In its final Private Fund Adviser Rules adopted last year, the SEC dropped one of the more controversial proposed rules—the proposal to prohibit contractual exculpation or indemnification provisions that would shield or indemnify the adviser in matters involving the adviser’s negligence or breach of fiduciary duty.  On its face, this was a concession to the fund management industry. However, the Rule’s Adopting Release asserted that the SEC believed the provision was not needed because the antifraud provisions of the Advisers Act already prohibited certain provisions that would be covered by the proposal. Because the SEC’s interpretation was based on current law (there is no grandfathering or “implementation date” in the future), we predict that contractual indemnification or exculpation provisions will remain firmly in the SEC’s sights for 2024. SEC exams and enforcement proceedings are likely to focus on these provisions, and they may be implicated in GP/LP disputes as well.

2023’s excitement for generative artificial intelligence (AI) prompted the SEC to respond on multiple fronts – stump speeches, rulemaking, new exam priorities and sweeps and previewing potential enforcement actions. SEC Chair Gary Gensler raised concerns regarding potential conflicts and investor harm resulting from the proliferation of AI and warned that an AI-caused financial crisis is nearly unavoidable absent regulation. The SEC adopted a number of initiatives in 2023 to respond to these perceived risks. 

In a wave of SEC rulemaking this past year, representing a “new world order” event akin to Dodd-Frank, the SEC has provided itself with a fresh set of tools to increase regulatory and enforcement scrutiny on private funds. Among other things, certain of the rules could result in fundamental changes to market practices and greater disclosure to LPs. While ongoing litigation will determine the fates of the Private Fund Adviser Rules, the Short Sale Disclosure Rule, and the Securities Lending Rule, and while other rules are awaiting final adoption, the SEC concerns underlying the rulemaking will continue regardless.   

Since 2015, the SEC has brought nearly two dozen enforcement actions for violations of the whistleblower protection rules under Rule 21F-17(a) against employers for actions taken to impede reporting to the SEC. The bulk of these actions have focused on language in employee-facing agreements that allegedly discouraged such reporting. The SEC shows no sign of slowing down; indeed, the Commission has brought five enforcement actions in this past fiscal year alone, and the penalties imposed for these violations appear to be increasing. The settlements – and the risk they represent – serve as a reminder for companies to review their existing employment documents and internal policies, including confidentiality policies, to ensure that restrictive language is removed and that appropriate whistleblower carveout language is included. Conducting this review, and making any appropriate changes, will help ensure compliance with Rule 21F-17(a).

On August 24, 2023, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its much-anticipated decision in Kirschner v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, holding that the syndicate term loans at issue were not securities. As noted in our earlier blog post, the SEC declined the court’s request to file an amicus brief, forgoing the opportunity to provide its views on the issue and influence the outcome of the appeal.[1]

Participants in the syndicated loan markets may have been relieved last month when the SEC declined to file the amicus brief requested by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Kirschner v. JP Morgan Chase Bank. In an unusual turn of events, the SEC choose not to weigh in on whether the syndicated term loans at issue are securities. In a July 18, 2023 letter to the court, the SEC explained that “despite the best efforts to respond to the court’s request, the Staff was not in a position to file a brief on behalf of the Commission.” Id. Whatever the reason, the SEC’s decision leaves the Second Circuit panel without the agency’s views, and to speculate over the agency’s reasons for its clearly very deliberate decision not to act.

The SEC suffered a significant loss last week in its ongoing legal battle with Ripple over the XRP digital token. While the District Court held that Ripple’s initial sales of XRP to institutional investors constituted the sale of unregistered securities, it was a Pyrrhic victory as the court held

Recent enforcement actions highlight the increased regulatory scrutiny that private funds may face with respect to internal cybersecurity protocols and responses to cyber-crimes and cyber incidents under new and updated cybersecurity laws.