A working group composed of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued a joint statement on July 22 that is intended to provide greater clarity regarding the risk-focused approach used by examiners for planning and performing Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)/anti-money laundering (AML) examinations.

On the theory that three’s a charm, our third and final blog on Hong Kong private equity activities will take a look at Asset Management (Type 9) activities, which are among the most relevant regulated activities for private equity firms in Hong Kong.

 Asset Management (Type 9) covers managing, on a discretionary basis, portfolio of securities for and on behalf of a third party. If a private equity firm is licensed by the SFC to carry out the regulated activity of asset management, then in addition to being able to exercise discretionary portfolio management, such firm is able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “incidental exemption” and market funds under its management or sub-management, without the need to obtain a separate Type 1 license. The Type 9 license is therefore very flexible.

In our first blog on Hong Kong private equity licensing, we looked at Dealing in Securities (Type 1). This second blog deals with Advising on Securities (Type 4).

Advising on Securities (Type 4) includes not only giving advice on acquiring or disposing of securities, but also advising on the terms or conditions on which securities should be acquired or disposed of. There is an important "intra-group" exemption for the requirement for a Type 4 license, and many private equity firms have traditionally relied on this to conduct advisory activities in Hong Kong. This exemption is available if advice on securities is provided by the private equity firms in Hong Kong to (i) any of its wholly-owned subsidiaries; (ii) a holding company which wholly owns the private equity firms; or (iii) wholly-owned subsidiaries of its holding company. The recipient of the advice, recommendation, or research should assess the advice, recommendation or research (as the case may be) and has the discretion to reject it, before issuing the material to its own clients in its own name. In other words, the recipients must assess the advice, and not merely rubber-stamp it.

In keeping with our interest in global financial regulatory developments, in this and two blog posts to follow, we examine recent regulatory developments and responses in the active Hong Kong private equity markets.

Historically, the most popular setup of private equity firms in Hong Kong involve a Hong Kong onshore investment adviser providing advice to an offshore investment manager or a general partner in the Cayman Islands. The Hong Kong investment adviser will typically be a wholly owned subsidiary of the offshore entity. If structured in this manner and subject to certain additional parameters, the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to operate without any licence in Hong Kong as the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “intra-group” exemption.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued guidance consolidating current FinCEN regulations, rulings, and guidance about cryptocurrencies and money services businesses (MSBs) under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Along with the May 9 guidance, FinCEN issued an advisory to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity or criminal use of cryptocurrencies.

In a recently published statement, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) has raised concerns relating to the risks that crypto-assets pose to the global financial system. While it acknowledges that banks do not currently have significant exposure to crypto-assets, it warns that these assets are increasingly becoming a threat to financial stability.

These concerns are founded on the volatility, constant evolution, and lack of standardization of crypto-assets, which the BCBS believes exposes banks to liquidity, credit, operational, money laundering, legal, and reputational risks. It considers that crypto-assets should not be referred to as “cryptocurrencies,” given that they fall short of being currencies that are safe mediums of exchange.

In separate remarks delivered before the annual Washington meeting of the Institute for International Bankers on March 11, FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams and Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting both said that the federal financial regulatory agencies are actively considering revisions to the Volcker Rule regulations, including a reconfiguration of the interagency Volcker Rule regulatory proposals published in June 2018. Ms. McWilliams, among other things, indicated that “all options are on the table," and stated that the federal agencies “need to right size the rule's extraterritorial scope while also minimizing competitive inequities between U.S. banking entities and their foreign counterparts…” with a particular focus on foreign funds.

The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Division of Trading and Markets (Staff) issued a no-action letter on October 29 to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which, in effect extends the effective date of recent changes to FOCUS reporting by registered broker-dealers. In August 2018, the SEC adopted amendments regarding, among other things, broker-dealer reporting with respect to reporting of extraordinary gains, the cumulative effect of changes in accounting principles, and comprehensive income reported on broker-dealer annual reports (i.e., Rule 17a-5). The amendments are scheduled to become effective for all filings made on and after November 5, 2018.

On July 6, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (together, the Agencies) issued an interagency statement (Statement) regarding the impact of the recently enacted Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the tongue-tying EGRRCPA), which we previously summarized. The new law amended the Dodd-Frank Act to streamline certain of its systemic regulation requirements, and provide a modest level of relief for midsized banks and community banking institutions. The Statement addressed some of the immediate impacts of EGRRCPA and the Agencies’ responses to those provisions that took effect immediately. The Federal Reserve Board also issued a separate conforming statement addressing the impact of EGRRCPA on bank holding companies subject to its supervision (FRB Statement).

Among other things, EGRRCPA increases the Dodd-Frank Act enhanced prudential supervision threshold for bank holding companies with $50 billion in total consolidated assets by exempting bank holding companies with total consolidated assets of less than $100 billion immediately upon enactment (May 24, 2018), and raising this threshold to $250 billion 18 months after the date of enactment (November 25, 2019). EGRRCPA also allows the application of any enhanced prudential standard to bank holding companies with between $100 billion and $250 billion in total consolidated assets.

Since taking on the role in November 2017, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting has been relatively circumspect regarding his views on the banking industry, bank regulation, and bank regulatory reform. In testimony on June 14 before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Comptroller Otting provided the clearest insight to date about his views on the federal banking system and the role of bank regulation.

In his testimony, Comptroller Otting first discussed risk in the banking system and the OCC’s “supervision by risk” approach, noting the following areas of heightened risk:

  • Elevated credit risk due to eased credit underwriting, increased commercial real estate concentration limits, and policy exceptions that create a higher level of concern
  • Elevated operational risk created by cybersecurity threats and third-party relationships, including risks created by consolidation in the fintech industry, which has led to a limited number of providers servicing large segments of the banking industry
  • Elevated compliance risk due to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements, the new FinCEN beneficial ownership rules, and new technologies that attempt to increase customer convenience and access to financial products and services, and the need for banks to better manage implementation of regulatory changes in consumer laws