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January 5, 2011
NFA provides guidance for disclosure of conflicts of interests arising from Typical Incentive Fee Arrangements by commodity pool operators and commodity trading advisors
In 1997, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) delegated the review of Disclosure Documents submitted by commodity pool operators (CPO) and commodity trading advisors (CTA) to NFA. The Division of Clearing and Intermediary Oversight (DCIO) performs periodic oversight of NFA's implementation of its delegated authority. As part of these reviews, DCIO staff has recently communicated to NFA by letter dated December 2, 2010 its position as to the disclosure of conflicts of interests that arise from typical incentive fee arrangements. NFA is providing the following guidance based upon DCIO's letter to assist members in complying with the requirements as they relate to the disclosure of conflicts of interests.
CFTC Regulations 4.24(j) and 4.34(j) require CPOs and CTAs to include in their respective Disclosure Documents a "full description of any actual or potential conflicts of interest" regarding "any aspect" of their pools or trading programs as it concerns an enumerated list of entities, including the CPOs and CTAs themselves.
DCIO staff's guidance relates specifically to the conflicts of interests arising from the collection of incentive fees by CPOs and CTAs. The typical incentive fee collected by a CPO or CTA is usually a fixed percentage of new profits that exceed a pool's or an account's previous high-water mark. DCIO stated that from one perspective, the typical incentive fee can be viewed as aligning the interests of the CPOs and CTAs with the interests of their clients as the fee ensures that CPOs and CTAs are compensated in proportion to their clients' gains, which plainly incentivizes CPOs and CTAs to pursue investment strategies that will seek to maximize returns for their clients. DCIO further states that the typical incentive fee can also be viewed as placing the interests of CPOs and CTAs in conflict with the interests of their clients. From this perspective, the incentive fee could encourage a CPO or CTA to take excessive risks in an attempt to earn an outsized incentive fee. Because the typical fee is generally paid quarterly and is not subject to clawbacks for poor long-term performance, the typical incentive fee can be viewed as an incentive for CPOs and CTAs to take greater short-term risks, which may conflict with their clients' long-term interests.
DCIO staff's guidance prescribes that every CPO or CTA that charges a typical incentive fee include in its Disclosure Document a discussion that the incentive fee may encourage a CPO or CTA to take excessive risks to earn an outsized incentive fee, and that such risk-taking may place the interests of the CPO and CTA in conflict with the interests of its clients. Furthermore, DCIO has indicated that the fact that Regulations 4.24(i) and 4.34(i) require the disclosure of fees and expenses (from which conflicts of interest frequently arise) does not mitigate or lessen the required discussion of conflicts of interest.
CPOs and CTAs are encouraged to review their existing Disclosure Documents in light of DCIO's guidance and make any necessary changes prior to submitting subsequent filings of the document. If you have any questions concerning this notice or Disclosure Documents generally, please contact Mary McHenry, Senior Manager, Compliance (firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-781-1420) or Susan Koprowski, Manager, Compliance (email@example.com or 312-781-1288).