Photo of Stephanie Quiñones

Stephanie Quiñones is a member of the firm’s Corporate and Technology & Entrepreneurial Companies Practice Group. Stephanie regularly counsels entrepreneurs and in-house counsel with business, technology, Internet/social media and privacy issues.

Photo by Oblivious Dude
Photo by Oblivious Dude

The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance recently issued new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DIs”) for Securities Act Rule 701 which clarify application of the Rule in the context of mergers. In a nutshell, Rule 701 provides an exemption from SEC registration requirements for private companies, private subsidiaries of public companies and foreign private issuers to offer their own securities, including stock options, restricted stock and stock purchase plan interests, as part of written compensation plans or agreements, to employees, directors, officers, general partners and certain consultants and advisors.

Under Rule 701, the aggregate sales price or amount of securities sold in reliance on Rule 701 during any consecutive 12-month period must not exceed the greatest of $1 million, 15% of the total assets of the issuer (measured as of the issuer’s most recent balance sheet date, if no older than its last fiscal year end), or 15% of the outstanding amount of the class of securities being offered and sold in reliance on Rule 701, (again, measured at the issuer’s most recent balance sheet date, if no older than its last fiscal year end). If the aggregate sales price or amount of securities sold during any consecutive 12-month period exceeds $5 million, the issuer must deliver specific written disclosures a reasonable period of time before the date of sale, including a copy of the summary plan description under ERISA or, if the plan is not subject to ERISA, a summary of the material terms of the plan, information about the risks associated with investment in the company’s securities, and financial statements meeting the requirements of the SEC’s Regulation A as of a date no more than 180 days before the date of the sale.

In the context of a merger transaction, the newly issued C&DIs provide the following guidance:
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Photo by Jan Tik
Photo by Jan Tik

In business, we’ve all seen the traditional nondisclosure agreement (also known, more simply, as the “NDA”) between two parties wishing to discuss a potential business transaction. While NDAs are good tools to protect a party’s confidential information during such discussions,  businesses must take care to ensure that an NDA does not jeopardize the strong protections traditionally available to them under state laws.

State trade secret laws can provide substantial protection to certain confidential information, including trade secrets. These protections generally apply to information or materials that (1) have independent economic value; and (2) are kept “secret” by the owner. Importantly for purposes of meeting the secrecy requirement, most state laws provide that, so long as the owner takes measures to protect the secrecy of the information or materials that are reasonable under the circumstances, the requirement will be deemed met. Entering into an NDA sure sounds like at least one reasonable measure to protect the secrecy of a business’ confidential information, including its trade secrets. But business must beware: certain provisions of NDAs, if not properly addressed, could endanger state law protections regarding trade secrets. These provisions generally fall into one of two categories:

1. The term of the NDA. In many cases, the term of the NDA is limited to a one, two or three year period. The issue with NDAs of limited duration stems from the fact that, once expired, the recipient of trade secrets under the NDA might have no duty to keep such information or materials confidential. Under these circumstances, once the NDA has expired, some courts may find that the owner of a trade secret is no longer taking reasonable measures to keep its trade secret a “secret.” As a result, the relevant information or materials may lose trade secret protections under state law.

On its face, the obvious solution to this problem
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Photo by Nancy Kamergorodsky
Photo by Nancy Kamergorodsky

Earlier this week, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) proposed a rule that would require investment advisers registered with the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to establish anti-money laundering (“AML”) programs and report suspicious activity to FinCEN pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). FinCEN’s proposed rule would

money laundering
Photo by Seth M.

In recent years, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and federal regulators of the financial services industry have more aggressively enforced the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and the economic sanctions imposed by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”).  While this should in of itself be a matter of particular attention to the directors and officers of those entities in the financial services industry, so too should the recent trend toward increased scrutiny for directors and officers failing to address alleged BSA or OFAC compliance shortfalls. An August 2014 agreement reached by FinCEN and a former casino official permanently barring the official from working in any financial institution drives the point home: When it comes to liability for BSA or OFAC violations, FinCEN and federal regulators might not limit penalties to the entity actually committing violations, and instead, may also penalize the individual directors and officers of those entities. 

Even before FinCEN’s August 2014 bar of the casino official, a number of enforcement actions assessed personal monetary penalties against financial institution directors and officers over the past few years. In February 2009, the directors of Sykesville Federal Savings Association were collectively fined
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BSA requires broker-dealers to know who you are
Photo by St. Murse

As we blogged about in May, the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), which requires financial institutions in the United States to assist U.S. government agencies to detect and prevent money laundering, applies to entities that we may not traditionally think of as “financial institutions,” including securities broker or dealers. Compliance with the BSA is no easy task. And if a recent notice of new proposed rule by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (also known as FinCEN) becomes law, it’s not about to get any easier.

FinCEN’s stated intent with the proposed rule is to clarify and strengthen customer due diligence requirements for banks, brokers or dealers in securities, mutual funds and futures commission merchants and introducing brokers in commodities. Under current regulations, each of these institutions must establish, document and maintain a Customer Identification Program (or “CIP”) appropriate for its size and business that meets certain minimum requirements, including, among others, the adoption of certain identity verification procedures, and the collection of certain customer information and the maintenance of certain records. The proposed rule adds two (2) new elements to the CIP requirements.

First, the proposed rule
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Foreign Account Tax Compliance ActThe Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) is a US law designed to counter offshore tax avoidance by US persons. Controversial because of its wide-ranging breadth and application to non-US financial institutions, in the most general sense, FATCA imposes a 30% withholding tax on payments of US source income made to foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) unless they enter into an agreement with the US Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and disclose information about their US account holders.

After having revised the timelines for FATCA’s implementation on several occasions (culminating in an implementation delay of over three years from the date of its adoption in March of 2010), FATCA’s official July 1, 2014 implementation date is on the horizon. As a result, FFIs worldwide have made a mad dash in the race toward FATCA compliance over the last few months.

So why does this matter to non-banking/non-financial institutions? Well, as an initial matter, FATCA’s definition of an FFI is broad, including more types of entities than one might expect. As a result, US entities must make sure they have evaluated their corporate structure to determine whether its network includes an FFI. Under FATCA rules, the following types of entities may qualify as FFIs, subject to certain exceptions:

  • Non-US retirement funds and foundations
  • Special purpose entities and banking-type subsidiaries
  • Captive insurance companies
  • Treasury centers, holding companies, and captive finance companies

Additionally, even if an organization’s affiliate network does not include an FFI, US-based entities could be
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Uniform fiduciary duty standard for broker-dealers
Illustration by Divine Harvester

As we blogged about last August, Section 913 of the Dodd-Frank Act directed the SEC to study the need for establishing a new, uniform, federal fiduciary standard of care for brokers and investment advisers providing personalized investment advice. Recall that, traditionally, broker-dealers and investment advisors are subject to different duties of care: a suitability standard for broker-dealers and a more stringent, fiduciary duty for investment advisors. 

Despite the express mandate given to it by Section 913 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC has made slow progress in determining whether to adopt a uniform fiduciary standard rule. In January 2011, the SEC issued its Section 913 Report, recommending “the consideration of rulemakings” that would establish a uniform fiduciary standard for both broker-dealers and investment advisers. In the wake of issuing its Section 913 Report, in March 2013 the SEC opened its doors comments, requesting data and other information relating to the costs and benefits of implementing a uniform fiduciary standard. While the comment period ended in July of 2013, the SEC has apparently not yet completed its anticipated cost-benefit analysis. Based on the SEC’s regulatory agenda for the 2014 fiscal year, it does not seem to be in much of a rush: in the agenda, the SEC listed the “Personalized Investment Advice Standard of Conduct” as a “long-term action” and as its 40th priority out of 43 items. That said, in a speech at the SEC Speaks Conference in Washington on February 21, 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White said she
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