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27 March 2015
On February 27 2015 the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released new guidance under the Volcker Rule(1) in the form of an addition to their frequently asked questions (FAQs).(2) The new FAQ clarifies the circumstances under which a foreign banking entity may continue to hold, or make, investments in a 'third-party covered fund'. The new FAQ provides useful guidance to foreign banking entities and the managers of third-party covered funds in which foreign banking entities invest. The guidance will limit the need for managers to restructure their third-party covered funds to accommodate many existing – and future – investments by foreign banking entities.
The final rule provides that a banking entity (including a foreign banking entity) may not, as principal, directly or indirectly acquire or retain any "ownership interest" in a "covered fund".(3) The final rule includes an exception that permits a foreign banking entity to acquire or retain an ownership interest in, or to sponsor, a covered fund "solely outside of the United States" (the 'SOTUS exemption').(4) One of the four criteria of the SOTUS exemption is that no ownership interest in the covered fund may be offered for sale or sold to a resident of the United States (the 'marketing restriction').(5) Before the new FAQ, it was unclear whether the marketing restriction limited the marketing and sales activities only of the foreign banking entity seeking to take advantage of the SOTUS exemption or alternatively applied more generally. In other words, it was unclear whether a foreign banking entity could invest in a covered fund offered and sold in the United States even if the covered fund was not sponsored, organised, offered or advised by the foreign banking entity (eg, a third-party sponsored Cayman Islands-domiciled feeder fund marketed to both US tax-exempt investors and non-US investors).(6) While the final rule does not impose restrictions on non-banking entities, the non-bank sponsors of such funds have been concerned about the impact of the final rule on their ability to retain foreign banking entity investors and to continue to market to such foreign banking entity investors.(7)
The new FAQ confirms that the SOTUS exemption imposes the marketing restriction only on the activities of the foreign banking entity seeking to rely on the SOTUS exemption and not on the activities of unaffiliated third parties. In particular, the new FAQ states that a foreign banking entity may invest in a covered fund in reliance on the SOTUS exemption even if the covered fund is sold to US residents, provided that:
As the new FAQ notes, the focus on the activities of the foreign banking entity:
"is consistent with limiting the extraterritorial application of [the Volcker Rule] to foreign banking entities while seeking to ensure that the risks of covered fund investments by foreign banking entities occur and remain solely outside of the United States."
With the clarification provided by the new FAQ, the agencies have acknowledged that a more restrictive view of the SOTUS exemption would limit its availability in unintended ways and could unduly hamper the activities of unaffiliated third parties. At the same time, the new FAQ emphasises that the SOTUS exemption broadly limits a foreign banking entity's ability to be involved in the marketing of ownership interests of a covered fund to residents of the United States. This position is consistent with one of the policy goals of the Volcker Rule – namely, that the Volcker Rule should not give foreign banking organisations a competitive advantage over US banking entities with respect to offering covered fund services in the United States.
With the release of the new FAQ, the agencies have clarified that the SOTUS exemption imposes no restriction on the marketing of ownership interests in a third-party covered fund by its sponsor or its investment manager, investment adviser, commodity pool operator or commodity trading adviser. In practice, this means that a manager of a third-party covered fund organised on a standard feeder fund model (eg, a Cayman Islands-domiciled investment vehicle that is open to investment by US tax-exempt investors and non-US investors) need not restructure such vehicle to permit a foreign banking entity to retain its investment and need not alter such structure for new investments by foreign banking entities.
For further information on this topic please contact Benson Cohen or William Shirley at Sidley Austin LLP's New York office by telephone (+1 212 839 5300) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). Alternatively contact William S Eckland at Sidley Austin LLP's Washington DC office by telephone (+1 202 736 8000) or email (email@example.com). The Sidley Austin LLP website can be accessed at www.sidley.com.
(1) The Volcker Rule refers to Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, which was added by Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the final rule implementing such section.
(2) The FAQs, as updated from time to time, may be found on the Federal Reserve's website at www.federalreserve.gov/bankinforeg/volcker-rule/faq.htm.
(3) The definitions of 'covered fund' and 'ownership interest' are discussed in more detail in "Volcker: The Final Rule" (December 20 2013), available at www.sidley.com/Volcker-The-Final-Rule-12-20-2013/.
(6) The lack of clarity led a group of law firms to issue a letter reflecting the consensus view that a foreign banking entity could invest in a 'parallel fund' (ie, a fund that invested in parallel with one or more covered funds that offered and sold ownership interests in the United States) in reliance on the SOTUS exemption provided that the parallel fund was organised, offered and advised by a sponsor other than the investing foreign banking entity. However, some uncertainty remained in the industry as to whether a foreign banking entity could rely on the SOTUS exemption to invest in the standard feeder fund structure.
(7) A fund could itself be deemed to be a subsidiary of a bank holding company under the Bank Holding Company Act. The determination as to whether a particular fund is a subsidiary of a bank holding company requires a review of the relationship(s) between the fund and its manager on the one hand, and the bank holding company and its subsidiaries and affiliates on the other. Nothing in the new FAQ has altered the analysis required to be made of such relationship(s).
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Benson R Cohen