility, the fund should monitor closely whether there is a need to reclassify holdings as illiquid investments. Funds should be prepared to file Form N-LIQUID if the fund’s illiquid assets exceed 15% of its net assets. The program administrator should have guidance designed to prevent purchases that would violate the prohibition on acquiring illiquid investments when over the 15% limit. We do not yet know if the SEC will provide guidance relieving funds from filing Form N-LIQUID in the event of foreign or other market closings that are beyond the scope of existing guidance on extended foreign holidays.
    • Redemptions in kind: Funds may wish to consider whether redemptions in kind would be an appropriate tool for large redemption requests, including whether operational logistics are in place to accommodate any such redemption requests. (Updated 3/19/2020)
  • MiFID II Reporting: Under the MiFID II delegated regulation, investment firms providing the service of portfolio management and subject to MiFID II must inform the client where the overall value of the portfolio, as evaluated at the beginning of each reporting period, depreciates by 10% and thereafter at multiples of 10%, no later than the end of the business day in which the threshold is exceeded or, in a case where the threshold is exceeded on a non-business day, the close of the next business day.47 (New 3/19/2020)
  • Fund Boards: Fund directors should stay up to speed on current market events so they can properly apply their business judgment as necessary from a governance standpoint. In many cases, fund boards are receiving periodic status reports or attending status updates from fund advisers. Examples of areas for directors to consider include, for funds, fund flows, liquidity levels, valuation, and performance; and for fund advisers, status of operations under business continuity plans, market assessments, and the assessment of critical fund service providers. Board reporting from fund advisers is particularly important during times of market stress. To strike an appropriate balance between staying apprised and being efficient and respectful of fund advisory personnel time, boards may seek to channel questions or communications through independent counsel or the board chair/lead independent director. (New 3/19/2020)
  • Business Continuity Plans: Business continuity at the current time is key. In most cases, those plans already are in effect. Consideration should be given to contingency planning in the event that fund managers, transfer agents, pricing services, or other service providers are unable to provide services because of employee absences. Funds and fund managers should make and communicate revisions to their plans as they adjust to the developing environment.
  • Valuation: Funds should examine whether they are able to obtain valid prices for their investments, especially in markets that may be closed or have limited availability. Experience from the 2008 financial crisis shows that vendor reassurances as to the quality of their pricing information may provide false comfort, so vendor prices should be checked for reliability. At this time, we do not expect the SEC to provide relief from the daily pricing requirement.
  • Redemptions: Under Section 22(e) of the 1940 Act, open-end funds generally may not suspend the right of redemption unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed, or the SEC provides guidance that daily redemptions are not required because trading is restricted or an emergency exists. At this point, funds should assume that they must continue to provide daily redemptions. Funds should review any borrowing arrangements that may need to be utilized. We are closely monitoring for any relevant guidance from the SEC or its staff on this topic.
  • Cybersecurity: Firms are at increased risk of cyberattacks, particularly with the use of remote offices and telework. Anxious employees may be more vulnerable to email phishing attacks. Employees should be reminded of the continued need for vigilance.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Stradley Ronon contact, or to any member of Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force, with any questions and concerns you may have during this period. You can reach Sara Crovitz at 202.507.6414 or scrovitz@stradley.com, or John Baker at 202.419.8413 or jbaker@stradley.com.

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1 Policy Tools: Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/talf.htm.

2 FAQs: Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (May 12, 2020), https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/term-asset-backed-securities-loan-facility/term-asset-backed-securities-loan-facility-faq.

3 Franklin Templeton Investments, SEC No-Action Letter (June 19, 2009), https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2009/franklintempleton061909.htm. Stradley Ronon acted as counsel for this no-action request. See also T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., SEC No-Action Letter (Oct. 8, 2009), https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/noaction/2009/troweprice100809.htm (relief under 1940 Act § 17(d) and Rule 17d-1 for registered funds and certain other accounts to participate in TALF through a special purpose vehicle).

4 Paycheck Protection Program, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.

5 Paycheck Protection Program Loans: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) #46, 47 (May 13, 2020), https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Paycheck-Protection-Program-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf.

6 Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program—Requirements—Promissory Notes, Authorizations, Affiliation, and Eligibility, 85 Fed. Reg. 23450, 23451 (Apr. 28, 2020), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-09098.

7 Division of Investment Management Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response FAQs, Q&A II.4, https://www.sec.gov/investment/covid-19-response-faq.

8 Policy Tools: Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/smccf.htm.

9 Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/secondary-market-corporate-credit-facility.

10 Press Release, Federal Reserve takes additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm.

11 Release Nos. 33-10695, IC-33646 (Sept. 25, 2019), 84 Fed. Reg. 57162, 57178 (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2019-21250.

12 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board broadens program of support for the flow of credit to households and businesses by establishing a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) (Mar. 18, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200318a.htm.

13 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board expands its program of support for the flow of credit to the economy by taking steps to enhance liquidity and functioning of crucial state and municipal money markets (Mar. 20, 2020) https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200320b.htm.

14 Policy Tools: Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/mmlf.htm.

15 Money Market Mutual Funds Template Letter (Mar. 17, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/supervisionreg/legalinterpretations/fedreserseactint20200317.pdf.

16 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-031920-17a.

17 H.R. 748, § 4015, 116th Cong. (2020), https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf.

18 SEC Division of Investment Management, Importance of Delivering Timely and Material Information to Investment Company Investors (Apr. 14, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/delivering-timely-material-information.

19 As discussed below, the SEC has provided limited conditional relief from the obligation to timely deliver prospectuses to existing shareholders. See infra Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports.

20 Division of Investment Management Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response FAQs, Q&A III.5, https://www.sec.gov/investment/covid-19-response-faq.

21 Staff Guidance for Conducting Annual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocr/staff-guidance-conducting-annual-meetings-light-covid-19-concerns.

22 Release No. IC-33837 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/ic-33837.pdf.

23 SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Investors Remain Front of Mind at the SEC: Approach to Allocation of Resources, Oversight and Rulemaking; Implementation of Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-clayton-investors-rbi-form-crs.

24 OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert-%20Regulation%20Best%20Interest%20Exams.pdf; OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Form CRS (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert%20-%20Form%20CRS%20Exams.pdf.

25 FINRA Highlights Firm Practices from Regulation Best Interest Preparedness Reviews (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/regulation-best-interest/preparedness.

26 Frequently Asked Questions on Form CRS, https://www.sec.gov/investment/form-crs-faq#filing.

27 Division of Trading and Markets Staff Statement Regarding Requirements for Certain Paper Submissions in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/tm/paper-submission-requirements-covid-19.

28 SEC Division of Corporation Finance, Statement Regarding Requirements for Form 144 Paper Filings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 10, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/form-144-paper-filings-email-option.

29 IM Information Update IM-INFO-2020-03 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/im-info-2020-03.pdf.

30 SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia, Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-teotia-financial-reporting-covid-19-2020-04-03.

31 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-032620-17a.

32 Release No. IC-33821 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33821.pdf.

33 Recent interfund lending orders are available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/icreleases.shtml#interfundlending.

34 OCIE Statement on Operations and Exams – Health, Safety, Investor Protection and Continued Operations are our Priorities (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocie/announcement/ocie-statement-operations-health-safety-investor-protection-and-continued.

35 Staff Statement Regarding Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/staff-statement-regarding-rule-302b-regulation-s-t-light-covid-19-concerns.

36 Frequently Asked Questions Related to Regulatory Relief Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/guidance/faqs/coronavirus. FINRA guidance, updates, and other information on COVID-19 are available at https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19. Other self-regulatory organizations are also providing relief and guidance. See, e.g., Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-021 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-021-Filing-Extensions-for-Annual-Reports-and-FOCUS-Reports.pdf; Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-022 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-022-Extension-of-Time-for-Certain-Filings-Currently-Due-April-1-2020.pdf.

37 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates, https://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/covid-19-updates/.

38 For the 1940 Act Orders, see Release No. IC-33824 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33824.pdf; Release No. IC-33817 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33817.pdf. For the Advisers Act Orders, see IA-5469 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5469.pdf; Release No. IA-5463 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5463.pdf. The various forms of relief provided by the SEC are subject to conditions that are set out in the respective orders, such as subsequent ratification of votes, notice to the SEC of filing delays, and website disclosure of issues with the delivery of shareholder reports, prospectuses, and Form ADV client brochures.

39 Using IARD, Form ADV: Item 1.F, https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/iard/iardfaq.shtml#item1f.

40 Release No. 34-88465(Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88465.pdf; Release No. 34-88318 (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/34-88318.pdf.

41 Press Release 2020-73, SEC Extends Conditional Exemptions from Reporting and Proxy Delivery Requirements for Public Companies, Funds, and Investment Advisers Affected by Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-73; Press Release 2020-63, SEC Takes Targeted Action to Assist Funds and Advisers, Permits Virtual Board Meetings and Provides Conditional Relief from Certain Filing Procedures (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-63.

42 SEC Division of Investment Management, Staff Statement on Fund Board Meetings and Unforeseen or Emergency Circumstances Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/staff-statement-im-covid-19.

43 State “Shelter-in-Place” and “Stay-at-Home” Orders, https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19/shelter-in-place.

44 Release No. 34-8844 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88448.pdf.

45 Press Release No. 8136-20, CFTC Issues Third Wave of Relief to Market Participants in Response to COVID-19 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8136-20.

46 Notice to Members I-20-15 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.nfa.futures.org/news/newsNotice.asp?ArticleID=5218.

47 European Commission Delegated Regulation art. 62, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2016/EN/3-2016-2398-EN-F1-1.PDF.

Misleading Marketing Materials: SEC Enforcement Lessons for Hedge Fund and Private Equity Firms

In two recent enforcement actions involving a hedge fund manager and a private equity sponsor, the SEC found violations of the Investments Advisers Act as a result of misleading information provided to investors in private fund marketing presentations.

In the Matter of Everest Capital LLC and Marko Dimitrijevic (April 30, 2020): Everest Capital Global Fund (the Fund), a hedge fund with AUM of $830 million at peak, was liquidated following losses sustained in January 2015 after shorting the Swiss Franc, which rose more than 30% in one day. While the SEC’s press release describes “misconduct relating to risk management,” the enforcement action is framed as a disclosure violation resulting from misleading information provided to investors in the Fund’s marketing materials.

  • Gross Exposure: Gross exposure numbers in Fund marketing presentations carved out currency positions without disclosing this fact. As a result, the Fund’s gross exposure was represented as ranging between 155 – 185% during the relevant period, when in fact it was over 1300%.
  • Concentration Limits: In addition, the marketing materials provided that the Fund “would not take concentrated positions in any single geographic region,” highlighting the lessons learned by Everest’s portfolio manager from taking concentrated bets on Russian investments in 1998. In fact, the Fund’s gross exposure to the Swiss Franc alone ranged from 400 – 900% during the relevant period.
  • Risk Management: The Fund’s marketing materials also described the ability of Everest’s risk team “to reduce risk independent of the investment team,” but in fact the risk team had no such authority with respect to the Fund’s currency positions. On this point, the SEC further points to the Fund’s offering memorandum, which “did not exclude currencies from the [firm’s] ‘extensive research and risk management.’”

In the Matter of Old Ironsides Energy, LLC (April 17, 2020): The Old Ironsides team formerly made energy investments for a Fortune 100 company and spun out in 2013 to become an independent energy private equity firm, with AUM of approximately $1.75 billion.  The firm was fined $1 million for mischaracterizing an investment in the team’s legacy portfolio, which formed part of the track record included in marketing materials distributed to investors.

  • In calculating the firm’s track record included in marketing materials distributed to potential investors in Old Ironsides Energy Fund II LP (Fund II), the firm described a large, profitable legacy investment made in 2002 as a direct oil and gas investment. In fact it was an investment in another private fund managed by a third party over whose investment decisions the team had only certain voting rights, along with other investors in that fund.
  • By including that private fund investment as a direct investment (specifically categorized as “early stage”), the firm improved the legacy portfolio’s track record in such investments, which would be one of three investment types on which Fund II would focus. Further, the SEC highlights that Fund II’s mandate expressly excluded investments in other private funds.
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COVID-19 Disaster Relief Arrives for Private-Sector Retirement Plan Sponsors and Administrators

The Department of Labor (DOL) released guidance for sponsors and administrators of employee benefit plans subject to Title I of the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 provides important relief in a various areas over which the DOL has jurisdiction, including, but not limited to, those described below. The guidance reflects the DOL recognition that COVID-19, and the ensuing government response, is likely impairing most, if not all, plan sponsors’ and administrators’ ability to comply with certain requirements and deadlines under ERISA. Here are some of the high-level takeaways, particularly as they relate to retirement plans:

  • The guidance retroactively applies from March 1, 2020, the date President Trump technically declared the COVID-19 National Emergency, and expires 60 days after the cessation of the National Emergency or such other date as the DOL determines. The DOL leaves open the possibility of revising the expiration date of the guidance based on region, a nod to state regional pacts and the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.
  • Technical non-compliance with the verification procedures related to plan loans and distributions under the terms of the plan are not considered violations if the failure is solely attributable to the COVID-19 outbreak, the plan administrator makes a good faith diligent effort (under the circumstances) to comply with the required procedures, and the plan administrator makes a reasonable attempt to correct any procedural deficiencies as soon as administratively practicable. This relief would not apply to statutory or regulatory requirements enforced by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
  • As we recently described, certain limitations related to participant loans were liberalized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under the DOL’s new guidance, the prohibited transaction relief provided in Section 408(b)(1) of ERISA will not be lost solely because the person made a plan loan to a qualified individual during the loan relief period in compliance with the CARES Act and the provisions of any related IRS notice or other published guidance, or because a qualified individual delayed making a plan loan repayment in compliance with the CARES Act and the provisions of any related IRS notice or other published guidance.
  • The DOL will not, solely on the basis of a failure attributable to the COVID-19 outbreak, take enforcement action with respect to a temporary delay in forwarding contributions or repayments of loans to a plan, provided the employer or service provider, as the case may be, acts reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of employees to end such delay as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances. These amounts must ordinarily be forwarded to the plan on the earliest date on which such amounts can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets but in no event later than the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the amounts were paid to or withheld by the employer.
  • Under existing regulations, the administrator of an individual account plan is required to provide 30 days’ advance notice to participants and beneficiaries whose rights under the plan will be temporarily suspended, limited, or restricted by a blackout period. Under certain circumstances, these notice requirements are not required due to events beyond the reasonable control of the plan administrator, and a fiduciary makes such a determination in writing. In response to COVID-19, the new guidance provides that the administrator will not violate such requirements if the plan and responsible fiduciary act in good faith and furnish the notice as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances. For these purposes, “good faith” acts include the use of electronic alternative means of communicating with plan participants (and beneficiaries) who the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have effective access to electronic means of communication, including email, text messages, and continuous access websites. Moreover, the requirement that the fiduciary makes a written determination that such delay is due to events beyond the reasonable control of the plan administrator will not be required, “as pandemics are by definition beyond the plan administrator’s control.”
  • This relief is broad and flexible. Disclosure and notice requirements, including the provision of benefit statements, may be satisfied electronically, as described above.
  • The DOL clearly recognizes that the primary goal at this point is for plans to take reasonable measures to prevent the loss or undue delay in benefits to participants and beneficiaries. Moreover, the guidance acknowledged that service providers are themselves facing headwinds from COVID-19, namely, the various state and local shutdown orders on businesses. To that end, the guidance signals that DOL enforcement in this area will emphasize compliance assistance. The DOL did not rule out additional relief in the future.
  • The DOL separately released COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries. Also, the DOL and Department of Treasury published a joint notice to address coverage issues under COBRA and to announce an extension for certain deadlines related to health and retirement plans, including additional time to file claims, resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 Coverage: Part 8 of 1940 Act Issues to Consider During the Pandemic

Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force will be updating this high-level overview of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) related issues for registered investment companies and fund managers as developments warrant.

NEW ISSUES:

  • Division of Investment Management Statement: The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Investment Management has issued a statement emphasizing the ongoing importance of updating and delivering required information to fund investors in a timely manner, even during this period of operational challenge.1 The statement reminds funds of the obligation to update prospectuses and deliver them to new investors,2 and it encourages funds to consider whether disclosures should be revised based on how COVID-19-related events may affect the fund and its investors. (New 4/20/2020)
  • Closed-End Funds: A closed-end fund is required to suspend its offering of shares until it amends its prospectus if the fund’s net asset value declines more than 10% from the NAV as of the effective date of the registration statement. The SEC staff has released guidance allowing the use of a prospectus supplement, with notice to the SEC staff, rather than an amendment to the registration statement.3 (New 4/20/2020)

UPDATED ISSUES:

  • Market Closures and Market Restrictions: A list of securities market closures and market restrictions is available here(Updated 4/20/2020)
  • Shareholder Meetings: The SEC staff has provided guidance to both operating companies and funds that is intended to provide regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of shareholders meetings and to use new technologies, such as “virtual” shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.4 The guidance notes that the ability to conduct a “virtual” meeting is governed by state law, where permitted, and the issuer’s governing documents. Note that companies seeking to conduct a virtual meeting may, under state law, need to have an appropriate process for shareholders to vote at the meeting. The guidance has been revised to extend to special meetings as well as annual meetings and to provide further guidance on notice requirements. (Updated 4/20/2020)

ISSUES:

  • Business Development Companies: The SEC has provided limited and conditional exemptive relief for business development companies that provides additional flexibility to BDCs to issue and sell senior securities.5 In addition, for BDCs with an SEC order permitting co-investment transactions with certain affiliates, the SEC relief allows the BDC to participate in certain follow-on investments with regulated funds and affiliated funds. The relief is available until Dec. 31, 2020. (New 4/13/2020)
  • Exchange-Traded Funds:
    • For an ETF that invests in foreign markets that close, the ETF may wish to consider whether to invest in alternative instruments, such as ADRs, in order to achieve the desired exposure to the foreign securities. In circumstances where there is no ability to make additional investments in appropriate alternative instruments, an ETF may wish to stop accepting creation unit purchases. The Commission previously has noted that ETFs generally may suspend the issuance of creation units only for a limited time and only due to extraordinary circumstances, such as when the markets on which the ETF’s portfolio holdings are traded are closed for a limited period of time.6 ETF issuers should be aware that any decision to suspend creations could have an impact on the arbitrage efficiency of the ETF and could lead to greater deviations between the market price of the ETF shares and the NAV of the shares. Like other open-end funds, ETFs cannot suspend redemptions unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed or there is appropriate guidance from the SEC. ETFs are permitted to charge transaction fees of up to 2% on redemptions. Such fees are designed to offset the costs of redemptions to the ETF. Some fixed-income ETFs that deliver cash redemptions instead of in-kind redemptions reportedly have increased their transaction fees on redemptions in light of increased transaction costs in the bond market. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • On March 23, 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York established the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF), which will purchase in the secondary market corporate bonds issued by U.S. companies and shares of U.S.-listed ETFs whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds.7 The New York Fed has retained BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory as a third-party vendor to serve as the investment manager for this facility.8 The SMCCF will cease making such purchases no later than Sept. 30, 2020, unless extended. The Federal Reserve Board announced on April 9 that the SMCCF has been expanded and, together with the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, will have a combined size of up to $750 billion.9 The SMCCF may purchase any U.S.-listed ETF whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds, although the preponderance of ETF holdings will be ETFs whose primary investment objective is exposure to U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds. The SMCCF will not purchase shares of an ETF if it then would own more than 20% of the ETF’s shares. (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Regulation BI/Form CRS: SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has announced that the SEC believes that the June 30, 2020, compliance date for Regulation Best Interest and other requirements, including the requirement to file and begin delivering Form CRS, remains appropriate.10 To the extent that a firm is unable to make certain filings or meet other requirements because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, including as a result of efforts to comply with national, state or local health and safety directives and guidance, the firm should engage with the SEC. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued two Risk Alerts that provide broker-dealers and investment advisers with advance information about the expected scope and content of the initial examinations for compliance with Regulation BI and Form CRS,11 and FINRA has provided guidance on best practices in preparing for Regulation BI.12 The SEC staff has announced that it is now accepting filings on Form CRS.13 (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Paper Submissions: Although most SEC filings are now made electronically via EDGAR, there are still some submissions that normally must be submitted in paper form.
    • The SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets has announced relief for certain submissions that are required to be filed in paper format with a manual signature and for related notarization requirements.14 The affected filings include audited annual reports submitted by broker-dealers. Filers should contact Division staff to discuss the appropriate process for filing. The staff statement covers submissions for the period from and including March 16, 2020, to June 30, 2020. (New 4/7/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance has announced that notices of proposed sales of securities on Form 144 may be filed via email and, subject to certain conditions, may have a typed form of signature rather than a manual signature.15 (New 4/13/2020)
    • The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has announced that requests for hearing applications on notices of applications for exemptive orders under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 must be submitted by email.16 (New 4/13/2020)
  • Accounting Issues: SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia has announced that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant recognizes that the accounting and financial reporting implications of COVID-19 may require companies to make significant judgments and estimates in a number of accounting areas, including fair value and impairment considerations.17 The OCA has consistently not objected to well-reasoned judgments that entities have made, and it will continue to apply this perspective. The OCA remains available for consultation and encourages stakeholders to contact it with questions they encounter as a result of COVID-19. (New 4/7/2020)
  • SEC Comment Periods: The SEC has issued a statement noting that the Commission and staff have historically considered comments submitted after a comment period closes but before adoption of a final rule or order.18 For certain pending rule proposals, including proposals concerning auditor independence, the accredited investor definition, and fund investments in derivatives, the SEC does not expect action to be taken before May 1 In addition, the SEC and other regulators have announced that they will consider comments submitted before May 1 on their pending proposal with respect to the Volcker Rule.19 Updated 4/7/2020)
  • Money Market Mutual Funds:
    • Form N-CR: Several money market funds filed on Form N-CR in March to report financial support, and one money market fund filed on Form N-CR in March to report downward deviations of its shadow price by more than ¼ of 1%. An amended report is required to be filed within four business days of the provision of financial support or downward deviation that describes the reason for the support and terms of the support or the reason for the deviation, as applicable. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Purchases by Affiliated Banks: The Federal Reserve Board has issued a template exemptive letter allowing banks to purchase assets from affiliated money market funds, subject to certain conditions, including that the assets must be investment grade and purchased at fair market value.20 In addition, the SEC staff has granted no-action relief to permit certain bank affiliates of money market funds to purchase securities from the funds in accordance with the Federal Reserve Board guidance, but otherwise pursuant to rule 17a-9, subject to certain conditions.21 The SEC no-action letter does not affect the ability of other money market fund affiliates to purchase assets from the fund in accordance with rule 17a-9. (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Liquidity Facility: The Federal Reserve Board has announced a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) that is intended to assist money market funds in meeting demands for redemptions.22 Under the MMLF, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston will lend to depository institutions and bank holding companies, taking as collateral assets purchased by the borrower from prime money market funds (i) concurrently with the borrowing or (ii) or on or after March 18, but before the opening of the facility. The facility is similar to the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility that operated from late 2008 to early 2010 but will purchase a broader range of assets. The Federal Reserve Board expanded the facility to cover certain assets purchased from tax-exempt municipal money market funds.23 The Federal Reserve Board has announced that the facility opened March 23, and full documentation and additional guidance are available.24 (Updated 3/23/2020)
    • Guaranty: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted into law on March 27, suspends the existing prohibition on the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund for the establishment of any guaranty programs for the money market fund industry.25 Any such guarantee shall be limited to a guarantee of the total value of a shareholder’s account in a participating fund as of the close of business on the day before the announcement of the guarantee and terminate not later than Dec. 31, 2020. This provision allows the Department of the Treasury to establish a Money Market Funds Guaranty Program, but does not require it to do so. (Updated 3/31/2020)
  • Affiliated Purchases of Debt Securities: The SEC staff has issued no-action relief to affiliates of open-end funds, other than exchange-traded funds and money market funds, to allow them to purchase debt securities from the funds.26 The relief is subject to conditions, including that the price must be the security’s fair market value per Section 2(a)(41) of the 1940 Act, provided that this price is not materially different from the value indicated by a reliable third-party pricing service, and that the fund must publicly disclose the purchase on its website and inform the staff. In addition, if the purchaser thereafter sells the security for a higher price, it must promptly pay the difference to the fund, unless the purchaser is a bank or bank affiliate and this condition would conflict with Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act. The relief will be in effect until further notice from the staff. (New 3/31/2020)
  • SEC Lending and Borrowing Relief: The SEC has issued an order providing additional flexibility for open-end funds (other than money market funds) and insurance company separate accounts registered as unit investment trusts to obtain short-term funding.27 The relief is available until a notice terminating it is issued, which will be at least two weeks from the date of the notice and no earlier than June 30, 2020. Prior to relying on any of the relief, the fund would have to notify SEC staff. In addition, interfund lending requires notification on a fund’s public website.
    • Fund affiliates may lend money to the fund on a collateralized basis, provided the board makes determinations that the borrowing is in the best interest of the fund and its shareholders and that it will be for the purposes of satisfying shareholder redemptions.
    • For fund families with an SEC order permitting an interfund lending and borrowing facility, a lending fund may lend up to 25% of its current net assets and the term may be for any period that does not extend beyond the expiration of the relief, notwithstanding the terms of the order, provided, among other conditions, that the board reasonably determines that the maximum term for interfund loans is appropriate. (Recent orders typically limit lending funds to 15% of current net assets and the term to seven days.)
    • For fund families without an interfund lending order, funds may lend and borrow in accordance with the terms of any such order issued within the past twelve months, with the same modifications.28
    • Funds are not required to seek shareholder approval if lending under the relief would violate a fundamental policy, provided that the board reasonably determines that the lending or borrowing is in the best interests of the fund and its shareholders. (New 3/27/2020)
  • OCIE Statement: The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued a statement that it has moved to conducting examinations off-site through correspondence unless it is absolutely necessary to be on-site, and that it will work with registrants to ensure that its work can be conducted in a manner consistent with maintaining normal operations and with necessary or appropriate health and safety measures.29 OCIE also stated that reliance on regulatory relief will not be a risk factor utilized in determining whether OCIE commences an examination, and it encourages registrants to utilize available regulatory relief as needed. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Signatures on EDGAR Filings: The SEC staff has issued a statement on the manual signature and record requirements for documents filed electronically with the SEC.30 The staff will not recommend enforcement action if a signatory retains a document adopting the signature and provides the document to the filer for retention, with the time and date executed, and the filer establishes and maintains policies and procedures governing this process. (New 3/27/2020)
  • FINRA Guidance: FINRA has issued guidance that provides temporary relief and guidance with respect to a number of requirements, including filings that would otherwise be required for temporary relocations and the timing of FOCUS reports and certain other filings.31 The guidance will be available until FINRA publishes a Regulatory Notice announcing a termination date. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Blue Sky Guidance: A number of state and provincial securities regulators have published guidance that provides relief or other COVID-19-related updates. The North American Securities Administrators Association has established a resource page to collect these updates.32 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • SEC Filings: The SEC has updated its previous orders under both the 1940 Act and the Investment Advisers Act to extend the time periods of the relief.33 Entities must notify the SEC staff and/or investors, as applicable, of the intent to rely on the relief, but generally no longer need to describe why they are relying on the order or estimate a date by which the required action will occur. The 1940 Act Orders provide relief from the timeliness requirements of Form N-CEN, Form N-PORT, and Form N-23C-2 when a fund is unable to meet a deadline due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. The relief for Forms N-CEN and N-PORT applies to filing obligations for which the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, while the relief for Form N-23C-2 extends to Aug. 15, 2020. The Advisers Act Orders provide timeliness relief for Form ADV and Form PF filings and for Form ADV Part 2 client delivery obligations for 45 days from the original due date, when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020. The SEC previously posted staff guidance that Form ADV does not have to be updated to reflect temporary teleworking locations.34 The SEC has also provided relief from timeliness requirements for certain filings under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.35 Note that filings not covered by the orders continue to be required on a timely basis, including filings on Form N-LIQUID, Form N-CR, and Form N-MFP, although it is possible that the SEC will consider issues with these forms on an individualized basis. The SEC provided information on contacting the staff with issues, including issues with these filings, in press releases announcing the actions.36 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • In-Person Board Meetings: The 1940 Act Orders allow fund boards to meet telephonically or by video conference to consider and vote on matters that would otherwise require an in-person vote. The relief applies whenever reliance upon it is necessary or appropriate due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19 and is available until Aug. 15, 2020. The SEC’s Division of Investment Management previously provided no-action relief for the period from March 4 to June 15.37 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports: The 1940 Act Orders also provide relief from the obligations to timely transmit annual and semiannual reports to shareholders and to file them with the SEC. The relief applies when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, and the fund is unable to prepare or transmit the report due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. In addition, the SEC announced that it would not provide a basis for an SEC enforcement action if a fund does not timely deliver a current prospectus because of circumstances related to COVID-19 when delivery was originally required during this period. The position is not available to an initial purchase by the investor of the fund’s shares. (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • State and Local Closures: Many states, counties and cities have announced business closures in connection with “shelter-in-place” public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some of the orders may contain broad exceptions for the financial services industry, while others may not. Beyond the direct impact on firms in those localities, review the location of service providers and the terms of these orders carefully to determine whether necessary support functions will remain available. FINRA has posted a resource page with links to state “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders.38 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Transfer Agents: The SEC has provided a broad exemption for the period from March 16 to May 30 from requirements applicable to transfer agents except for the safeguarding requirement.39 Transfer agents relying on the relief must provide notice to the SEC by May 30. The SEC encourages transfer agents and the issuers for whom they act to inform affected security holders. (New 3/23/2020)
  • Tax Implications for Funds with Institutional Shareholders: For institutional funds with few shareholders, beware that the fund could fall into personal holding company status if at any time during the last half of the taxable year more than 50% in value of the fund’s shares are owned, directly or indirectly, by or for not more than 5 “individuals.” For purposes of this rule, employee pension trusts, private foundations, trusts forming part of a plan providing for the payment of supplemental unemployment compensation benefits, and a trust, a portion of which is permanently set aside or to be used exclusively for charitable purposes, are considered individuals. (New 3/23/2020)
  • CPO NFA Filings: The CFTC staff has provided no-action relief to commodity pool operators that extends certain filing deadlines.40 With respect to Form CPO-PQR filings under CFTC Regulation 4.27, Small and Mid-Sized CPOs have until May 15, 2020, to submit their annual filings for 2019, while Large CPOs have until July 15, 2020, to submit their filings for Q1 2020. For pool annual reports under CFTC Regulations 4.7(b)(3) or 4.22(c) that are due on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing and distributing the report, which must include certified financial statements, has been extended until 45 days after the due date specified in the regulations. For monthly or quarterly reports to pool participants under CFTC Regulation 4.7(b)(2) or 4.22(b) for all reporting periods ending on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for distribution to participants has been extended to 45 days after the end of the reporting period (instead of 30 days as stated in the regulations). The National Futures Association has issued similar relief for CPO Members and has provided Commodity Trading Advisor Members with similar relief for NFA Form PR filings.41 (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Liquidity Risk Management: Current developments raise a number of issues for the management of funds’ liquidity risk:
  • Assessment, management, and periodic review of liquidity risk: Funds should review fund liquidity risk in light of current and reasonably expected market events and redemption patterns and may need to consider appropriate mitigating steps for strengthening the fund’s ability to meet redemptions, including readying borrowing and other liquidity facilities. Some fund managers may wish to consider use of the relief provided by the SEC and its staff for affiliated transactions.
  • Classification of portfolio investments: Rule 22e-4 requires funds to review their portfolio investments’ liquidity classifications more frequently than monthly if changes in relevant market, trading, and investment-specific considerations are reasonably expected to materially affect classifications. Such reviews should focus especially on holdings that could be considered illiquid investments as a result of these developments or that could fall out of highly liquid investment status. An important consideration will be a review of the reasonably anticipated trading sizes in light of redemption expectations. Funds should be alert to the possibility that vendor classifications may be based on historical rather than current data.
  • Highly liquid investment minimum: For funds that currently hold primarily highly liquid assets, and therefore are not required to have an HLIM, the program administrator may need to examine whether the fund can still qualify for that status. For HLIM funds, the HLIM may need to be reviewed under the required factors in light of current market and redemption developments and, if a shortfall is reasonably anticipated, a shortfall response plan should be developed, which must include a plan for reporting shortfalls to the fund’s board.
  • Illiquid investments: During this period of extreme market volatility, the fund should monitor closely whether there is a need to reclassify holdings as illiquid investments. Funds should be prepared to file Form N-LIQUID if the fund’s illiquid assets exceed 15% of its net assets. The program administrator should have guidance designed to prevent purchases that would violate the prohibition on acquiring illiquid investments when over the 15% limit. We do not yet know if the SEC will provide guidance relieving funds from filing Form N-LIQUID in the event of foreign or other market closings that are beyond the scope of existing guidance on extended foreign holidays.
  • Redemptions in kind: Funds may wish to consider whether redemptions in kind would be an appropriate tool for large redemption requests, including whether operational logistics are in place to accommodate any such redemption requests. (Updated 3/19/2020)
  • MiFID II Reporting: Under the MiFID II delegated regulation, investment firms providing the service of portfolio management and subject to MiFID II must inform the client where the overall value of the portfolio, as evaluated at the beginning of each reporting period, depreciates by 10% and thereafter at multiples of 10%, no later than the end of the business day in which the threshold is exceeded or, in a case where the threshold is exceeded on a non-business day, the close of the next business day.42 (New 3/19/2020)
  • Fund Boards: Fund directors should stay up to speed on current market events so they can properly apply their business judgment as necessary from a governance standpoint. In many cases, fund boards are receiving periodic status reports or attending status updates from fund advisers. Examples of areas for directors to consider include, for funds, fund flows, liquidity levels, valuation, and performance; and for fund advisers, status of operations under business continuity plans, market assessments, and the assessment of critical fund service providers. Board reporting from fund advisers is particularly important during times of market stress. To strike an appropriate balance between staying apprised and being efficient and respectful of fund advisory personnel time, boards may seek to channel questions or communications through independent counsel or the board chair/lead independent director. (New 3/19/2020)
  • Business Continuity Plans: Business continuity at the current time is key. In most cases, those plans already are in effect. Consideration should be given to contingency planning in the event that fund managers, transfer agents, pricing services, or other service providers are unable to provide services because of employee absences. Funds and fund managers should make and communicate revisions to their plans as they adjust to the developing environment.
  • Valuation: Funds should examine whether they are able to obtain valid prices for their investments, especially in markets that may be closed or have limited availability. Experience from the 2008 financial crisis shows that vendor reassurances as to the quality of their pricing information may provide false comfort, so vendor prices should be checked for reliability. At this time, we do not expect the SEC to provide relief from the daily pricing requirement.
  • Redemptions: Under Section 22(e) of the 1940 Act, open-end funds generally may not suspend the right of redemption unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed, or the SEC provides guidance that daily redemptions are not required because trading is restricted or an emergency exists. At this point, funds should assume that they must continue to provide daily redemptions. Funds should review any borrowing arrangements that may need to be utilized. We are closely monitoring for any relevant guidance from the SEC or its staff on this topic.
  • Cybersecurity: Firms are at increased risk of cyberattacks, particularly with the use of remote offices and telework. Anxious employees may be more vulnerable to email phishing attacks. Employees should be reminded of the continued need for vigilance.
  • Prospectus Disclosures: Funds should review their prospectus disclosures, and particularly their risk disclosures. It may be appropriate to add a pandemic risk factor if this risk is not already addressed. However, funds have different risk profiles, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the necessary disclosures.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Stradley Ronon contact, or to any member of Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force, with any questions and concerns you may have during this period. You can reach Crovitz Sara at 202.507.6414 or scrovitz@stradley.com, or John Baker at 202.419.8413 or jbaker@stradley.com.

__________________

1 SEC Division of Investment Management, Importance of Delivering Timely and Material Information to Investment Company Investors (Apr. 14, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/delivering-timely-material-information.

2 As discussed below, the SEC has provided limited conditional relief from the obligation to timely deliver prospectuses to existing shareholders. See infra Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports.

3 Division of Investment Management Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response FAQs, Q&A III.5, https://www.sec.gov/investment/covid-19-response-faq.

4 Staff Guidance for Conducting Annual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocr/staff-guidance-conducting-annual-meetings-light-covid-19-concerns.

5 Release No. IC-33837 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/ic-33837.pdf.

6 Release Nos. 33-10695, IC-33646 (Sept. 25, 2019), 84 Fed. Reg. 57162, 57178 (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2019-21250.

7 Policy Tools: Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/smccf.htm.

8 Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/secondary-market-corporate-credit-facility.

9 Press Release, Federal Reserve takes additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm.

10 SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Investors Remain Front of Mind at the SEC: Approach to Allocation of Resources, Oversight and Rulemaking; Implementation of Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-clayton-investors-rbi-form-crs.

11 OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert-%20Regulation%20Best%20Interest%20Exams.pdf; OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Form CRS (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert%20-%20Form%20CRS%20Exams.pdf.

12 FINRA Highlights Firm Practices from Regulation Best Interest Preparedness Reviews (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/regulation-best-interest/preparedness.

13 Frequently Asked Questions on Form CRS, https://www.sec.gov/investment/form-crs-faq#filing.

14 Division of Trading and Markets Staff Statement Regarding Requirements for Certain Paper Submissions in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/tm/paper-submission-requirements-covid-19.

15 SEC Division of Corporation Finance, Statement Regarding Requirements for Form 144 Paper Filings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 10, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/form-144-paper-filings-email-option.

16 IM Information Update IM-INFO-2020-03 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/im-info-2020-03.pdf.

17 SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia, Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-teotia-financial-reporting-covid-19-2020-04-03.

18 Comment Periods for Certain Pending Actions, https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed.shtml.

19 Press Release 2020-79, Agencies Will Consider Comments on Volcker Rule Modifications Following Expiration of Comment Period (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-79.

20 Money Market Mutual Funds Template Letter (Mar. 17, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/supervisionreg/legalinterpretations/fedreserseactint20200317.pdf.

21 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-031920-17a.

22 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board broadens program of support for the flow of credit to households and businesses by establishing a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) (Mar. 18, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200318a.htm.

23 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board expands its program of support for flow of credit to the economy by taking steps to enhance liquidity and functioning of crucial state and municipal money markets (Mar. 20, 2020) https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200320b.htm.

24 Policy Tools: Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/mmlf.htm.

25 H.R. 748, § 4015, 116th Cong. (2020), https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf.

26 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-032620-17a.

27 Release No. IC-33821 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33821.pdf.

28 Recent interfund lending orders are available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/icreleases.shtml#interfundlending.

29 OCIE Statement on Operations and Exams – Health, Safety, Investor Protection and Continued Operations are our Priorities (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocie/announcement/ocie-statement-operations-health-safety-investor-protection-and-continued.

30 Staff Statement Regarding Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/staff-statement-regarding-rule-302b-regulation-s-t-light-covid-19-concerns.

31 Frequently Asked Questions Related to Regulatory Relief Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/guidance/faqs/coronavirus. FINRA guidance, updates, and other information on COVID-19 are available at https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19. Other self-regulatory organizations are also providing relief and guidance. See, e.g., Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-021 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-021-Filing-Extensions-for-Annual-Reports-and-FOCUS-Reports.pdf; Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-022 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-022-Extension-of-Time-for-Certain-Filings-Currently-Due-April-1-2020.pdf.

32 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates, https://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/covid-19-updates/.

33 For the 1940 Act Orders, see Release No. IC-33824 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33824.pdf; Release No. IC-33817 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33817.pdf. For the Advisers Act Orders, see IA-5469 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5469.pdf; Release No. IA-5463 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5463.pdf. The various forms of relief provided by the SEC are subject to conditions that are set out in the respective orders, such as subsequent ratification of votes, notice to the SEC of filing delays, and website disclosure of issues with the delivery of shareholder reports, prospectuses, and Form ADV client brochures.

34 Using IARD, Form ADV: Item 1.F, https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/iard/iardfaq.shtml#item1f.

35 Release No. 34-88465(Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88465.pdf; Release No. 34-88318 (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/34-88318.pdf.

36 Press Release 2020-73, SEC Extends Conditional Exemptions from Reporting and Proxy Delivery Requirements for Public Companies, Funds, and Investment Advisers Affected by Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-73; Press Release 2020-63, SEC Takes Targeted Action to Assist Funds and Advisers, Permits Virtual Board Meetings and Provides Conditional Relief from Certain Filing Procedures (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-63.

37 SEC Division of Investment Management, Staff Statement on Fund Board Meetings and Unforeseen or Emergency Circumstances Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/staff-statement-im-covid-19.

38 State “Shelter-in-Place” and “Stay-at-Home” Orders, https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19/shelter-in-place.

39 Release No. 34-8844 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88448.pdf.

40 Press Release No. 8136-20, CFTC Issues Third Wave of Relief to Market Participants in Response to COVID-19 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8136-20.

41 Notice to Members I-20-15 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.nfa.futures.org/news/newsNotice.asp?ArticleID=5218.

42 European Commission Delegated Regulation art. 62, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2016/EN/3-2016-2398-EN-F1-1.PDF.

COVID-19 Coverage: Part 7 of 1940 Act Issues to Consider During the Pandemic

Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force will be updating this high-level overview of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) related issues for registered investment companies and fund managers as developments warrant.

NEW ISSUES:

  • Business Development Companies: The Securities and Exchange Commission has provided limited and conditional exemptive relief for business development companies that provides additional flexibility to BDCs to issue and sell senior securities.1 In addition, for BDCs with an SEC order permitting co-investment transactions with certain affiliates, the SEC relief allows the BDC to participate in certain follow-on investments with regulated funds and affiliated funds. The relief is available until December 31, 2020. (New 4/13/2020)

UPDATED ISSUES:

  • Market Closures and Market Restrictions: A list of securities market closures and market restrictions is available here. (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Exchange-Traded Funds:
  • For an ETF that invests in foreign markets that close, the ETF may wish to consider whether to invest in alternative instruments, such as ADRs, in order to achieve the desired exposure to the foreign securities. In circumstances where there is no ability to make additional investments in appropriate alternative instruments, an ETF may wish to stop accepting creation unit purchases. The Commission previously has noted that ETFs generally may suspend the issuance of creation units only for a limited time and only due to extraordinary circumstances, such as when the markets on which the ETF’s portfolio holdings are traded are closed for a limited period of time.2 ETF issuers should be aware that any decision to suspend creations could have an impact on the arbitrage efficiency of the ETF and could lead to greater deviations between the market price of the ETF shares and the NAV of the shares. Like other open-end funds, ETFs cannot suspend redemptions unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed or there is appropriate guidance from the SEC. ETFs are permitted to charge transaction fees of up to 2% on redemptions. Such fees are designed to offset the costs of redemptions to the ETF. Some fixed-income ETFs that deliver cash redemptions instead of in-kind redemptions reportedly have increased their transaction fees on redemptions in light of increased transaction costs in the bond market. (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • On March 23, 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York established the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF), which will purchase in the secondary market corporate bonds issued by U.S. companies and shares of U.S.-listed ETFs whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds.3 The New York Fed has retained BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory as a third-party vendor to serve as the investment manager for this facility.4 The SMCCF will cease making such purchases no later than Sept. 30, 2020, unless extended. The Federal Reserve Board announced on April 9 that the SMCCF has been expanded and, together with the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, will have a combined size of up to $750 billion.5 The SMCCF may purchase any U.S.-listed ETF whose investment objective is to provide broad exposure to the market for U.S. corporate bonds, although the preponderance of ETF holdings will be ETFs whose primary investment objective is exposure to U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds. The SMCCF will not purchase shares of an ETF if it then would own more than 20% of the ETF’s shares. (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Regulation BI/Form CRS: SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has announced that the SEC believes that the June 30, 2020, compliance date for Regulation Best Interest and other requirements, including the requirement to file and begin delivering Form CRS, remains appropriate.6 To the extent that a firm is unable to make certain filings or meet other requirements because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, including as a result of efforts to comply with national, state or local health and safety directives and guidance, the firm should engage with the SEC. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued two Risk Alerts that provide broker-dealers and investment advisers with advance information about the expected scope and content of the initial examinations for compliance with Regulation BI and Form 7 and FINRA has provided guidance on best practices in preparing for Regulation BI.The SEC staff has announced that it is now accepting filings on Form CRS. (Updated 4/13/2020)
  • Paper Submissions: Although most SEC filings are now made electronically via EDGAR, there are still some submissions that normally must be submitted in paper form.
  • The SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets has announced relief for certain submissions that are required to be filed in paper format with a manual signature and for related notarization requirements.9 The affected filings include audited annual reports submitted by broker-dealers. Filers should contact Division staff to discuss the appropriate process for filing. The staff statement covers submissions for the period from and including March 16, 2020, to June 30, 2020. (New 4/7/2020)
  • The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance has announced that notices of proposed sales of securities on Form 144 may be filed via email and, subject to certain conditions, may have a typed form of signature rather than a manual signature.10 (New 4/13/2020)
  • The SEC’s Division of Investment Management has announced that requests for hearing applications on notices of applications for exemptive orders under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 must be submitted by email.11 (New 4/13/2020)

ISSUES:

  • Accounting Issues: SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia has announced that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant recognizes that the accounting and financial reporting implications of COVID-19 may require companies to make significant judgments and estimates in a number of accounting areas, including fair value and impairment considerations.12 The OCA has consistently not objected to well-reasoned judgments that entities have made, and it will continue to apply this perspective. The OCA remains available for consultation and encourages stakeholders to contact it with questions they encounter as a result of COVID-19. (New 4/7/2020)
  • SEC Comment Periods: The SEC has issued a statement noting that the Commission and staff have historically considered comments submitted after a comment period closes but before adoption of a final rule or order.13 For certain pending rule proposals, including proposals concerning auditor independence, the accredited investor definition, and fund investments in derivatives, the SEC does not expect action to be taken before May 1. In addition, the SEC and other regulators have announced that they will consider comments submitted before May 1 on their pending proposal with respect to the Volcker Rule.14 (Updated 4/7/2020)
  • Money Market Mutual Funds:
  • Form N-CR: Several money market funds filed on Form N-CR in March to report financial support, and two money market funds filed on Form N-CR in March to report a downward deviation of their shadow prices by more than ¼ of 1%. An amended report is required to be filed within four business days of the provision of financial support or downward deviation that describes the reason for the support and terms of the support or the reason for the deviation, as applicable. (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Purchases by Affiliated Banks: The Federal Reserve Board has issued a template exemptive letter allowing banks to purchase assets from affiliated money market funds, subject to certain conditions, including that the assets must be investment grade and purchased at fair market value.15 In addition, the SEC staff has granted no-action relief to permit certain bank affiliates of money market funds to purchase securities from the funds in accordance with the Federal Reserve Board guidance, but otherwise pursuant to rule 17a-9, subject to certain conditions.16 The SEC no-action letter does not affect the ability of other money market fund affiliates to purchase assets from the fund in accordance with rule 17a-9. (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Liquidity Facility: The Federal Reserve Board has announced a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) that is intended to assist money market funds in meeting demands for redemptions.17 Under the MMLF, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston will lend to depository institutions and bank holding companies, taking as collateral assets purchased by the borrower from prime money market funds (i) concurrently with the borrowing or (ii) or on or after March 18, but before the opening of the facility. The facility is similar to the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility that operated from late 2008 to early 2010 but will purchase a broader range of assets. The Federal Reserve Board expanded the facility to cover certain assets purchased from tax-exempt municipal money market funds.18 The Federal Reserve Board has announced that the facility opened March 23, and full documentation and additional guidance are available.19 (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Guaranty: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted into law on March 27, suspends the existing prohibition on the use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund for the establishment of any guaranty programs for the money market fund industry.20 Any such guarantee shall be limited to a guarantee of the total value of a shareholder’s account in a participating fund as of the close of business on the day before the announcement of the guarantee and terminate not later than Dec. 31, 2020. This provision allows the Department of the Treasury to establish a Money Market Funds Guaranty Program, but does not require it to do so. (Updated 3/31/2020)
  • Affiliated Purchases of Debt Securities: The SEC staff has issued no-action relief to affiliates of open-end funds, other than exchange-traded funds and money market funds, to allow them to purchase debt securities from the funds.21 The relief is subject to conditions, including that the price must be the security’s fair market value per Section 2(a)(41) of the 1940 Act, provided that this price is not materially different from the value indicated by a reliable third-party pricing service, and that the fund must publicly disclose the purchase on its website and inform the staff. In addition, if the purchaser thereafter sells the security for a higher price, it must promptly pay the difference to the fund, unless the purchaser is a bank or bank affiliate and this condition would conflict with Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act. The relief will be in effect until further notice from the staff. (New 3/31/2020)
  • SEC Lending and Borrowing Relief: The SEC has issued an order providing additional flexibility for open-end funds (other than money market funds) and insurance company separate accounts registered as unit investment trusts to obtain short-term funding.22 The relief is available until a notice terminating it is issued, which will be at least two weeks from the date of the notice and no earlier than June 30, 2020. Prior to relying on any of the relief, the fund would have to notify SEC staff. In addition, interfund lending requires notification on a fund’s public website.
  • Fund affiliates may lend money to the fund on a collateralized basis, provided the board makes determinations that the borrowing is in the best interest of the fund and its shareholders and that it will be for the purposes of satisfying shareholder redemptions.
  • For fund families with an SEC order permitting an interfund lending and borrowing facility, a lending fund may lend up to 25% of its current net assets and the term may be for any period that does not extend beyond the expiration of the relief, notwithstanding the terms of the order, provided, among other conditions, that the board reasonably determines that the maximum term for interfund loans is appropriate. (Recent orders typically limit lending funds to 15% of current net assets and the term to seven days.)
  • For fund families without an interfund lending order, funds may lend and borrow in accordance with the terms of any such order issued within the past twelve months, with the same modifications.23
  • Funds are not required to seek shareholder approval if lending under the relief would violate a fundamental policy, provided that the board reasonably determines that the lending or borrowing is in the best interests of the fund and its shareholders. (New 3/27/2020)
  • OCIE Statement: The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has issued a statement that it has moved to conducting examinations off-site through correspondence, unless it is absolutely necessary to be on-site, and that it will work with registrants to ensure that its work can be conducted in a manner consistent with maintaining normal operations and with necessary or appropriate health and safety measures.24 OCIE also stated that reliance on regulatory relief will not be a risk factor utilized in determining whether OCIE commences an examination, and it encourages registrants to utilize available regulatory relief as needed. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Signatures on EDGAR Filings: The SEC staff has issued a statement on the manual signature and record requirements for documents filed electronically with the SEC.25 The staff will not recommend enforcement action if a signatory retains a document adopting the signature and provides the document to the filer for retention, with the time and date executed, and the filer establishes and maintains policies and procedures governing this process. (New 3/27/2020)
  • FINRA Guidance: FINRA has issued guidance that provides temporary relief and guidance with respect to a number of requirements, including filings that would otherwise be required for temporary relocations and the timing of FOCUS reports and certain other filings.26 The guidance will be available until FINRA publishes a Regulatory Notice announcing a termination date. (New 3/27/2020)
  • Blue Sky Guidance: A number of state and provincial securities regulators have published guidance that provides relief or other COVID-19-related updates. The North American Securities Administrators Association has established a resource page to collect these updates.27 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • SEC Filings: The SEC has updated its previous orders under both the 1940 Act and the Investment Advisers Act to extend the time periods of the relief.28 Entities must notify the SEC staff and/or investors, as applicable, of the intent to rely on the relief, but generally no longer need to describe why they are relying on the order or estimate a date by which the required action will occur. The 1940 Act Orders provide relief from the timeliness requirements of Form N-CEN, Form N-PORT, and Form N-23C-2 when a fund is unable to meet a deadline due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. The relief for Forms N-CEN and N-PORT applies to filing obligations for which the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, while the relief for Form N-23C-2 extends to Aug. 15, 2020. The Advisers Act Orders provide timeliness relief for Form ADV and Form PF filings and for Form ADV Part 2 client delivery obligations for 45 days from the original due date, when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020. The SEC previously posted staff guidance that Form ADV does not have to be updated to reflect temporary teleworking locations.29 The SEC has also provided relief from timeliness requirements for certain filings under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.30 Note that filings not covered by the orders continue to be required on a timely basis, including filings on Form N-LIQUID, Form N-CR, and Form N-MFP, although it is possible that the SEC will consider issues with these forms on an individualized basis. The SEC provided information on contacting the staff with issues, including issues with these filings, in press releases announcing the actions.31 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • In-Person Board Meetings: The 1940 Act Orders allow fund boards to meet telephonically or by video conference to consider and vote on matters that would otherwise require an in-person vote. The relief applies whenever reliance upon it is necessary or appropriate due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19 and is available until Aug. 15, 2020. The SEC’s Division of Investment Management previously provided no-action relief for the period from March 4 to June 15.32 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Delivery of Prospectuses and Shareholder Reports: The 1940 Act Orders also provide relief from the obligations to timely transmit annual and semiannual reports to shareholders and to file them with the SEC. The relief applies when the original due date is on or after March 13 but on or prior to June 30, 2020, and the fund is unable to prepare or transmit the report due to circumstances related to current or potential effects of COVID-19. In addition, the SEC announced that it would not provide a basis for an SEC enforcement action if a fund does not timely deliver a current prospectus because of circumstances related to COVID-19 when delivery was originally required during this period. The position is not available to an initial purchase by the investor of the fund’s shares. (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Annual Meetings: The SEC staff has provided guidance to both operating companies and funds that is intended to provide regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of the meetings and use new technologies, such as “virtual” shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.33 The guidance notes that the ability to conduct a “virtual” meeting is governed by state law, where permitted, and the issuer’s governing documents. Note that companies seeking to conduct a virtual meeting may, under state law, need to have an appropriate process for shareholders to vote at the meeting. (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • State and Local Closures: Many states, counties and cities have announced business closures in connection with “shelter-in-place” public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some of the orders may contain broad exceptions for the financial services industry, while others may not. Beyond the direct impact on firms in those localities, review the location of service providers and the terms of these orders carefully to determine whether necessary support functions will remain available. FINRA has posted a resource page with links to state “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders.34 (Updated 3/27/2020)
  • Transfer Agents: The SEC has provided a broad exemption for the period from March 16 to May 30 from requirements applicable to transfer agents except for the safeguarding requirement.35 Transfer agents relying on the relief must provide notice to the SEC by May 30. The SEC encourages transfer agents and the issuers for whom they act to inform affected security holders. (New 3/23/2020)
  • Tax Implications for Funds with Institutional Shareholders: For institutional funds with few shareholders, beware that the fund could fall into personal holding company status if at any time during the last half of the taxable year more than 50% in value of the fund’s shares are owned, directly or indirectly, by or for not more than 5 “individuals.” For purposes of this rule, employee pension trusts, private foundations, trusts forming part of a plan providing for the payment of supplemental unemployment compensation benefits, and a trust, a portion of which is permanently set aside or to be used exclusively for charitable purposes, are considered individuals. (New 3/23/2020)
  • CPO NFA Filings: The CFTC staff has provided no-action relief to commodity pool operators that extends certain filing deadlines.36 With respect to Form CPO-PQR filings under CFTC Regulation 4.27, Small and Mid-Sized CPOs have until May 15, 2020 to submit their annual filings for 2019, while Large CPOs have until July 15, 2020 to submit their filings for Q1 2020. For pool annual reports under CFTC Regulations 4.7(b)(3) or 4.22(c) that are due on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing and distributing the report, which must include certified financial statements, has been extended until 45 days after the due date specified in the regulations. For monthly or quarterly reports to pool participants under CFTC Regulation 4.7(b)(2) or 4.22(b) for all reporting periods ending on or before April 30, 2020, the deadline for distribution to participants has been extended to 45 days after the end of the reporting period (instead of 30 days as stated in the regulations). The National Futures Association has issued similar relief for CPO Members and has provided Commodity Trading Advisor Members with similar relief for NFA Form PR filings.37 (Updated 3/23/2020)
  • Liquidity Risk Management: Current developments raise a number of issues for the management of funds’ liquidity risk:
  • Assessment, management, and periodic review of liquidity risk: Funds should review fund liquidity risk in light of current and reasonably expected market events and redemption patterns and may need to consider appropriate mitigating steps for strengthening the fund’s ability to meet redemptions, including readying borrowing and other liquidity facilities. Some fund managers may wish to consider use of the relief provided by the SEC and its staff for affiliated transactions.
  • Classification of portfolio investments: Rule 22e-4 requires funds to review their portfolio investments’ liquidity classifications more frequently than monthly if changes in relevant market, trading, and investment-specific considerations are reasonably expected to materially affect classifications. Such reviews should focus especially on holdings that could be considered illiquid investments as a result of these developments or that could fall out of highly liquid investment status. An important consideration will be a review of the reasonably anticipated trading sizes in light of redemption expectations. Funds should be alert to the possibility that vendor classifications may be based on historical rather than current data.
  • Highly liquid investment minimum: For funds that currently hold primarily highly liquid assets, and therefore are not required to have an HLIM, the program administrator may need to examine whether the fund can still qualify for that status. For HLIM funds, the HLIM may need to be reviewed under the required factors in light of current market and redemption developments and, if a shortfall is reasonably anticipated, a shortfall response plan should be developed, which must include a plan for reporting shortfalls to the fund’s board.
  • Illiquid investments: During this period of extreme market volatility, the fund should monitor closely whether there is a need to reclassify holdings as illiquid investments. Funds should be prepared to file Form N-LIQUID if the fund’s illiquid assets exceed 15% of its net assets. The program administrator should have guidance designed to prevent purchases that would violate the prohibition on acquiring illiquid investments when over the 15% limit. We do not yet know if the SEC will provide guidance relieving funds from filing Form N-LIQUID in the event of foreign or other market closings that are beyond the scope of existing guidance on extended foreign holidays.
  • Redemptions in kind: Funds may wish to consider whether redemptions in kind would be an appropriate tool for large redemption requests, including whether operational logistics are in place to accommodate any such redemption requests. (Updated 3/19/2020)
  • MiFID II Reporting: Under the MiFID II delegated regulation, investment firms providing the service of portfolio management and subject to MiFID II must inform the client where the overall value of the portfolio, as evaluated at the beginning of each reporting period, depreciates by 10% and thereafter at multiples of 10%, no later than the end of the business day in which the threshold is exceeded or, in a case where the threshold is exceeded on a non-business day, the close of the next business day.38 (New 3/19/2020)
  • Fund Boards: Fund directors should stay up to speed on current market events so they can properly apply their business judgment as necessary from a governance standpoint. In many cases, fund boards are receiving periodic status reports or attending status updates from fund advisers. Examples of areas for directors to consider include, for funds, fund flows, liquidity levels, valuation, and performance; and for fund advisers, status of operations under business continuity plans, market assessments, and the assessment of critical fund service providers. Board reporting from fund advisers is particularly important during times of market stress. To strike an appropriate balance between staying apprised and being efficient and respectful of fund advisory personnel time, boards may seek to channel questions or communications through independent counsel or the board chair/lead independent director. (New 3/19/2020)
  • Business Continuity Plans: Business continuity at the current time is key. In most cases, those plans already are in effect. Consideration should be given to contingency planning in the event that fund managers, transfer agents, pricing services, or other service providers are unable to provide services because of employee absences. Funds and fund managers should make and communicate revisions to their plans as they adjust to the developing environment.
  • Valuation: Funds should examine whether they are able to obtain valid prices for their investments, especially in markets that may be closed or have limited availability. Experience from the 2008 financial crisis shows that vendor reassurances as to the quality of their pricing information may provide false comfort, so vendor prices should be checked for reliability. At this time, we do not expect the SEC to provide relief from the daily pricing requirement.
  • Redemptions: Under Section 22(e) of the 1940 Act, open-end funds generally may not suspend the right of redemption unless the New York Stock Exchange is closed, or the SEC provides guidance that daily redemptions are not required because trading is restricted or an emergency exists. At this point, funds should assume that they must continue to provide daily redemptions. Funds should review any borrowing arrangements that may need to be utilized. We are closely monitoring for any relevant guidance from the SEC or its staff on this topic.
  • Cybersecurity: Firms are at increased risk of cyberattacks, particularly with the use of remote offices and telework. Anxious employees may be more vulnerable to email phishing attacks. Employees should be reminded of the continued need for vigilance.
  • Prospectus Disclosures: Funds should review their prospectus disclosures, and particularly their risk disclosures. It may be appropriate to add a pandemic risk factor if this risk is not already addressed. However, funds have different risk profiles, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the necessary disclosures.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Stradley Ronon contact, or to any member of Stradley’s Coronavirus Task Force, with any questions and concerns you may have during this period. You can reach Sara Crovitz at 202.507.6414 or scrovitz@stradley.com, or John Baker at 202.419.8413 or jbaker@stradley.com.

______________

1 Release No. IC-33837 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/ic-33837.pdf.
2 Release Nos. 33-10695, IC-33646 (Sept. 25, 2019), 84 Fed. Reg. 57162, 57178 (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2019-21250.
3  Policy Tools: Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/smccf.htm.
4 Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/secondary-market-corporate-credit-facility.
5 Press Release, Federal Reserve takes additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm.
6 SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, Investors Remain Front of Mind at the SEC: Approach to Allocation of Resources, Oversight and Rulemaking; Implementation of Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-clayton-investors-rbi-form-crs.
7 OCIE, Risk Alert: Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert-%20Regulation%20Best%20Interest%20Exams.pdf; OCIE, Risk Alert:  Examinations that Focus on Compliance with Form CRS (Apr. 7, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/Risk%20Alert%20-%20Form%20CRS%20Exams.pdf
8 FINRA Highlights Firm Practices from Regulation Best Interest Preparedness Reviews (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/regulation-best-interest/preparedness.
9 Division of Trading and Markets Staff Statement Regarding Requirements for Certain Paper Submissions in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/tm/paper-submission-requirements-covid-19.
10 SEC Division of Corporation Finance, Statement Regarding Requirements for Form 144 Paper Filings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Apr. 10, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/form-144-paper-filings-email-option.
11 IM Information Update IM-INFO-2020-03 (Apr. 8, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/files/im-info-2020-03.pdf.
12 SEC Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia, Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-teotia-financial-reporting-covid-19-2020-04-03.
13 Comment Periods for Certain Pending Actions, https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed.shtml.
14 Press Release 2020-79, Agencies Will Consider Comments on Volcker Rule Modifications Following Expiration of Comment Period (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-79.
15 Money Market Mutual Funds Template Letter (Mar. 17, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/supervisionreg/legalinterpretations/fedreserseactint20200317.pdf.
16 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-031920-17a.
17 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board broadens program of support for the flow of credit to households and businesses by establishing a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF) (Mar. 18, 2020), https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200318a.htm.
18 Press Release, Federal Reserve Board expands its program of support for flow of credit to the economy by taking steps to enhance liquidity and functioning of crucial state and municipal money markets (Mar. 20, 2020) https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200320b.htm.
19 Policy Tools: Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/mmlf.htm.
20 H.R. 748, § 4015, 116th Cong. (2020), https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf.
21 Investment Company Institute, SEC No-Action Letter (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/investment-company-institute-032620-17a.
22 Release No. IC-33821 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33821.pdf.
23 Recent interfund lending orders are available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/icreleases.shtml#interfundlending.
24 OCIE Statement on Operations and Exams – Health, Safety, Investor Protection and Continued Operations are our Priorities (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocie/announcement/ocie-statement-operations-health-safety-investor-protection-and-continued
25 Staff Statement Regarding Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/staff-statement-regarding-rule-302b-regulation-s-t-light-covid-19-concerns.
26  Frequently Asked Questions Related to Regulatory Relief Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/guidance/faqs/coronavirus. FINRA guidance, updates, and other information on COVID-19 are available at https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19. Other self-regulatory organizations are also providing relief and guidance. See, e.g., Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-021 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-021-Filing-Extensions-for-Annual-Reports-and-FOCUS-Reports.pdf; Cboe Regulatory Circular 20-022 (Mar. 25, 2020), http://cdn.cboe.com/resources/regulation/circulars/regulatory/RC20-022-Extension-of-Time-for-Certain-Filings-Currently-Due-April-1-2020.pdf.
27 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates, https://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/covid-19-updates/.
28 For the 1940 Act Orders, see Release No. IC-33824 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33824.pdf; Release No. IC-33817 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33817.pdf. For the Advisers Act Orders, see IA-5469 (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5469.pdf; Release No. IA-5463 (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5463.pdf. The various forms of relief provided by the SEC are subject to conditions that are set out in the respective orders, such as subsequent ratification of votes, notice to the SEC of filing delays, and website disclosure of issues with the delivery of shareholder reports, prospectuses, and Form ADV client brochures.
29 Using IARD, Form ADV: Item 1.F, https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/iard/iardfaq.shtml#item1f.
30 Release No. 34-88465(Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88465.pdf; Release No. 34-88318 (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/34-88318.pdf.
31 Press Release 2020-73, SEC Extends Conditional Exemptions from Reporting and Proxy Delivery Requirements for Public Companies, Funds, and Investment Advisers Affected by Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-73; Press Release 2020-63, SEC Takes Targeted Action to Assist Funds and Advisers, Permits Virtual Board Meetings and Provides Conditional Relief from Certain Filing Procedures (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-63.
32 SEC Division of Investment Management, Staff Statement on Fund Board Meetings and Unforeseen or Emergency Circumstances Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/investment/staff-statement-im-covid-19.
33 Staff Guidance for Conducting Annual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/ocr/staff-guidance-conducting-annual-meetings-light-covid-19-concerns.
34 State “Shelter-in-Place” and “Stay-at-Home” Orders, https://www.finra.org/rules-guidance/key-topics/covid-19/shelter-in-place.
35 Release No. 34-8844 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88448.pdf.
36  Press Release No. 8136-20, CFTC Issues Third Wave of Relief to Market Participants in Response to COVID-19 (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8136-20.
37  Notice to Members I-20-15 (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.nfa.futures.org/news/newsNotice.asp?ArticleID=5218.
38 European Commission Delegated Regulation art. 62, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2016/EN/3-2016-2398-EN-F1-1.PDF.

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SEC Staff Previews Regulation Best Interest Examinations

The Security and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued on April 7, 2020, a Risk Alert providing broker-dealers with information about the scope and content of initial examinations for compliance with Regulation Best Interest after June 30, 2020, the compliance date. The Risk Alert states that these initial examinations, which will likely occur during the first year after the compliance date, will focus on assessing whether firms have made a good faith effort to implement policies and procedures reasonably designed to comply with Regulation Best Interest, including the operational effectiveness of broker-dealers’ policies and procedures. Examples of areas the staff may focus on and the types of documents that may be requested are discussed below.

Disclosure Obligation — The staff may assess how a firm has met the Disclosure Obligation’s requirement to disclose material facts relating to the scope and terms of the relationship, including: (i) the capacity in which the recommendation is being made, (ii) material fees and costs that apply to the retail customer’s transactions, holdings, and accounts, and (iii) material limitations on the securities or investment strategies involving securities that may be recommended to the retail customer. In assessing compliance with this obligation, it may request the following documents, among others:

  • Schedules of fees and charges assessed against retail customers and disclosures regarding such fees and charges, including disclosures regarding the fees and costs related to services and investments that retail customers will pay or incur directly and indirectly (e.g., custodian fees, account maintenance fees, fees related to mutual funds and variable annuities, and other transactional fees and product level fees);
  • The broker-dealer’s compensation methods for registered personnel, including (i) compensation associated with recommendations to retail customers, (ii) sources and types of compensation (e.g., direct payments by an investor, payments by a product sponsor), and (iii) related conflicts of interest (e.g., conflicts associated with recommending proprietary products or with receiving payments for inclusion on a product menu);
  • Disclosures related to monitoring of retail customers’ accounts;
  • Disclosures on material limitations on accounts or services recommended to retail customers; and
  • Lists of proprietary products sold to retail customers.

Care Obligation — To assess compliance with this obligation, the staff may review:

  • Information collected from retail customers to develop their investment profiles (including any new account forms, correspondence, and any agreements the customer has with the broker-dealer).
  • The broker-dealer’s process for having a reasonable basis to believe that the recommendations are in the best interest of the retail customer (which may include, for example, any process for establishing, understanding, and implementing the scope of reasonably available alternatives when making a recommendation).
    • The factors the broker-dealer considers to assess the potential risks, rewards, and costs of the recommendations in light of the retail customer’s investment profile.
    • The broker-dealer’s process for having a reasonable basis to believe that it does not place the financial or other interest of the broker-dealer ahead of the interest of the retail customer.
  • How the broker-dealer makes recommendations related to significant investment decisions, such as rollovers and account recommendations, and how the broker-dealer has a reasonable basis to believe that such investment strategies are in a retail customer’s best interest.
  • How the broker-dealer makes recommendations related to more complex, risky or expensive products and how the broker-dealer has a reasonable basis to believe that such investments are in a retail customer’s best interest.

Conflict of Interest Obligation — To assess compliance with this obligation, staff may review the broker-dealer’s policies and procedures to assess:

  • Whether and how the policies and procedures address the following, as required by Regulation Best Interest:
    • Conflicts that create an incentive for an associated person to place its interest or the interest of a broker-dealer ahead of the interest of the retail customer;
    • Conflicts associated with material limitations (e.g., a limited product menu, offering only proprietary products, or products with third-party arrangements) on the securities or investment strategies involving securities that may be recommended to a retail customer; and
    • The elimination of sales contests, sales quotas, bonuses, and non-cash compensation arrangements based on the sale of specific securities or specific types of securities within a limited period of time.
  • How the policies and procedures establish a structure for identifying the conflicts that the broker-dealer or its associated person may face. In this connection, the s staff may request documentation identifying all conflicts associated with the broker-dealer’s recommendations.
  • How the policies and procedures establish a structure to identify and assess conflicts in the broker-dealer’s business as it evolves. The staff may request all policies and procedures in place during the scope period of the examination.
  • How the policies and procedures provide for disclosure of conflicts and what conflicts are disclosed.
  • How the policies and procedures provide for mitigation or elimination of conflicts and what conflicts are mitigated or eliminated.

Compliance Obligation — To assess compliance with this obligation, staff may review the broker-dealer’s policies and procedures and evaluate any controls, remediation of noncompliance, training, and periodic review and testing included as part of those policies and procedures.

OCIE also issued a Risk Alert on Form CRS compliance, which we described on our blog.