Financial Choice Act

Congress is currently occupied with health care. That is just one item on the agenda for the Republican leadership in Congress and President Trump. All have mentioned in one way or another to undo some of the evils of Dodd-Frank.

The big questions is how long will it take to move the American Health Care Act through Congress and deliver a bill that President Trump will be willing to sign. The second question is whether Congress will be able to move forward with any other legislation while dealing with health care.

Whenever Congress is ready to work on other legislation, Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has a law he is ready to move forward: The Financial Choice Act.

The Financial Choice Act is the bill that he sees as undoing many of the evils of Dodd-Frank.

“As the dust begins to settle on the post-crisis response, however, there has been a growing recognition that financial regulation has become far too complex and too intrusive and places too much faith in the discretion and wisdom of bank regulators.“

It has many of the things you might expect: repealing the Volker Rule, adjusting bank capital requirements, limiting the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limiting the powers of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, limiting regulatory limits on community banks.

Two items struck me as particularly relevant to private funds: SEC Registration and the definition of accredited investor.

Section 452 changes the definition of “Accredited Investor.” It keeps the two current brightline tests of income and net worth. I think those are key tests given the illiquid nature of private placements. It fixes those standards and removes Dodd-Frank’s requirement that the SEC adjust the amounts every four years.

The bill adds in a third test, allowing anyone licensed as a broker or investment adviser to also be an “accredited investor.” It adds a fourth test, allowing the SEC to create a regulatory regime for individuals to prove that the knowledge, education or job experience to allow them to invest in private placements.

We have seen from SEC Acting Commissioner Piwowar that he on board with opening up the definition of accredited investor.

The bigger change for private equity funds and probably for real estate funds is that it exempts “private equity fund” managers from the registration and reporting obligations of the Investment Advisors Act.

As you might expect, the bill does not take the time to define “private equity fund.” It gives the SEC six months to issue a rule for the definition.

The arguments are that private equity should be treated like venture capital. Private equity does not pose systemic risk. Private equity investors are generally sophisticated. The SEC would be more effective focusing its exam efforts on retail investment advisers.

Obviously this bill is a long way from being enacted. These two small provisions could easily be eliminated from the final law during the legislative process. I expect health care is going to bog down Congress for a long time.