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Subscription Lines: Growing Tensions Between Fund Managers and Investors

July 19, 2017

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The use of subscription lines to cover capital calls has evolved from short term bridge facilities (generally paid off within 90 days) into longer term facilities used by fund managers for cash management and greater flexibility in completing transactions, through the avoidance of the immediate need to call for capital from the fund’s limited investors.  This expended use of subscription lines, however, has raised certain issues for limited partners in connection with and the alignment of their economic interests in subscription line use with the interests of the general partner.  The Institutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA) recently published new guidance in this area:  Subscription Lines of Credit and Alignment of Interests: Considerations and Best Practices for Limited and General Partners (June 2017).

Major areas of the ILPA’s concern with the use of subscription lines include:

  • Performance Comparability; Claw back Issues. The ability to delay the actual call for capital compresses the J-curve changing the calculation of the internal rate of return (IRR) and related preferred return thresholds.  This makes it more difficult to compare fund performance across funds.  Also, if the calculations are made from the time of the actual capital call rather than the time a draw is made on the line of credit, the IRR may be greater and preferred return hurdles may be achieved earlier.  The early achievement of such hurdles may also lead to claw back issues if the general partner receives amounts which ultimately need to be returned due to poorer fund performance later on.
  • Expenses. A subscription line creates direct upfront expenses for the partnership.  Poor performing funds may not be able to recoup some of those expenses.
  • Liquidity. An event of default on a subscription line related to a manager, or an event affecting the market generally, can result in there being multiple simultaneous capital calls, which may strain some limited partner resources.  The expanded use of subscription lines can mask, to some extent, the aggregate exposure of some limited partners.
  • Ceding Control to Lenders.  The terms of the subscription lines may cede control to lenders under certain circumstances on various fund decisions and assignments.  Limited partners may have entered these investments based on their view of the manager, but now some of the manager’s discretion may have shifted to the lenders.
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New CFPB Rule Prohibits Class Action Waivers

On July 10, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a rule prohibiting class action waivers in certain pre-dispute arbitration agreements. The rule drastically impacts arbitration clauses currently used by many financial products and services providers in their consumer agreements.

The rule has three main components. First, the rule prohibits providers from using a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to prevent consumers from bringing or participating in class actions in federal and state court. Second, the rule requires that arbitration agreements inform consumers that their right to bring a class action is unrestricted. Third, the rule requires providers to supply certain records and data relating to arbitral proceedings to the CFPB.

The rule is effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and generally applies to agreements entered into more than 180 days after the effective date. Congress, however, can use the Congressional Review Act to prevent the rule from taking effect.

What is the effect of the rule?

The new rule prohibits pre-dispute arbitration agreements for certain consumer financial products or services that block consumer class actions in federal and state courts. The rule accomplishes this in two ways:

  1. providers cannot rely on any pre-dispute arbitration agreement entered after the compliance date that restricts or eliminates a consumer’s right to a class action in state or federal court (§ 1040.4(a)(1)); and
  2. providers must include certain specified plain language in arbitration agreements that explicitly disclaims the arbitration agreements applicability to class actions (§ 1040.4(a)(2)).

The rule also requires providers to submit certain records relating to arbitral proceedings to the bureau, including copies of pleadings, the pre-dispute arbitration agreement, and the judgment. (§ 1040(b).)

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Do you have an ATM-oriented board in an increasingly iPhone-oriented world?

In the run up to the Fourth of July holiday, you may have missed that June 27 was the 50th anniversary of the first ATM and June 29 was the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone.  I was struck by the coincidence of these two anniversaries occurring in the same week.  It also caused me to revisit in my mind a concern that has been growing for some time.

During several recent bank board retreats and strategic planning sessions, I’ve witnessed the challenging dynamics that occur when leaders begin the process of “board refreshment.”  Board refreshment is the current euphemism being used by consultants (and by the proxy advisory firms) to refer to the need for a closer match between the strategic goals of banks and the skill sets of board members.  This need is especially apparent in the boards of many mid-sized regional and community banks.

We are living in a time of increasing change in the demographics (gender, race and age) of the customer base of banks, coupled with rapid technological developments which impact the ways in which commercial customers conduct their businesses and interact with other businesses, including with their banks.  The typical board of a mid-sized regional or community bank, however, consists of men in their mid to upper-sixties who share similar backgrounds and whose perspectives were shaped during a different era for both business and banking.  The concern I have is that continued adherence by banks to such board composition will result in competitive disadvantage.

I’ve been practicing law and advising banks for over 30 years, and for most of that period I don’t think it mattered as much how strong the typical community bank board was.  What mattered was the strength and competency of the CEO, and it was a bonus if the bank had an energetic and engaged board of directors.  I believe there is now an increasing need for stronger boards.  Take a moment and consider how well equipped your board is to help guide your bank through the period of rapid change that is on the near term horizon.

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No Fiduciary Duty Between Lead and Participants

July 10, 2017

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A recent decision out of federal court arising out of litigation involving a Ponzi scheme has reinforced the principle that the lead in a loan participation does not owe a fiduciary duty to participants.  The case of Finn v. Moyes (Finn v. Moyes,  2017 WL 1194192 (D Minn 2017)) arose from a Ponzi scheme whereby First United Funding, LLC (“First United”) defrauded numerous banks of over $90 million.  A receiver was appointed to recover funds and sued a number of parties for, among other things, aiding and abetting the fraud carried on by First United.

The receiver claimed that one group of defendants (the “Moyes”) had actual knowledge of the fraudulent conduct and aided and abetted First United by fraudulently over-pledging collateral. The Receiver also alleged that the most of the other loans made by First United were to parties that the Moyes had introduced to First United.

Moyes moved for summary judgment on the Receiver’s aiding and abetting claim. The court noted that under Minnesota law to prove its claim the Receiver would need to show: (1) First United committed a tort that caused an injury to the participant banks; (2) Moyes knew that First United’s conduct constituted a breach of duty; and (3) Moyes substantially assisted or encouraged First United in the achievement of the breach.

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Midyear 2017 Banking Review

Midyear 2017 Banking Review

July 7, 2017

Authored by: Robert Klingler

the-bank-accountOn the latest episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I discuss some of the key trends from the first six months of 2017 with regard to the banking industry.  Topics covered include:

  • stock market performance (banks down for the six months, but still way up over the last 12 months);
  • merger and acquisition activity (same number but larger than last year, plus a more in depth look at North Carolina);
  • de novo activity (or lack thereof);
  • regulatory relief (and definitely lack thereof); and
  • capital raise activity (going strong).

We also congratulate each other on finishing the Peachtree Road Race (Jonathan’s first, my fiftheenth) and Jonathan shares a story where he seems to have exchanged an unfortunate woman’s micro-humiliation related to a debit card denial to a larger humiliation due to poor interpersonal skills.  With this episode we are fully switching to our summer schedule, so the next episode will be in a couple weeks.

You can also always follow us on Twitter.  Jonathan is @HightowerBanks and I’m @RobertKlingler.  I promise to try to restrain Jonathan from humiliating you on Twitter in the event that you decide to follow us.

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Bank Website ADA Litigation

Although the frequency of bank clients receiving demand letters related to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)  based on website (in)accessibility seems to be declining, Bryan Cave lawyers around the country continue to be actively involved in defending such claims in other industries.  In addition to working with the Georgia Bankers Association and the California Bankers Association, Bryan Cave has published updates through a number of blogs that may be of value to our banking clients.

In April, Start Up Bryan Cave, our blog focusing on start ups of all kinds, published “Best Practices for your Corporate Website: How to Avoid an ADA Claim.”

Making your company’s website ADA compliant now, before your company is a target of a lawsuit or a demand letter, makes good business sense.  It will open your company up to more potential customers, limit your liability, position you to deal effectively with the regulatory challenges of growth, improve your company’s reputation in the marketplace and is simply the right thing to do.  Also, being proactive in establishing compliance protocols for your growing company will cause you to stand out among your competitors, make you more attractive to potential investors and partners, and can greatly mitigate any regulatory actions if a regulatory agency decides to audit your business.

In June, BC Retail Law, our blog focusing on clients in the retail sector, published “Retailer Loses ADA Website Accessibility Trial” about the first ADA accessibility litigation to go to trial.  The Court held that Winn-Dixie violated Title III of the ADA because its website was inaccessible to the visually impaired plaintiff.

[D]espite the fact that Winn-Dixie does not conduct sales through its website, the Court found that the website was “heavily integrated” with the physical store locations because customers can use the website to access digital coupons, find store locations, and refill prescriptions through the website.

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The HVCRE Easter Egg for Community Banks

July 5, 2017

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We have written several times about the rules concerning the appropriate risk weighting for High Volatility Commercial Real Estate (“HVCRE”) loans. The interagency FAQ published on April 6, 2015 provided some guidance but many banks continue to have questions about fact situations that are not addressed under the regulation.  Despite indications that an interagency task force was looking at a further set of FAQ nothing has yet come out. Despite that, there are actually grounds for optimism that the rules will yet be simplified.

Section 2222 of the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act of 1996 (EGRPRA)  requires that, not less than once every 10 years, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) must conduct a review of their regulations to identify outdated or otherwise unnecessary regulatory requirements imposed on insured depository institutions. In conducting this review, the statute requires the FFIEC or the agencies to categorize their regulations by type and, at regular intervals, provide notice and solicit public comment on categories of regulations, requesting commenters to identify areas of regulations that are outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome.

In late spring of this year the FFIEC reported to Congress that one of its goals was to simplify the capital rules for community banks. The very first area of attention listed under that heading was to replace the complex treatment of HVCRE exposures with a more straightforward treatment for most acquisition, development, or construction (“ADC”) loans. While the agencies are not ready to lift the curtain on what the revised rule might look like they did cite certain comments they had received from community banks including (i) that the definition of HVCRE is neither clear nor consistent with established safe and sound lending practices; (ii) the 150 percent risk weight applied to HVCRE lending is simply too high; (iii) the criteria for determining whether an ADC loan may qualify for an exemption from the HVCRE risk weight are confusing and do not track relevant or appropriate risk drivers; and (iv) in particular, commenters expressed concern over the requirements that exempted ADC projects include a 15 percent borrower equity contribution, and that any equity in an exempted project, whether contributed initially or internally generated, remain within the project (i.e., internally generated income may not be paid out in the form of dividends or otherwise) for the life of the project.

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Public Banks and Proxy Advisors

the-bank-accountOn the latest episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I were joined by our colleague, Kevin Strachan, to discuss the role and importance of the various proxy advisory services.  Corporate governance continues to be a hot topic in the industry, and the proxy advisory services have a significant sway in determining what provisions are deemed “acceptable” by many institutional investors.

Within the podcast, we look at the two primary proxy advisory services, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS, not to be confused with ISIS, although we have them pronounced identically by some frustrated boards) and Glass Lewis.  We look at the differences between the two services, where they’ve historically focused, and ways in which they sometimes have diminished power and sometimes enhanced power.

As with so many issues, obtaining the right corporate governance for any individual bank or holding company is not something that should simply be taken off a shelf (or off a podcast).  Instead, we encourage interested parties to engage experienced counsel, such as Bryan Cave LLP, to identify the best individualized approach for the specific situation.

You can also always follow us on Twitter.  Jonathan is @HightowerBanks, Kevin is @KevinStrachan, and I’m @RobertKlingler.

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Changes in Georgia’s Law on Director Duties

On July 1, 2017, significant amendments to the director and officer liability provisions of Georgia’s Financial Institution Code and Business Corporation Code will take effect.  These amendments, adopted as House Bill 192 during the 2017 General Assembly session and signed into law by Governor Deal in May, enhance the protections available to directors and officers of Georgia banks when they are sued for violating their duty of care to the bank.  The amendments also apply to directors and officers of Georgia corporations, including bank holding companies.

First and foremost, House Bill 192 creates a statutory presumption, codified at O.C.G.A. § 7-1-490(c) for banks and at O.C.G.A. §§ 14-2-830(c) and 14-2-842(c) for corporations, that a director or officer’s decision-making process was done in good faith and that the director or officer exercised due care.  This presumption may be rebutted, however, by evidence that the process employed was grossly negligent, thus effectively creating a gross negligence standard of liability in civil lawsuits against directors and officers.  This is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in FDIC v. Loudermilk, in which the Court recognized the existence of a strong business judgment rule in Georgia but also held that it did not supplant Georgia’s statutory standards of care requiring ordinary diligence.  The Court interpreted the statutes as permitting ordinary negligence claims against directors and officers when they are premised on negligence in the decision-making process.  (As you may recall, Loudermilk also held emphatically that claims challenging only the wisdom of a corporate decision, as opposed to the decision-making process, cannot be brought absent a showing of fraud, bad faith or an abuse of discretion.  This part of the Loudermilk decision is unaffected by the new amendments.)  Many Georgia banks and businesses expressed concern that allowing ordinary negligence suits would open the door to dubious and harassing litigation.  The Court’s opinion noted these concerns but held that they were for the General Assembly to address.

As amended, O.C.G.A. § 7-1-490(c) and its corporate code counterparts will foreclose the possibility of ordinary negligence claims by requiring a plaintiff (which can be a shareholder, the bank or corporation itself, or a receiver or conservator) to show evidence of gross negligence, which the statutes define as a “gross deviation of the standard of care of a director or officer in a like position under similar circumstances.”   It is important to note that the actual standard of care that directors and officers must exercise is essentially unchanged.  As we have written in the past, it is important for a bank board in today’s legal and business environment to develop careful processes for all decisions that are entrusted to the board, and to follow those processes.  A director should attend board meetings with reasonable regularity and should always act on an informed basis, which necessarily entails understanding the bank’s business, financial condition and overall affairs as well as facts relevant to the specific decision at issue.  The new amendments should not be read as relaxing these requirements.  The only thing that has changed is the standard of review that courts will follow when evaluating a process-related duty of care claim.  By requiring plaintiffs to show gross negligence in order to defeat the statutory presumption, the amended statute should discourage the filing of dubious lawsuits, and also provide defendants with a strong basis for moving to dismiss such suits when they are filed.  Many states, including Delaware, recognize a gross negligence floor for personal liability either by statute or under the common law.  The amendments bring Georgia law more closely in line with these states.

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New Broad Treasuries Repo Rate “Best Practice” Benchmark

On June 22, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (the “ARRC”) identified a broad Treasuries repo financing rate (the “Broad Treasuries Financing Rate”) that, according to the ARRC, in its consensus view represents best practice for use in certain new U.S. dollar derivatives and other financial contracts.

The work of the ARRC grew out of the past instances of manipulation of the LIBOR market which caused a loss of confidence in LIBOR – particularly as it had previously been determined and reported – as a reliable interest rate benchmark.  That led the G20 to instruct the Financial Stability Board to review broadly-recognized interest rate benchmarks and devise a plan to ensure that the construction of these benchmarks are sound and used appropriately in the markets.  According to the Working Group on Alternative Interest Rates initiated by the Federal Reserve in furtherance of the plan, the goals were two-fold: (1) strengthen the integrity of existing benchmark rates, and (2) develop alternative reference rates that would be free of many of the risks (including manipulation) associated with existing benchmarks.  The Broad Treasuries Financing Rate would be one such alternative rate.

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