GUIDANCE ON THE PROHIBITION ON UNDERWRITING ISSUES OF MUNICIPAL SECURITIES FOR WHICH A FINANCIAL ADVISORY RELATIONSHIP EXISTS UNDER RULE G-23
November 27, 2011
MSRB Rule G-23 establishes certain basic requirements applicable to a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer (“dealer”) acting as a financial advisor with respect to the issuance of municipal securities. MSRB Rule G-23(d) provides that a dealer that has a financial advisory relationship with respect to the issuance of municipal securities is precluded from acquiring all or any portion of such issue, directly or indirectly, from the issuer as principal, either alone or as a participant in a syndicate or other similar account formed for that purpose. A dealer is also precluded from arranging the placement of an issue with respect to which it has a financial advisory relationship. This notice refers to both of these activities as “underwritings” and provides interpretive guidance on when a dealer may be precluded by Rule G-23(d) from underwriting an issue of municipal securities due to having served as financial advisor with respect to that issue. Rule G-23 is solely a conflicts rule. Accordingly, this notice does not address whether provision of the advice permitted by Rule G-23 would cause the dealer to be considered a “municipal advisor” under the Exchange Act and the rules promulgated thereunder.
Rule G-23(b) provides, among other things, that a financial advisory relationship shall be deemed to exist for purposes of Rule G-23 when a dealer renders or enters into an agreement to provide financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to the issuance of municipal securities, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms, and other similar matters concerning such issue or issues. Rule G-23(b) also provides, however, that a financial advisory relationship shall not be deemed to exist when, in the course of acting as an underwriter and not as a financial advisor, a dealer provides advice to an issuer, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms, and other similar matters concerning the issuance of municipal securities.
Although Rule G-23(c) requires a financial advisory relationship to be evidenced by a writing, a financial advisory relationship will be deemed to exist whenever a dealer renders the types of advice provided for in Rule G-23(b), regardless of the existence of a written agreement. However, a dealer that clearly identifies itself in writing as an underwriter and not as a financial advisor from the earliest stages of its relationship with the issuer with respect to that issue (e.g.
, in a response to a request for proposals or in promotional materials provided to an issuer) will be considered to be “acting as an underwriter” under Rule G-23(b) with respect to that issue. The writing must make clear that the primary role of an underwriter is to purchase, or arrange for the placement of, securities in an arm’s-length commercial transaction between the issuer and the underwriter and that the underwriter has financial and other interests that differ from those of the issuer. The dealer must not engage in a course of conduct that is inconsistent with an arm’s-length relationship with the issuer in connection with such issue of municipal securities or the dealer will be deemed to be a financial advisor with respect to that issue and precluded from underwriting that issue by Rule G-23(d). Thus, a dealer providing advice to an issuer with respect to the issuance of municipal securities (including the structure, timing, and terms of the issue and other similar matters, when integrally related to the issue being underwritten) will not be viewed as a financial advisor for purposes of Rule G-23, if such advice is rendered in its capacity as underwriter for such issue. In addition to engaging in underwriting activities, it shall not be a violation of Rule G-23(d) for a dealer that states that it is acting as an underwriter with respect to the issuance of municipal securities to provide advice with respect to the investment of the proceeds of the issue, municipal derivatives integrally related to the issue, or other similar matters concerning the issue.
NOTICE ON APPLICATION OF BOARD RULES TO FINANCIAL ADVISORY SERVICES RENDERED TO CORPORATE OBLIGORS ON INDUSTRIAL DEVELEPMONT BONDS
May 23, 1983
In a recent letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission has taken the position that private placements of industrial development bonds ("IDBs") constitute transactions in municipal securities as defined in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board has received a number of inquiries concerning this letter. The Board is publishing this notice for the purposes of: (1) reviewing the application of its rules to private placements of municipal securities and (2) expressing its views concerning whether certain Board rules apply to financial advisory services rendered by municipal securities dealers and brokers to corporate obligors on IDBs.
A. Private Placements of IDBs
The Board’s rules apply, of course, to all transactions in municipal securities, including securities which are IDBs. The SEC letter dealt in particular with the activities of commercial banks. That letter pointed out that if a commercial bank has a registered municipal securities dealer department, under Board rule G-1, which defines the term "separately identifiable department or division of a bank," any private placement activities of the bank in securities which are IDBs must be conducted as a part of the registered dealer department. The Board urges all bank dealers which have registered as a separately identifiable department or division to review their organizations and assure that all departments or units which engage in the private placement of IDBs are designated on the bank’s Form MSD registration and other applicable bank records as part of its separately identifiable department or division. The Board also notes that such activities must be under the supervision of a person designated by the bank’s board of directors as responsible for these activities. In addition, under Board rule G-3, concerning professional qualifications, persons who are engaged in privately placing municipal securities must be qualified as municipal securities representatives and be supervised with respect to that activity by a qualified municipal securities principal.
B. Financial Advisory Services Rendered to Corporate Obligors on IDBs
Board rules G-1 and G-3 provide that rendering "financial advisory or consultant services for issuers" is an activity to which those rules are applicable (emphasis added). Similarly, Board rule G-23, on the activities of financial advisors, applies to brokers, dealers, and municipal securities dealers who agree to render "financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer" (emphasis added). Clearly these rules are applicable to financial advisory services rendered to state or local governments and their agencies, as well as to municipal corporations. In the Board’s view, however, rules G-1, G-3, and G-23 do not apply to financial advisory services which are provided to corporate obligors in connection with proposed IDB financings.
The Board wishes to emphasize that the scope of its definition of financial advisory services is limited to "advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms, and other similar matters" concerning a proposed issue. If persons providing such advice to the corporate obligor on an IDB issue also participate in negotiations with prospective purchasers or are otherwise engaged in effecting placement of the issue, then, as indicated above, rules G-1 and G-3 would apply to their activities.
[Excerpts of the Commission letter follow:]
This is in response to your letter of December 1, 1981, requesting our views concerning certain activities by commercial banks in connection with industrial development bonds ("IDBs"). Specifically, you asked (1) whether the private placement activities of banks in IDBs involve transactions in municipal securities, (2) whether involvement in such activities alone would require such banks to register with the Commission under Section 15B of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act") as municipal securities dealers, (3) whether a bank that had registered a separately identifiable department or division with the Commission as a municipal securities dealer would be required to conduct such activities through such separately identifiable department or division, and (4) if such bank activities are required to be conducted in the separately identifiable department or division, whether the advisory services provided by those banks to the corporate obligor on an IDB should be regarded as advisory services provided to an issuer of municipal securities in connection with the issuance of municipal securities. Pursuant to your letter and subsequent telephone conversations, we understand the following facts to be typical of the activities in question.
A commercial bank offers private placement and financial advisory services to corporate entities on a regular and continuous basis. From time to time the bank recommends to the corporate entity that IDBs be used to raise capital. The bank advises the corporate entity regarding the terms and timing of the proposed IDB issuance, prepares the Direct Placement Memorandum describing the terms of the IDB, and contacts potential purchasers of the IDB. Such purchasers then make independent reviews of the corporate entity’s financial status. The bank then obtains comments from the potential buyers and relays such comments to the corporate entity. The bank might also assist the corporate entity in subsequent negotiations with the purchasers. An industrial development authority nominally issues the IDB on behalf of the corporate entity which becomes the economic obligor on the issue.
The bank engages in these activities in order to assist the corporate obligor in the sale of the IDBs. In return for its services, the bank receives from the corporate entity either a fixed fee or a percentage of the proceeds of the sale. The bank does not purchase any of the IDBs. The bank could, however, supply "bridge loans" to the corporate entity pending receipt of the proceeds of the IDB sale. In addition, the bank might provide investors with a letter of credit committing the bank to pay any interest or principal not paid by the corporate issuer. The bank might also act as trustee or paying agent for the nominal issuer of the IDB, for which the bank would receive a set fee.
IDBs AS MUNICIPAL SECURITIES
Section 3(a)(10) of the Exchange Act defines a "security" as, among other things, "any note… bond, debenture… investment contract, …or in general, any instrument commonly known as a ‘security’… " Section 3(a)(29) of the Exchange Act defines "municipal securities" to include any security which is an industrial development bond as defined in Section 103(b)(2) of the Code the interest on which is tax-exempt under Sections 103(b)(4) or 103(b)(6) of the Code. In our opinion, the private placement activities you have described involve transactions in municipal securities as defined in the Exchange Act.
REGISTRATION AS MUNICIPAL SECURITIES DEALER
Section 15B(a) of the Exchange Act makes it unlawful for any municipal securities dealer to use the mails or any instrumentality of interstate commerce to "effect any transaction in, or to induce or attempt to induce the purchase or sale of, any municipal security unless such municipal securities dealer is registered" with the Commission. Section 3(a)(30) of the Exchange Act defines "municipal securities dealer" to include a bank or a separately identifiable department or division of a bank if that bank is engaged in the business of buying and selling municipal securities for its own account other than in a fiduciary capacity, through a broker or otherwise. Banks that engage solely in private placement activities in IDBs as described by you would not be required to register as municipal securities dealers since they do not appear to be engaged in the business of buying and selling municipal securities for their own accounts, but rather appear to be acting as brokers. Section 3(a)(4) of the Exchange Act defines the term broker as "any person engaged in the business of effecting transactions in securities for the account of others, but does not include a bank." Since they are excluded from the definition of broker, banks that act solely as brokers need not register under the Exchange Act.
INCLUSION IN SEPARATELY IDENTIFIABLE DEPARTMENT OR DIVISION
Section 15B(b)(2)(H) of the Exchange Act authorizes the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the "MSRB") to make rules defining the term "separately identifiable department or division" ("SID") of a bank as used in Section 3(a)(30) of the Exchange Act. MSRB rule G-1 defines the SID as "that unit of the bank which conducts all the activities of the bank relating to the conduct of business as a municipal securities dealer…" The rule defines municipal securities dealer activities to include "sales of municipal securities" and "financial advisory and consultant services for issuers in connection with the issuance of municipal securities." Therefore, those banks that have registered an SID with the Commission also must conduct the private placement activities within the SID in accordance with MSRB rules…
Based upon the facts and representations set forth in your letter, it would appear that the private placement activities of banks involving IDBs, as described in your example, constitute transactions in municipal securities that, if done alone, would not require a bank to register with the Commission as a municipal securities dealer. However, such activities, when conducted by a bank municipal securities dealer that had registered a separately identifiable department or division, would be treated as municipal securities dealer activities and, therefore, would be required to be conducted in the bank’s dealer department…
 Rule G-23(b).
 You have represented that the IDBs involved would be primarily those defined in Section 103(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (the "Code"), the interest on which is tax-exempt under Sections 103(b)(4) and 103(b)(6) of the Code.
This determination is based on an analysis of the specific facts as described by you. Different facts and circumstances could result in a transaction involving municipal debt instruments being treated as loan participations not subject to the federal securities laws. Such determinations can only be made on a case by case basis after a thorough examination of the context of the transaction.
 See letter dated February 17, 1977, from Anne E. Chafer, Attorney, Securities and Exchange Commission, to Bruce F. Golden and letter dated January 11, 1982, from Thomas G. Lovett, Attorney, Securities and Exchange Commission, to Harriet E. Munrett regarding Citytrust of Bridgeport, Connecticut.