Styperson POPE

Strategy & Compliance for Investment Firms


Things to Consider When Launching a Fund

The following headings cover some of the key considerations in setting up a fund which will be structured or promoted as an unregulated collective investment scheme:
Location (Tax)
Tax structuring is likely to be the driver behind the decision on where the scheme should be based.  This will be determined in part by who the investors are and where they and the assets of the scheme are located.  If the investors are based in the UK, especially if they are CGT exempt (eg through a SIPP or SSAS), a UK partnership is likely to be tax efficient without needing to look offshore.

Location (Regulation)
Some funds may consider offshore management to save on regulation however if the aim is to save on the ‘cost of regulation’, then the ‘cost of offshoring’ must be set against this.  Offshore lawyers, accountants, managers and administrators are often more expensive than their fully regulated UK equivalents.  It is also worth considering how investors will see the decision to operate off shore if it is perceived as an attempt to avoid regulation (and therefore avoid some of their protection).  Do also bear in mind that UK regulations still apply to the promotion of funds based offshore if that promotion is undertaken in, or from, the UK.

Structure
Tax will again be important in determining the structure of the fund but assuming that the investors are principally based in the UK and include some CGT exempt investors and some tax payers, a typical structure would involve a Limited or Limited Liability Partnership (which is tax transparent) with a UK Unit Trust feeder (for the SIPP and SSAS investors).  Various other vehicles might be used to achieve specific tax planning objectives such as allowing overseas investors to avoid withholding tax or allowing income to be rolled up into capital gains.

Operator
Establishing, operating and winding up an unregulated collective investment scheme is a regulated activity.  This means, where the fund is operated (run) from within the UK, the person doing so must be authorised by the FSA.  Some would-be fund managers become authorised directly, others employ a professional operator to run the fund on their behalf.
The decision on which route to take will depend on the experience available in-house, the size of the fund envisaged and whether it is likely to be one of many future funds.  If the fund is small, a one-off, or the fund manager lacks experience, the costs of becoming authorised and therefore having to buy in expertise, pay fees to the FSA, and maintain regulatory capital are likely to outweigh the costs of buying in a professional operator.

Administration
This activity covers a broad range of services from receiving and processing subscriptions (which can be regulated) to producing call notices, effecting transfers, paying distributions, maintaining statutory books and registers, and issuing updates to investors (which are generally not regulated).  Professional administrators have the expertise necessary to deal with administratively complex funds like hedge funds but others which trade only occasionally or which do not permit transfers or redemptions of their units may be easier to administer in-house.  Once the fund is up and running, certain communications are laid down by regulations and advice may be required on how these should be put together.

Accounting
Again, the need for an external accountant will depend on the complexity of the funds’ activities and the commitments made to investors about when financial information will be circulated.  Simple funds can be accounted for in house, while complex funds may need experienced personnel, specialist systems and a good understanding of models of returns and carried interests.

Promotion (Documents)
Within (and from) the UK, the promotion of unregulated collective investment schemes is very tightly restricted.  This is an area which many funds overlook in their planning but it is, of course, vital to achieving a successful launch.  Every fund needs a clear route to market and a strong offering to both investors and intermediaries.
Most funds will prepare an IM; great care (and good advice) should be taken in ensuring that the IM appropriately addresses the workings of the fund, the financial model, the parties involved, and (perhaps most importantly) the risks it carries.  Even if the IM is not going to be issued or approved by an authorised firm, having it verified by an experienced advisor might be very useful and save considerable cost in the long run.
In some cases, the IM may need to take the form of a prospectus which is a much more tightly prescribed document and, if this is the case, the cost of preparing it may be considerably higher.  Whether this is necessary will depend on the strategy for promoting the fund, its overall size, its minimum investment, and the legal status of the fund vehicles involved.
Unauthorised promoters of funds may be able to use documents approved by an authorised firm but whoever carries out the promotion, the categories of permitted recipient are few and tightly defined.  Great care must be taken to remain within these.

Promotion (Activity)
As well as the documents being used, attention must also be paid to whether the activity of promoting the fund is a regulated activity and therefore requires FSA authorisation in its own right.  It is likely that promotions which do not involve authorised intermediaries will be extremely difficult to undertake.

Next Steps
Knowing the following information will be helpful in addressing the considerations above:
  • What are the fund’s investments in? Asset class, location, &c.;
  • Who are the investors? Individuals, institutions, pension schemes, location, &c.;
  • How may investments will you receive?  Minimum, maximum, total number, &c.;
  • How may investments will you make?  Frequency, size, &c.;
  • Will you distribute income?  Size and frequency of distributions, &c.; and
  • What is your route to market?  Are intermediaries authorised, where are they based, &c..
To discuss any issues related to launching a fund as an unregulated collective investment scheme, please contact Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE’s MD, on 07710 260 717 or sw@strategic-compliance.co.uk.


Compliance Audits & Monitoring Visits

This post is just a quick anatomy of a compliance monitoring visit we’re in the middle of for an FSA authorised Investment Firm.  We tailor all our compliance audits and monitoring programmes to our clients’ particular businesses and we make sure that they add value by focussing not only on the bare FSA requirements but also commenting on best practice and efficiencies.  We have developed tried and tested monitoring formats for:

Like most of our clients, the one who’s ‘enjoyed’ today’s compliance visit, is on a quarterly programme with a slightly more expanded report at mid-year and a full review at each year end.  Today (Friday) is day one of the full review, continuing Monday, and ending in the delivery of a report to the Board by the close of next week.  It’s not the best time to be taking several days out to run a full compliance audit… but then it never is!

Two of us are splitting the work, with me reviewing all of their regulated activities, policies, procedures, management systems, governance provisions, and Gabriel reports (which should be OK because we’re involved in all their FSA reporting).  Their in-house Compliance Manager is reviewing their files and records including KYC and AML, financial promotions, client categorisation, periodic statements, and suitability assessments (each based on a sample I chose at random).

Despite being only one day in, the visit has already proved invaluable with a big gap identified in their conduct of business (COBS) procedures (actually, they’d done everything right but didn’t understand why so had gone to expensive lawyers for advice each time), and a few gaps in management systems which can very easily be plugged (once you know they’re there!).

We’ll have plenty of recommendations to make and we categorise them all based on the urgency of the change and the cost or effort of completing it.  Generally we like to see through the changes we suggest but we also understand the costs involved in ‘gold plating’ and accept that perfection may be a longer-term objective!

One inevitable consequence of a compliance monitoring visit is some additional training and it’s a great way to identify areas of need.  This may be informal training for the Board in the form of talking through the report, or it might be identifying the key topics for a firm-wide workshop.

It’s easy to forget how valuable a compliance audit or monitoring visit can be and often it’s the most cost effective way of discovering problems (it’s certainly a lot cheaper than letting them revel themselves!).  If you’d like to discuss what kind of visit would be most suited to your business, do please give Simon Webber, STYPERSON POPE‘s Managing Director, a call on 07710 260 717, or e-mail sw@strategic-compliance.co.uk.


How are Funeral Plan Providers Regulated?

One relatively unknown corner of legislation is how providers of funeral plans are regulated under the financial services and markets act (FSMA)…

From a regulatory point of view, there are three types of provider:

1. FSA Authorised Providers
Because of the ready availability of exemptions to the Regulated Activities Order (RAO) which defines the requirement for FSA authorisation, no funeral plan providers have opted for full regulation.  Nonetheless, the starting point for the exemptions is the regulated activity of…

”Entering as provider into a funeral plan contract… under which a person (“the customer”) makes one or more payments to another person (“the provider”); and the provider undertakes to provide, or secure that another person provides, a funeral in the United Kingdom for the customer (or some other person who is living at the date when the contract is entered into) on his death”

2. Plans Secured Against a Contract of Insurance
If the money paid by the customer is used to purchase insurance cover which provides for funeral expenses, the provider of this product is exempt from requiring authorisation as a funeral provider (however, they may well require authorisation as an insurance intermediary).

3. Plans Which Hold Money in Trust
These are by far the most common type of funeral plan but they are also have the most complicated exemption for their providers to avoid having to be FSA authorised.  There are five separate tests which must each be met for the use of this exemption.  They cover:

i) the form of the trust;
ii) the eligibility of the trustees;
iii) the management of the trust’s funds;
iv) the accounting for the trust; and
v) the valuation of the trust.

Providers will also need to consider the Money Laundering Regulations as they apply to trusts and trust and company service providers.

If you’re a provider of funeral plans and would like to ensure you manage your activities to fit within one of these exemptions, do please contact Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE’s MD, on 07710 260 717 or sw@strategic-compliance.co.uk.

If you’re interested in purchasing a funeral plan, this post probably hasn’t been very helpful, but you might want to read this advice from the FSA.


Interim Compliance Officer & Part Time Director

Simon Webber is a portfolio Head of Compliance, Board Director and Consultant to FSA-regulated investment firms.  He is approved by the Financial Services Authority as a Compliance Officer, Money Laundering Reporting Officer and Director.

Simon specialises in assisting corporate finance houses, business angel networks, and companies structuring, launching and managing alternative asset funds, unregulated collective investment schemes and EIS funds.

Often he focusses on turning around the compliance function or integrating it more effectively with the rest of the business, making it more strategic and less obstructive.  This often requires an involvement with strategy and culture as well as business processes, FSA relationship management, and staff development.

As well as running StypersonPOPE, Simon is currently a Director of businesses in both London and Manchester including a market-leading alternative investment fund manager, a start up funds market, a corporate finance and early-stage investment house, and a Non-Executive Director placement service.

He holds two undergraduate degrees with honours and a masters degree.  He is a founder member of a regional committee for the Institute of Directors and is proud to be a Director of a charity giving over £6m per year to community projects.

If you would like to speak to Simon, please contact him on +44 (0) 7710 260 717 or sw@strategic-compliance.co.uk.

(Or take a look at linkedin.com/in/simonwebber and
twitter.com/stcwebber if you prefer.)


Prospectus Exemptions… myths & misunderstandings

We see a lot of clients who really want to avoid having to prepare a prospectus.  Sometimes, I’m not sure all the effort is worthwhile and it may be better to take another look at the costs and time involved in putting a prospectus together if it makes the marketing easier – generally, it’s not as bad as you’d think.  Nonetheless, this article is about the exemptions, or rather about some of the imaginary exemptions we’ve heard of recently.  Our basic guide to the real exemptions can be found by clicking here.

“If working within the limit of 99 people, can’t Sophisticated Investors be excluded from the total?”

No.  It’s true that certain investors can be excluded but the only kind of private individuals who can be excluded are ‘Qualified Investors’.  These must be registered with the FSA and meeting the criteria  for sophistication is not helpful in meeting the requirements to be qualified investors (which are much closer to the criteria for an elective professional investor under MiFID).

“If relying on the minimum investment of €50k, is it OK to quote this in the literature but actually accept less than this?”

Again, no.  Generally speaking, saying one thing and doing another is a recipe for upsetting investors and getting sued.  Apart from this, the relevant rule states that “a person does not contravene section 85(1) if… the minimum consideration which may be paid by any person for transferable securities acquired by him pursuant to the offer is at least 50,000 euros”.  I suppose if you have a really good lawyer, you could get into a debate about the meanings of “may” and “pursuant” but I think we all know what the rule intends and I wouldn’t want one of my clients to be in the dock while the case law is being made. 

“Is it true that the prospectus rules don’t apply to funds which are unregulated collective investment schemes?”

Sorry, yet again, no.  The rules apply to most ‘transferable securities’ including shares in companies and units in partnerships (how most funds are structured).  It is true that there is a list of exempt investment types and that this list includes open ended funds but most smaller, unlisted or unregulated funds won’t qualify as open ended (even if they think they do).  They can, however, use one of the other exemptions.  It is worth noting that any fund listed on the LSE’s Specialist Fund Market must prepare a prospectus even if it otherwise falls into one of the exemptions.

With experience of the prospectus directive within both corporate finance and fund establishment, StypersonPOPE can help you plan which exemptions to use. For an initial discussion, please call or e-mail Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE‘s Managing Director.


FSA Principles for Businesses & Approved Persons

This isn’t a particularly original or insightful page because it’s basically just a cut and paste from the FSA’s handbook but the principles are very imoprtant to the FSA and they should be to all authorised firms as well.  They bear repeating:

FOR BUSINESSES…

1 Integrity – A firm must conduct its business with integrity.

2 Skill, care and diligence – A firm must conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence.

3 Management and control – A firm must take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems.

4 Financial prudence – A firm must maintain adequate financial resources.

5 Market conduct – A firm must observe proper standards of market conduct.

6 Customers’ interests – A firm must pay due regard to the interests of its customers and treat them fairly.

7 Communications with clients – A firm must pay due regard to the information needs of its clients, and communicate information to them in a way which is clear, fair and not misleading.

8 Conflicts of interest – A firm must manage conflicts of interest fairly, both between itself and its customers and between a customer and another client.

9 Customers: relationships of trust – A firm must take reasonable care to ensure the suitability of its advice and discretionary decisions for any customer who is entitled to rely upon its judgment.

10 Clients’ assets – A firm must arrange adequate protection for clients’ assets when it is responsible for them.

11 Relations with regulators – A firm must deal with its regulators in an open and cooperative way, and must disclose to the FSA appropriately anything relating to the firm of which the FSA would reasonably expect notice.

FOR APPROVED PERSONS…

  1. An approved person must act with integrity in carrying out his controlled function.
  2. An approved person must act with due skill, care and diligence in carrying out his controlled function.
  3. An approved person must observe proper standards of market conduct in carrying out his controlled function.
  4. An approved person must deal with the FSA and with other regulators in an open and cooperative way and must disclose appropriately any information of which the FSA would reasonably expect notice.
  5. An approved person performing a significant influence function must take reasonable steps to ensure that the business of the firm for which he is responsible in his controlled function is organised so that it can be controlled effectively. 
  6. An approved person performing a significant influence function must exercise due skill, care and diligence in managing the business of the firm for which he is responsible in his controlled function.
  7. An approved person performing a significant influence function must take reasonable steps to ensure that the business of the firm for which he is responsible in his controlled function complies with the relevant requirements and standards of the regulatory system. 

(For 5-7 above, a “significant influence function”, includes Directors, Compliance Officers, and Money Laundering Reporting Officers, but not people in only a customer function.)

If you would like help in determining how these principles can be applied in practice, within your business, please do call or e-mail Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE’s MD.


Who needs to be FSA Authorised?

As is so often the case with regulation, it’s almost impossible to get an answer to a simple question like this without ending up being barraged by unhelpful and unfamiliar technical terms.  With respect to investment firms like our clients, the answer is easy:

“If, in the course of business, you carry out designated investment business with respect to specified investments and the activity isn’t excluded, or you’re not exempt, you need to be authorised.” 

But really, what use is that?!

The rules genuinely are detailed and complicated, and the terminology is technical so this can’t be a full guide but we can unpack the ‘easy answer’ above, separate out the different concepts and give a quick introduction to them so that you know what questions to ask next…

1) in the course of business
This part of the answer is not clearly defined by law but most people know whether they are doing something in the course of business or not.  If it could make you money (whether or not it actually does) and if it’s a regular activity rather than a one-off happening, it’s likely to fall within “the course of business”.

2) designated investment business
This is just a part of the much wider “regulated activities” which range from insurance business to banking but these are the ones undertaken by most investment firms.  These include (among others):

Again, common sense applies; if it feels like it should be regulated, it probably is.

3) specified investments
These are the investment instruments that are regulated.  This category includes shares, options, warrants, debentures, units in a collective investment scheme (fund), government securities, &c..

There are several popular alternative asset classes that aren’t specified investments, most notably property (real estate) but also art, wine, stamps, antiques, and the like.  You do not, therefore, need to be regulated in order to advise someone on their portfolio of wines. 

Even within these asset classes, some caution is required; because units and shares are specified investments, advising somebody to buy into an art fund, or to buy a special purpose vehicle which owns a building, is likely to be regulated.

4) excluded activity
These are activites which, were it not for the specific exemption, would require you to be authorised.  They include publishing media reports on financial matters, setting up employee share schemes, and buying or selling investments on your own behalf (as long as you don’t hold yourself out to the market as willing to do so).

5) exempt persons
Finally, these are people who have specific exemptions from requiring FSA authorisation because of who they are.  These include regulated professional firms (mainly lawyers and accountants, where the activity is incidental to the professional services they offer), appointed representatives, central banks, and certain large investment exchanges.  If you were going to fall into this category, you’d probably know already.

If you’re not sure whether you need to be authorised, it’s likely to be because you’re not sure if the activity you’re undertaking counts as ‘regulated activity’ or if you’re involved with ‘specified investments’ (2 & 3 above).  These are the key areas where you may want to seek more advice.

Of course, if you’d like to discuss with us, whether or not you need regulation, please contact Simon Webber, StypersonPOPE’s MD, either by telephone or on sw@strategic-compliance.co.uk.