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Strategy & Compliance for Investment Firms


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The UCIS / AIF Boundary in UK Fund Structures

I know, it sounds fun, right? OK, this one’s a bit technical but I seem to have had this conversation a few times recently…

Since the introduction of AIFMD back in 2013, the EU-derived definition of a fund (or “AIF”) have had to map onto our similar but subtly different UK-derived definition of a collective investment scheme (“CIS”). So when is an AIFM required rather than (or, in one case, as well as) an Operator?

For this purpose, we’ll only consider Unregulated CIS (“UCIS”) so we’re excluding the bigger funds which are sold to the public and focusing instead on private fund structures.

AIFs
‘Alternative Investment Funds’ are defined in the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive and there are a few limbs to that definition:

  • They are “undertakings”—while some have argued that this excludes certain, unincorporated arrangements, the consensus seems to be it is a broad enough concept to capture pretty much any arrangements, incorporated or otherwise, and in writing or otherwise.
  • They are “collective”—this means that the risk and reward are pooled among the participants.
  • They are “managed”—meaning arrangements where all of the participants have ‘daily’ control are not AIFs but if that control is passed to a manager, which may be one of the other participants, it will be.
  • They “raise capital”—this means that arrangements between a small number of individuals which don’t then raise capital from others are unlikely to be an AIF.

UCIS
‘Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes’ are defined in the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 and again, there are a few limbs to that definition (some of which will look a little familiar):

  • They are “arrangements” for income or profit—so, pretty much the same as ‘undertakings’ from the AIF definition.
  • They are “pooled”—so, pretty much the same as ‘collective’ in the AIF definition.
  • They are “managed”—there’s a very subtle distinction between the UK concept of ‘day-to-day’ control as defined by case law and the EU’s definition of ‘daily’ control as defined by ESMA guidance but that’s too fine grained to worry about here!

So what’s the problem? Other than AIFs needing to “raise capital” they sound the same as UCIS? Ah, but then there are all the exemptions!

AIF Exemptions
There are few exemptions to the definition of AIFs and they’re all pretty practical, these ensure that holding companies, companies with a general commercial purpose, central banks, securitisation SPVs and employee share schemes don’t get caught up in the definition, generally because there is other EU legislation covering these areas.

UCIS Exemptions
Thee exemptions to the definition of UCIS are much more numerous and have evolved over the years to address particular circumstances and market effects the Treasury wanted to influence. This means that some arrangements and structures which would otherwise be a UCIS are subject to an exemption. In the fund context, this includes:

  • All bodies corporate—i.e. any limited company (meaning that unregulated UCIS are generally LPs, LLPs or Trusts); and
  • EIS or SITR funds.

AIFs but not CIS
So, the main categories of investment structure which are AIFs but not UCIS are:

  • Investment Companies;
  • EIS funds; and
  • SITR funds.

These all require an authorised (or, in some cases, registered) AIFM with the regulatory permission of Managing an AIF to run them, even though they didn’t need the services of an Operator prior to AIFMD.

UCIS but not AIFs
And the main categories of investment structure which are CIS but not AIFs are:

  • UCIS which don’t raise capital; and
  • “Grandfathered” AIFs (being fully invested prior to AIFMD coming in).

These all require the appointment of an authorised Operator with the regulatory permission of Operating, Establishing & Winding Up an Unregulated Collective Investment Scheme.

Both UCIS and AIFs
To keep it simple, the Treasury introduced a regulation to say that if a fund’s manager has the permission to Manage an AIF (i.e. they’re an AIFM) this covers all regulated activity relating to their management of an AIF. This means that where a fund is both an AIF and a UCIS, the AIFM doesn’t require a separate permission to act as an Operator.

Small UK Property Funds
There is also one structure which requires both an operator and an AIFM.

When the UK implemented AIFMD in 2013, the Treasury took the opportunity to make some consequential changes to the UK’s local regime for smaller managers to whom AIFMD doesn’t apply. This resulted in them creating the concept of a Small UK Registered AIFM. The ‘registration’ required is a lot less onerous than the full ‘authorisation’ process and so this is a lighter-touch regime designed to reduce barriers to entry for some smaller fund managers.

These funds include property funds structured as a UCIS, i.e. a UCIS which holds the majority of its assets (save for their first and last six months) as land and does not hold any shares derivatives, bonds, fund units (save for shares in a company owning the property). The definition of small is derived from AIFMD and is applied to the manager, not the fund; small means less than €500m or less than €100m where any fund under management uses debt.

The trade off for this lighter-touch regime is that the registered AIFM for such a fund must also appoint an authorised Operator. This is the only scenario which requires both an AIFM and an Operator.

UCIS AIF Boundary


Three Routes to Promote a UCIS

The Financial Services and Markets Act (FSMA) imposes a restriction on unregulated collective investment schemes (UCIS) being marketed to the public but it also creates three sets of exemptions, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages…

1. The Financial Promotions Order defines how an unauthorised firm can promote a UCIS using unapproved documents.  Essentially, it allows promotion to some institutional investors and to Certified Sophisticated Investors (and, depending on the scheme’s investments, also to self-certified high net worth or sophisticated investors).

Advantages to this approach are that:

  • Fees tend to be lower because,
    • the document used does not need to meet the FSA’s requirements for financial promotions, and
    • no FSA authorised firm has to take responsibility for the document.

Disadvantages are that:

  • an unauthorised (and therefore probably less expert firm) takes all of the responsibility,
  • the documents do still need to meet certain FSMA and common law requirements,
  • schemes can only be promoted to institutional and certified sophisticated investors,
  • the person making the communication has to establish that the investor is certified before making any promotion, and
  • authorised firms (eg IFAs) may not be able to pass on the promotion.

2. The Promotion of Collective Investment Scheme (Exemptions) Order contains one of the sets of exemptions to Section 238 of FSMA which restricts how an authorised firm can promote a UCIS. The exemptions here are very similar (but not identical) to those under the Financial Promotions Order (above).
 

Advantages are that:

  • an authorised firm is involved, giving comfort to partners in the fund by taking on some of the responsibility;
  • investors will feel more comforted knowing that a UK-based, FSA-authorised body is involved in the communication; and

  • the document does not have to meet the full requirements of the FSA’s financial promotion rules;

  • an authorised firm can approve the promotion to be made by unauthorised persons (but there’s little point because the promotion would be limited to the same people that the unauthorised person could promote it to anyway under the Financial Promotions Order).

 Disadvantages are that:

  •  fees will be higher because the firm will have to ‘verify’ the contents of the promotional material – they have a responsibility to investors to ensure that it is fair clear and not misleading;
  • schemes can still only be promoted to institutions and certified sophisticated investors;

  • the person making the communication still has to establish that the investor is certified before making any promotion; and

  • even some authorised firms (eg IFAs) can not pass on the promotion – eg if it would constitute MiFID business for them.

3. The FSA’s rules provide the final route for promotion. These define eight categories of investor to whom a scheme can be promoted without breaching the restriction in FSMA. Some of these are very specific exemptions for unusual types of schemes (like Church Funds and Lloyds underwriters) but two in particular are of more use.
 

Advantages of utilising these rules are that:

  • the UCIS can be promoted to other groups of investors, including

    • persons assessed as suitable by an authorised firm (probably their IFA),

    • persons who have undergone an adequate assessment of their knowledge, experience and expertise by an authorised firm;

  • the scheme can be promoted in such a way as to reduce as far as possible the risk of someone making an investment who does not fit an exemption (this will mean controlling the promotion, dissuading ineligible persons from applying, and checking that applicants are eligible but unlike the other routes above, this does not need to be done ahead of making initial contact with an investor);

  • an authorised firm will take responsibility for the document; and

  • an authorised firm can approve the document for distribution by unauthorised persons.

Disadvantages of this approach are that:

  • the document will need to be more thorough, meeting all of the FSA’s requirements for financial promotions;

  • fees will be higher because the document will need to be verified by the authorised firm; and

  • an authorised firm will need to have processes and procedures in place to ensure that ineligible applicants are not permitted to participate in the scheme.

As you can see, each approach has its ‘pros and cons’ and each route is therefore suitable for certain types of schemes.

Routes 1 and 2 are most suitable for an institutional UCIS (ie funds where all of the investors are investment professionals, authorised firms, or high net worth companies and unincorporated associations).

If you are thinking of pursuing either of these routes and the fund is looking for investment from individuals then make sure that you or your distribution network already know a good number of Certified Sophisticated Investors (be careful to ask the right question and get the right answer because Self-Certified Sophisticated Investors, probably won’t count and certificates that do not cover units in a UCIS are useless to you).

If in any doubt, we recommend that you pick a sample of your target audience, say 20 investors, and (without telling them anything about the fund), ask them if they have a certificate and if they do, to fax it over to you. We can take a quick look at these and make sure that they are the right kind. Once you know what percentage of your target audience has these certificates then you’ll know how restricted you’ll be in promoting your fund.

Route 3 is likely to be more expensive because the authorised firm (probably the operator of the scheme) is going to be more involved – they will verify the document (as indeed they will for route 2 and you will for route 1), they will ensure it meets the FSA’s higher standards, they will approve it for distribution by you, and they will have in place process and procedures designed to stop ineligible investors from participating.

On the other hand, this route will allow more effective promotion of the scheme on the basis that investors will be protected by the assessments carried out by authorised firms (be they the operator or an IFA). If you want to promote the scheme to individuals who don’t already hold a Certificate of Sophistication covering unregulated collective investment schemes, these protections will need to be in place.

Above, I said the fact that “the document will need to be more thorough, meeting all of the FSA’s requirements for financial promotions” was a disadvantage. It might equally be seen as an advantage, both for the investor, who is better informed and therefore better protected, and for the promoter who can draw the attention of their distribution network to the involvement of an authorised firm.

StypersonPOPE can help you to determine the most effective route to employ in promoting a scheme. If you would like to discuss scheme promotion, please do contact Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE’s Managing Director, either by telephone or e-mail.