On December 22, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced new rules regarding advertising and marketing for investment advisors. The SEC passed the new rules to synthesize and modernize their “Advertising Rule” and “Cash Solicitation Rule” into a new, singular rule designed to regulate investment advisers’ marketing communications. This new rule, 206(4)-1, also known as the “Marketing Rule,” applies to all advertisements. The SEC provided a new definition of what an advertisement is under the Marketing Rule. The revised definition of advertisement has two parts:
First, the definition includes any direct or indirect communication an investment adviser makes that: (i) offers the investment adviser’s investment advisory services with regard to securities to prospective clients or private fund investors, or (ii) offers new investment advisory services with regard to securities to current clients or private fund investors. The first prong of the definition excludes most one-on-one communications and contains certain other exclusions.
Second, the definition generally includes any endorsement or testimonial for which an adviser provides cash and non-cash compensation directly or indirectly (e.g., directed brokerage, awards or other prizes, and reduced advisory fees).
Following the definition, which now includes endorsements or testimonials that promote awards won by the investment advisor, the SEC lists prohibitions. The Marketing Rule prohibits advertisements, “including or excluding performance results, or presenting performance time periods, in a manner that is not fair and balanced.” SEC-registered investment advisors (“RIAs”) must follow the standards set by the Marketing Rule and transition their advertisement of awards won and their performance results. The SEC provided an 18-month transitional period for SEC-registered investment advisors to conform to the new Marketing Rule. The 18-month window closed on November 4, 2022, and the SEC now requires full adherence to the rules.
RIAs seeking to promote third-party ratings, rankings, awards, and performance results through advertisements and social media are directly impacted by this new rule. The SEC dedicated an entire section to third-party ratings in its issuing release, so it is essential for RIAs to be in compliance. The SEC states Rule 206(4)-1(c) will “prohibit an investment adviser from including a third-party rating in an advertisement unless certain conditions are met.” Because of the SEC’s consideration of third-party ratings and awards as advertisements, the advertisement must follow general prohibitions.
The Marketing Rule prohibits making untrue statements of material fact. If the third-party rating entity is credible and the advisor does not use the rating inappropriately, then the prohibitions can be avoided. If the RIC plans to advertise one kind of service when the rating is for another kind of service, the Marketing Rule prohibitions apply.
Additionally, a third-party rating agency providing the rating or award must generate ratings as part of their normal course of business. The RIA also must fulfill two requirements to show the third-party rating or award is presented equally. First, they must show due diligence. The RIA must “have a reasonable basis that any questionnaire or survey used in the preparation of the third-party rating is structured to make it equally easy for a participant to provide favorable and unfavorable responses, and is not designed or prepared to produce any predetermined result.” To comply with the due diligence requirements, RIAs can look at the rating methodology and show the rating is not one-sided or seek representations from the third-party rating agency regarding general aspects of how the survey or questionnaire is designed, structured, and administered. Alternatively, a third party rating provider may publicly disclose similar information about its survey or questionnaire methodology.
The second requirement is disclosure. The RIA must disclose, or ensure the third-party rater has disclosed the date the rating was given, the identity of the third-party that created and tabulated the rating, and if compensation has been provided directly or indirectly by the adviser in connection with obtaining or using the third-party rating. When presenting the rating, the RIA must ensure these disclosures are presented with equal prominence as the rating itself. With the additional attention of the due diligence and disclosure requirements of the Marketing Rule, promoting ratings and awards continue to be possible as long as they are credible.
With the SEC’s focus on solicitation activity regarding awards and ratings, it is imperative of RIAs to review and update their policies and procedures for the publication of awards on their websites, communications, and social media. Given the complexity of the Marketing Rule and the scrutiny of advertising practices, investment advisers should be fully engaged in implementing new policies for their advertisements in compliance with the Marketing Rule.
 SEC Adopts Modernized Marketing Rule for Investment Advisers, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, (Dec. 22, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-334.
 Scott L. Beal, Kerry Potter McCormick, Scott Budlong, Travis Ortiz, Paige McHugh, Compliance Date Approaching For New Marketing Rule For Investment Advisers, Vol. XII, The National Law Review, 319 (2022)
 SEC Adopts Modernized Marketing Rule for Investment Advisers, supra note 1.
 17 CFR Part 275 and 279.
 Benjamin Bishop, SEC Marketing Rule: Implications for news releases that promote third-party ratings and rankings, Lowe Group Financial Communications, (Aug. 3, 2022), https://lowecom.com/2022/08/03/sec-marketing-rule-implications-for-news-releases-that-promote-third-party-ratings-and-rankings/.
 17 CFR Part 275 and 279.
 Benjamin Bishop, supra note 10.
Tags: Kaitlin Gaghan, Paul Fenaroli, Securities Regulatory
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