Speech by SEC Commissioner:
Statement at SEC Open Meeting — Rules Implementing Amendments to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940; Exemptions for Advisers to Venture Capital Funds, Private Fund Advisers With Less Than $150 Million in Assets Under Management, and Foreign Private Advisers
Commissioner Kathleen L. Casey
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
June 22, 2011
As always, I join the Chairman in thanking the Staff of the Division of Investment Management, and all other participating divisions and offices, for their work on these releases.
I am able to support the adoption of only one of the two releases presented: the rules defining the scope of three exemptions to registration under the Advisers Act. As has been stated, the Dodd-Frank Act required that the Commission, via rulemaking, define the scope of exemptions from registration for certain types of advisers.
The rule defining “venture capital fund” for purposes of one of these statutory exemptions is particularly significant. The legislative record is replete with evidence that Congress did not regard venture capital funds as posing the kinds of risks that justify registration under the Advisors Act and indeed, was concerned with burdening these important drivers of capital formation and economic growth.
While I believe that our definition of venture capital fund could have been broader, I am ultimately able to support this rule because I believe it recognizes the need for flexibility in these funds’ investment strategies. Importantly, facilitating that flexibility via the basket of non-conforming activity seeks to ensure that funds are not unjustifiably prevented from making the most advantageous investments and from responding to changing market conditions in an efficient way. But at the same time, the rule also seeks to fulfill Congress’s intent that this exemption be applicable to venture capital fund advisers only.
I am, however, unable to support adoption of the companion release which sets out the Advisors Act implementation rules because, as I stated when I opposed the release as proposed, I believe that these rules will needlessly harm innovation and capital formation without a demonstrated, articulable, or measurable benefit to investors or financial stability.
As a consequence of the requirements imposed under the implementing rules, there will be no meaningful relief from the burdens of registration for those advisers that will be able to fit themselves within the boundaries of the Advisers Act exemptions we define today. Venture capital fund advisers, along with mid-sized private fund advisers, although explicitly exempt from registration under the Dodd-Frank Act, have been designated under the rules’ framework to be “exempt reporting advisers,” and are therefore subject to many of the same requirements as registered advisers, including public reporting requirements, and eventually recordkeeping obligations, just as if they were registered.
The Commission today pays lip service to the idea that it must maintain some difference between the reporting requirements imposed on exempt advisers and those for registered advisers, and therefore only adopts a certain subset of the items on Form ADV as applicable to exempt reporting advisers.
To be clear, my disagreement with the reporting requirements is not a mere quibble with which and how many Form ADV items are being required. Instead, I am deeply concerned by the wholesale lack of any principled, meaningful distinction drawn in the release between exempt advisers and registered advisers. Indeed, I believe it is not simply a function of degree, but of design. That is to say, I believe that the adoption of the current reporting requirements is only the first step in what will surely be an ongoing process of emptying the distinction between an “exempt reporting adviser” and a “registered” adviser of all meaning.
While the proposing release alluded to the possibility of future additional requirements, the adopting release is not as coy, and clearly refers to the prospect of future regulations, predicting not only a future recordkeeping rule but also explicitly signaling the Commission’s prerogative and intent to further expand the Form ADV and examination obligations. Indeed, the tenor of the release is such that it can only be assumed that the ultimate goal is to promote registration of these funds by nullifying any benefit of exemption through the imposition of comparable regulatory and compliance requirements.
So why does this matter? It matters first because the Commission has failed to meaningfully implement the will of Congress that these advisers be exempt from registration.1 It is true that Congress gave us the authority to require certain reporting and recordkeeping “as the Commission determines are necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.” But the release before the Commission today provides no substantiated justification on public interest or investor protection grounds for the decision to impose these reporting requirements. Given that Congress instructed us to make these kind of findings before imposing additional requirements on these exempt advisers, the presumptions contained in the release as to the usefulness of the required information are entirely insufficient to meet our statutory obligations.
But more fundamentally, these rules needlessly impose compliance costs on funds that are the incubators of tomorrow’s great companies, companies that our economy necessarily relies on to propel job growth. This, at a time, when policymakers and Congress continue to emphasize the importance of finding ways to further promote capital formation and economic growth.
But we don’t need a white board to contemplate how to promote capital formation — we can start right here by not unnecessarily hampering it. Every dollar that is spent by a venture capital fund to satisfy the Commission’s newly imposed regulatory requirements is a dollar that cannot be invested in the next Google, Apple, or Amazon. These dollars will never reach nascent companies that are developing green tech, cutting-edge biotechnology, or products that are even beyond our dreams today.
I fear here that the Commission has lost sight of the fact that its mission includes the mandate to facilitate capital formation. The implementation rules before the Commission today will, without a doubt, negatively and unduly impact capital formation and economic growth. As a result, I cannot support it.
Thank you and I have no questions.
1 As explained in the legislative history, Section 407 of the Dodd-Frank Act directs the Commission to define "venture capital fund," and "provides that no investment adviser shall become subject to registration requirements for providing investment advice to a venture capital fund." S. REP. NO. 111-176, at 74, 75 (2010).