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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • SEC reminds registrants of privacy notices and safeguard policies


    On April 16, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations issued a Risk Alert to discuss compliance issues related to Regulation S-P—the SEC’s primary rule regarding privacy notices and safeguard policies—and to provide assistance to registered investment advisors and broker-dealers (registrants) when issuing compliant privacy and opt-out notices. Regulation S-P requires registrants to provide customers with a clear and conspicuous notice accurately reflecting its privacy policies and practices, plus any options to opt out of sharing certain non-public personal information with nonaffiliated third parties. The notice must be sent annually throughout the duration of the customer relationship. Regulation S-P also requires registrants to implement written policies and practices reasonably designed to ensure that customer records and information are secure and protected against unauthorized access. The Risk Alert provides examples of common Regulation S-P compliance deficiencies and weaknesses, and advises registrants to “review their written policies and procedures, including implementation of those policies and procedures, to ensure that they are compliant with Regulation S-P.”

    Securities SEC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Compliance Consumer Protection

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  • DOJ settles with multinational corporation for $1.5 billion over RMBS


    On April 12, the DOJ announced that a multinational corporation will pay $1.5 billion in a settlement resolving claims brought under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) that a financial services subsidiary of the corporation misrepresented the quality of loans it originated in connection with the marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). According to the DOJ, between 2005 and 2007, the majority of the mortgage loans sold by the subsidiary for inclusion in RMBS did not comply with the quality representations made about the loans. Specifically, the loan analysts allegedly approved mortgage loans that did not meet criteria outlined in the company’s underwriting guidelines, as they would receive additional compensation based on the number of loans they approved. The DOJ asserts that there were inadequate resources and authority for the subsidiary’s quality control department, resulting in deficiencies in risk management and fraud controls. Additionally, if an investment bank were to reject a loan due to defects in the loan file, the DOJ alleges the subsidiary would attempt to find a new purchaser, without disclosing the previous rejection or identifying the alleged defects. The corporation does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, but agreed to pay a $1.5 billion civil money penalty to resolve the matter.

    Securities DOJ RMBS Mortgages FIRREA Settlement

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  • SEC issues no-action letter, permitting offering and selling of “tokens” without registration


    On April 3, the SEC issued a no-action letter to a Delaware-based airline chartering services company not recommending enforcement action for offering and selling “tokens” without registration under the SEC Act. According to the letter, the SEC relied upon the company’s counsel’s opinion, which assured that consumers are purchasing the tokens solely for prepaid “air charter services and not for investment purposes or with an expectation to earn a profit,” in determining that the “tokens” were not securities. Additionally, the SEC’s relief considered numerous other factors such as: (i) the platform for conducting the sale of the tokens will “be fully developed and operational” at the time any tokens are sold and funds derived from token sales will not be used to develop the platform; (ii) consumers will be able to immediately use the tokens for their intended functionality (i.e., to purchase air charter services) at the time of sale; (iii) the company will restrict the transfer of tokens to company wallets only and not to external wallets; (iv) the tokens will be sold for one dollar to be used solely on the platform to purchase air charter services, and will be treated as having a value of one dollar; (v) if the company offers to repurchase tokens, it will do so at a discount to the face value of the tokens that the holder seeks to resell to the company, unless a court orders the company to liquidate the tokens; and (vi) the tokens will not be marketed in such a way that there is a perceived potential for an increase in the token’s market value.

    Securities SEC No Action Letter Initial Coin Offerings Fintech

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  • Financial services firm settles SEC’s American Depositary Receipts allegations


    On March 22, the SEC announced a settlement with a financial services firm to resolve allegations that certain associated persons on its securities lending desk allegedly “improperly borrowed” pre-released American Depositary Receipts (ADRs)—“U.S. securities that represent shares in foreign companies”—from non-firm brokers who did not own the foreign shares required to support those ADRs. The SEC noted in its press release that ADRs can be pre-released without the deposit of foreign shares only if (i) the brokers receiving the ADRs have an agreement with a depositary bank; and (ii) “the broker or its customer owns the number of foreign shares that corresponds to the number of shares the ADR represents.” The SEC alleged that the firm’s practices violated the Securities Act of 1933 and led to “inappropriate short selling and dividend arbitrage that should not have been occurring.” Moreover, the SEC claimed that the firm’s supervisory policies and procedures “failed to prevent and detect” the securities laws violations. The firm neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s allegations, but agreed to pay more than $4.4 million in disgorgement, roughly $725,000 in prejudgment interest, and a civil money penalty of approximately $2.9 million. The SEC’s order acknowledges the bank’s cooperation in the investigation.

    Securities SEC American Depositary Receipts Settlement

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  • SEC issues $50 million whistleblower award; third-highest ever


    On March 26, the SEC announced awards totaling $50 million to two whistleblowers for volunteering information that led to a successful enforcement action, with one whistleblower receiving $37 million (the third-highest SEC award to date) and the other receiving $13 million. While details of the related enforcement action were not made public, the SEC’s award order noted that one of the whistleblowers “provided information and documentation that were of a significantly high quality and critically important,” including documents that “were akin to ‘smoking gun’ evidence.” As previously covered by InfoBytes here and here, the SEC awarded $50 million to two joint whistleblowers in March 2018 and $39 million to a single whistleblower in September 2018—the two highest awards given by the SEC so far. Since the program’s inception in 2012, the SEC has awarded more than $376 million to 61 whistleblowers.

    Securities SEC Whistleblower

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  • Colorado provides certain digital tokens licensing exemptions

    State Issues

    On March 6, the Colorado Governor signed SB 19-23, which provides limited exemptions from the state’s securities registration and licensing requirements for persons dealing in certain types of digital tokens. The “Colorado Digital Token Act” (the Act) provides issuer exemptions for digital tokens sold for a “consumptive purpose”—the token is used in exchange for a good, service, or content—rather than a “speculative or investment purpose.” Specifically, the Act attempts to reduce regulatory uncertainty by providing a safe harbor from state securities laws for persons that meet the specified conditions. Subject to the filing of a referendum petition, the Act will take effect August 2.

    State Issues State Legislation Virtual Currency Licensing Securities Cryptocurrency

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  • CFTC, SEC settle with foreign trading platform conducting Bitcoin transactions without proper registration


    On March 4, the CFTC resolved an action taken against a foreign trading platform and its CEO (defendants) for allegedly offering and selling security-based swaps to U.S. customers without registering as a futures commission merchant or designated contract market with the CFTC. The CFTC alleged that the platform permitted customers to transact in “contracts for difference,” which were transactions to exchange the difference in value of an underlying asset between the time at which the trading position was established and the time at which it was terminated. The transactions were initiated through, and settled in, Bitcoin. The CFTC alleged that these transactions constituted “retail commodity transactions,” which would have required the platform to receive the proper registration.

    According to the CFTC, the defendants, among other things, (i) neglected to register as a futures commission merchant with the CFTC; and (ii) failed to comply with required anti-money laundering procedures, including implementing an adequate know-your-customer/customer identification program. The consent order entered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia imposes a civil monetary penalty of $175,000 and requires the disgorgement of $246,000 of gains. The consent order also requires the defendants to certify to the CFTC the liquidation of all U.S. customer accounts and the repayment of approximately $570,000 worth of Bitcoins to U.S. customers.

    In a parallel action, the SEC entered into a final judgment the same day to resolve claims that, among other things, the defendants failed to properly register as a security-based swaps dealer. The defendants are permanently restrained and enjoined from future violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and are required to pay disgorgement of approximately $53,393. This action demonstrates the potential application of CFTC and SEC registration requirements to non-U.S. companies engaging in covered transactions with U.S. customers.

    Securities SEC CFTC Settlement Bitcoin Civil Money Penalties Enforcement Commodity Exchange Act Anti-Money Laundering Of Interest to Non-US Persons Courts

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  • Wyoming law classifies digital assets as personal property

    State Issues

    On February 26, the Wyoming Governor signed SF 125, which classifies digital assets, including virtual currency, as personal property. Specifically, the bill divides digital assets into three categories of intangible personal property within the existing Wyoming Uniform Commercial Code: (i) digital consumer assets are considered “general intangibles”; (ii) digital securities are considered “intangible personal property” and classified as securities and investment property; and (iii) virtual currency is classified as money. Among other things, SF 125 also establishes an opt-in framework for banks to provide custodial services for digital assets as custodians (and authorizes supervision fees for banks that provide such services), and clarifies the jurisdiction of Wyoming courts to hear claims related to digital assets.


    State Issues State Legislation Virtual Currency Securities Fintech

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  • FHFA issues rule on GSE uniformity in TBA market

    Federal Issues

    On February 28, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) issued a final rule that requires government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) to harmonize programs, policies, and practices affecting the cash flows of To-Be-Announced (TBA)-eligible mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The final rule—which codifies requirements that take effect May 6—takes into account commenter feedback by, among other things, making explicit the consequences of misalignment and directing the GSEs to lower the maximum mortgage note rate eligible for MBS inclusion. The final rule applies to both the GSEs’ current offerings of TBA MBS, as well as to the new uniform MBS, which the GSEs will start issuing June 3 (previously covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues FHFA Mortgages Securities GSE Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

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  • District Court denies class certification in RMBS action


    On February 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied class certification in an action brought by an investment company against a bank acting as trustee for five residential mortgage-backed securities trusts in which the company invested. The investment company filed a class action suit against the trustee asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of trust, and violations of the Trust Indenture Act. Among other things, the allegations concern whether the trustee “failed to fulfil certain contractual duties triggered by the discovery of breaches of ‘representations and warranties’” when the underlying mortgages allegedly were found not to be of the promised quality. The investment company also alleged that the trustee failed to exercise its rights to require the companies that sold the mortgages in question “to cure, substitute, or repurchase the breaching loans.”

    In dismissing class certification, the court found that questions of law or fact common to all class members did not dominate individual issues. The court held that there was no proof that the liability claims of potential class members who held certificates in one trust would be relevant to the claims of other potential class members in one of the other trusts, and that the individualized questions “involve relatively complex legal and factual inquiries—requiring considerable resources in comparison to those questions which are capable of class-wide resolution.” 

    Courts Securities RMBS Class Action Mortgages

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