Investment Management & Securities

As workplaces across the country look to adapt to the pressing need to slow the transmission of the COVID-19 outbreak, many employers are turning to remote work to keep their businesses afloat while reducing the possibility of transmission.

Many large tech employers such as Google and Amazon are already prepared for the needs of a remote workforce, but for others, the wide scale adoption of remote working comes with some real challenges. In the scramble to ensure the safety of others, it’s important that businesses don’t overlook the need to ensure cybersecurity as well.


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The presence of the Novel Coronavirus (“2019-nCoV” or more commonly known as “COVID-19”) is unprecedented in modern day times, as most of us have never experienced a global health threat. There are many unknowns with COVID-19 including, to what extent businesses are permitted to collect and share personal information and data in order to protect and preserve the public welfare. Currently, there are no overarching federal data privacy laws or protections to guide businesses on how to handle personal information and data during a pandemic. Specifically, how will your business balance collecting and sharing protected health information, employment data and location data in order to help control the rapid spread and ultimate containment of COVID-19.

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California Assembly Bill 5 (the “Bill”) was passed in Senate on September 9, 2019 after passing the Assembly back in May. According to reporting by the New York Times, it is expected that California Governor, Gavin Newsom, will sign the bill.

The Bill changes the status quo on the classification of employees and independent contractors. As the preamble to the Bill makes clear, California courts currently follow the common law rules for determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists or whether a person is an independent contractor. That test has numerous parts, but one of the important elements for a person to be considered an independent contractor is that the person must be free to control the performance of their work.


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On March 20, 2019, the Massachusetts Securities Division, Enforcement Section (the “Division”) filed a complaint against an investment adviser located in Massachusetts. The complaint alleged that the firm’s two owners and financial professionals “gambled away millions of dollars in client assets through high risk bets on the oil and gas market.”[1] This author vehemently disagrees with the Division’s complaint and the message it sends to the industry.

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My name is Max Schatzow and I am an attorney with the law firm of Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. When we first saw the press release issued by Governor Murphy back in September announcing his intentions, we knew that we wanted to participate in this process, because the Investment Management practice group at Stark & Stark represents numerous broker-dealers and countless investment advisers registered with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the New Jersey Bureau of Securities on regulatory and compliance matters.

Our clients are extremely varied and range from those providing investment advice to private investment funds and registered investment companies to retail individuals. However, our most common client is an individual or group of individuals who have broken away from a larger financial institution, such as Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch to start their own boutique investment advisory firm. We then help those firms address their legal and compliance needs and serve as outside counsel and compliance officers as they grow their business.


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In April 2018, California’s Department of Business Oversight (“DBO”) announced that, beginning in October, it will begin conducting an online questionnaire-based examination of certain investment advisers registered with the DBO. This digital examination will be in addition to the DBO’s onsite examination program. The DBO recently sent registered investment advisers a reminder of this pending initiative. It is unclear from the DBO’s communications whether this online examination will be required for every investment adviser on an annual basis or only after an investment adviser receives an examination request.

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The United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) are now conducting examinations of investment advisers concerning “crypto-assets,” which they define to include crypto-currency, initial coin offerings, distributed ledger technology, blockchain or any related products, and pooled investment vehicles investing in these assets or technology.

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Max Schatzow, Esq., on behalf of Stark & Stark’s Investment Management & Securities Practice Group, submitted a comment letter to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in response to the SEC’s proposed interpretation of the standard of conduct under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

While Stark & Stark largely agreed with the SEC’s proposed interpretation of the standard of conduct, it took issue with its characterization of the duty of care owed by investment advisers. As a general matter, investment advisers owe their clients both a duty of care and a duty of loyalty. Stark & Stark generally agreed with the SEC’s framework surrounding the duty of loyalty. However, the SEC’s proposed interpretation of the duty of care would require “the duty to act and to provide advice that is in the best interest of the client.”


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Two US Senators recently demanded that FINRA explain how it plans to minimize the high rate of brokers who are involved in criminal activity or have been the subject of customer complaints.

Clearly Senators Warren and Cotton are not familiar with how the FINRA U-4 and U-5 process works. In addition, they are probably not overly familiar with the history of federal securities laws. As a brief background, the federal securities laws have been built on and continue to operate on the theory that “sunlight is the greatest disinfectant.” The laws have been built and we continue to operate under a fair market where people are free to make their own informed decisions. Senators Warren and Cotton should look past this misleading data and understand some common realities.


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Investment advisers should take note, as there has been an announcement of a new rule which might affect them. More specifically, any investment advisers that: (1) act solely as advisers to one or more venture capital funds; (2) are exempt from the registration requirements under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940; and (3) comply with SEC Rule 203(1)-1 (regarding venture capital advisers), are excluded from the District of Columbia Securities Act’s investment adviser definition, according to a new order issued on February 8, 2016. Exempt venture capital advisers excluded from the investment adviser definition must now comply with SEC Rule 204-4 reporting requirements.

To comply with Rule 204-4, an adviser must subject itself to the Exempt Reporting Adviser regime by gaining entitlement through the IARD, prepare a Form ADV as an Exempt Reporting Adviser, and submit it to the SEC and the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking. The IARD will require a $250 fee that will be paid directly to the District of Columbia and a $150 fee that will be paid to the SEC.


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