Key Legal Considerations in Connection with the Movement of Talent from Proprietary Trading Desks to Start-Up or Existing Hedge Fund Managers: The Talent Perspective (Part One of Three)

Talent has always been mobile in the hedge fund industry.  But at least seven factors are increasing the pace with which hedge fund talent − investment talent (portfolio managers, analysts, traders) as well as non-investment talent (professionals focusing on marketing, operations, law, accounting, compliance and technology) − is moving from proprietary trading desks at investment or commercial banks (prop desks) to a range of other entities, most notably, start-up and existing hedge fund managers.  First, the Volcker Rule generally prohibits U.S. banking institutions and non-U.S. banking institutions with U.S. banking operations from: (1) proprietary trading unrelated to customer-driven business; and (2) sponsoring or investing in hedge funds or private equity funds, or engaging in certain covered transactions with advised or managed hedge funds or private equity funds.  See "Implications of the Volcker Rule – Managing Hedge Fund Affiliations with Banks," Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 3, No. 10 (Mar. 11, 2010).  Second, many of the investment and commercial banks that house proprietary trading desks have been subject to explicit or implicit restrictions on or reviews of compensation of key personnel.  Third, the availability of hedge fund seed funding has increased.  For example, a December 2010 survey conducted by private fund data provider Preqin found that the number of hedge fund investors expressing an interest in seed investments has almost doubled, from 11 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in 2010.  See also "How to Structure Exit Provisions in Hedge Fund Seeding Arrangements," Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 3, No. 40 (Oct. 15, 2010).  Fourth, many existing hedge fund managers have renegotiated, reset or regained their high water marks.  See "How Are Hedge Fund Managers with Funds Under their High Water Marks Renegotiating Performance Fees or Allocations?," Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 2, No. 33 (Aug. 19, 2009).  Fifth, many hedge fund industry professionals have no choice: they have been fired from prop desks, and plying their trade at a new institution is their highest value opportunity.  Sixth, according to a Fall 2010 Institutional Investor Survey conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch Capital Introductions, institutional investors are considerably more “bullish” on alternative investments than they are about traditional equities and fixed income investments.  Seventh, and finally, there is a considerable volume of dormant savings, particularly in the developing world (especially the so-called BRIC countries) and parts of developed Asia; many of the new funds being launched (by new or existing managers) are intended to tap this well of savings.  See "Local Currency Hedge Funds Expand Marketing and Investment Opportunities, but Involve Currency Hedging and Other Challenges," Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan. 6, 2010).  Despite these seven factors (and there are likely others) motivating and hastening the movement of talent into and within the hedge fund industry, talent does not move in an entirely free market.  Rather, the mobility of talent is bound up in a web of legal and practical restrictions.  The basic purpose of this article − the first in a three-part series − is to identify relevant legal issues and offer practical suggestions to help talent negotiate the transition from a prop desk to the next hedge fund opportunity.  (The second article in this series will look at talent moves from the bank perspective, and a third article will look at talent moves from the perspective of the hedge fund management company to which the talent moves.)  To serve its purpose, this article discusses the following: the definition of "talent" (we are using the word as shorthand for a variety of typical job descriptions); the working definition of proprietary trading; the various types of entities from which and to which talent may move; which types of entities are likely to be the biggest winners in the movement of talent away from prop desks, and why; examples of recent talent moves from prop desks to other institutions; key legal considerations applicable to all moving hedge fund talent, whether such talent is moving to an existing hedge fund manager or starting its own shop (this discussion includes subtopics such as non-competition agreements, non-solicitation agreements, ownership of performance data and intellectual property, etc.); the key legal considerations specific to talent leaving a prop desk to start a new hedge fund management company; and the chief practical and cultural issues faced by talent that departs a prop desk to start or participate in running a hedge fund management company.

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