Updated Guidance on the Custody Rule for Private Funds

Barnum and Bailey Limited Stock Certificate

The Securities and Exchange Commission has provided some updated guidance on the Custody Rule for private funds. It has sometimes been tricky for private funds to comply with Rule 206(4)-2.

The custody rule deems it to be a fraudulent, deceptive or manipulative act, practice or course of business for an adviser to have custody of client funds or securities unless a qualified custodian maintains those funds and securities in a separate account for each client under that client’s name. The custody rule provides an exception from the custodian requirement for a fund in the case of certain privately offered securities it holds, provided the fund’s financial statements are audited.

“Privately offered securities” are defined as securities that are: (A) acquired from the issuer in a transaction or chain of transactions not involving a public offering; (B) uncertificated, and ownership thereof is recorded only on the books of the issuer or its transfer agent in the name of the client; and (C) transferable only with the prior consent of the issuer or holders of the outstanding securities of the issuer.

This has posed a challenge for real estate fund managers and private equity fund managers that happen to have an entity that is certificated. For example, if the real estate fund has a REIT subsidiary, it may have issued stock certificates as a matter of practice. The Custody Rule would mandate that the fund hire a qualified custodian to hold that single REIT stock certificate. That custody relationship is expensive and provides little (no?) protection to fund investors.

The Investment Management Division issued an update that provides a great deal of relief.

The Division created a new category of securities for purposes of the custody rule: “private stock certificates.” These are non-transferable stock certificates or “certificated” LLC interests that were obtained in a private placement. These fail to meet the definition of “privately offered securities” because they are certificated.

“The Division would not object if an adviser does not maintain private stock certificates
with a qualified custodian, provided that:
  1.  the client is a pooled investment vehicle that is subject to a financial statement audit in accordance with paragraph (b)(4) of the custody rule;
  2. the private stock certificate can only be used to effect a transfer or to otherwise facilitate a change in beneficial ownership of the security with the prior consent of the issuer or holders of the outstanding securities of the issuer;
  3. ownership of the security is recorded on the books of the issuer or its transfer agent in the name of the client;
  4. the private stock certificate contains a legend restricting transfer; and
  5. the private stock certificate is appropriately safeguarded by the adviser and can be replaced upon loss or destruction.”

That is fantastic news.

Even better, the update adds some clarity to partnership agreements:

Partnership agreements, subscription agreements and LLC agreements are not certificates under Rule 206(4)-2(b)(2)(B) and the securities represented by such documents are privately offered securities provided they meet the other elements of Rule 206(4)-2(b)(2).

I know a few fund advisers that took a very conservative position on the Custody Rule and were shipping partnership agreements their custodians. It looks like that is not required by the Custody Rule.