Are Hedge Fund Managers Required to Disclose the Existence or Outcome of Regulatory Examinations to Current or Potential Investors?

Generally, two categories of hedge fund managers will be required to register with the SEC as investment advisers by March 30, 2012: (1) managers with assets under management (AUM) in the U.S. of at least $150 million that manage solely private funds; and (2) managers with AUM in the U.S. between $100 million and $150 million that manage at least one private fund and at least one other type of investment vehicle, such as a managed account.  See “Will Hedge Fund Managers That Do Not Have To Register with the SEC until March 30, 2012 Nonetheless Have To Register in New York, Connecticut, California or Other States by July 21, 2011?,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 24 (Jul. 14, 2011).  Registration will trigger a range of new obligations.  For example, registered hedge fund managers that do not already have a chief compliance officer (CCO) will have to hire one.  See “To Whom Should the Chief Compliance Officer of a Hedge Fund Manager Report?,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 22 (Jul. 1, 2011).  Also, registered hedge fund managers will have to complete, file and deliver, as appropriate, Form ADV.  See “Application of Brochure Delivery and Public Filing Requirements of New Form ADV to Offshore and Domestic Hedge Fund Managers,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 11 (Apr. 1, 2011).  But perhaps the most onerous new obligation for newly registered hedge fund managers will be the duty to prepare for, manage and survive SEC examinations.  Most hedge fund managers facing a registration requirement for the first time have hired high-caliber people and completed complex forms.  Therefore, hiring a CCO and completing Form ADV will exercise existing skill sets.  But few such managers have experienced anything like an SEC examination.  On the contrary, many such managers have spent years behind a veil of permissible secrecy, disclosing little, rarely disseminating information beyond top employees and large investors and interacting with the government only indirectly.  Examinations will change all that.  The government will show up at your office, often with little or no notice; they will ask to review substantially everything; and a culture of transparency will have to replace a culture of secrecy, where the latter sorts of cultures still exist.  (The SEC does not appreciate secrecy and has any number of ways of demonstrating its lack of appreciation.)  Hedge fund managers facing the new examination reality will have to think about two sets of issues.  The first set of issues relates to examination preparedness, and the Hedge Fund Law Report has written in depth on this topic.  See, e.g., “Legal and Practical Considerations in Connection with Mock Examinations of Hedge Fund Managers,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 26 (Aug. 4, 2011).  The second set of issues relates to examination management and survival, and that is the broad topic of this article.  Specifically, this article addresses a question that hedge fund managers inevitably face in connection with examinations: What should we tell investors and when and how?  To help hedge fund managers identify the relevant subquestions, think through the relevant issues and hopefully plan a disclosure strategy in advance of the commencement of an examination, this article discusses: the three types of SEC examinations and similar events that may trigger a disclosure examination; the five primary sources of a hedge fund manager’s potential disclosure obligation; whether and in what circumstances hedge fund managers must disclose the existence or outcome of the three types of SEC examinations; rules and expectations regarding responses to due diligence inquiries; selective and asymmetric disclosure issues; how hedge fund managers may reconcile the privileged information rights often granted to large investors in side letters with the fiduciary duty to make uniform disclosure to all investors; whether hedge fund managers must disclose deficiency letters in response to inquiries from current or potential investors, and whether such disclosure must be made even absent investor inquiries; whether managers that elect to disclose deficiency letters should disclose the letters themselves or only their contents; best practices with respect to the mechanics of disclosure (including how and when to use telephone and e-mail communications in this context); and whether deficiency letters may be obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

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