Rule G-23 Activities of Financial Advisors


FINANCIAL ADVISORY RELATIONSHIP: PRIVATE PLACEMENTS - October 5, 1999

Financial advisory relationship: private placements. This is in response to your letter in which you seek clarification on certain matters related to rules G-23, on activities of financial advisors, and G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business.

You ask when it is "necessary in the process of commencing preliminary work with a potential financial advisory client to enter into a formal written financial advisory contract." Rule G-23(c) states that "[e]ach financial advisory relationship shall be evidenced by a writing entered into prior to, upon or promptly after the inception of the financial advisory relationship (or promptly after the creation or selection of the issuer if the issuer does not exist or has not been determined at the time the relationship commences)." Rule G-23(b) states that "...a financial advisory relationship shall be deemed to exist when a broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms and other similar matters concerning such issue or issues, for a fee or other compensation or in expectation of such compensation for the rendering of such services."

You ask whether you are to advise the Board by means of reporting on Form G-37/G-38 or by any other means when you commence work on subsequent financing transactions with an issuer with which your firm has an ongoing financial advisory contract. The Instructions for Completing and Filing Form G-37/G-38 provide a guideline to use in determining when to report financial advisory services on Form G-37/G-38.[1] Pursuant to these Instructions, dealers should indicate financial advisory services when an agreement is reached to provide the services. In addition, the Instructions note that dealers also should indicate financial advisory services during a reporting period when the settlement date for a new issue on which the dealer acted as financial advisor occurred during such period. There are no other requirements for reporting financial advisory services to the Board.

Finally, you ask whether rules G-23 or G-37 contain requirements concerning private placement activities. The term "municipal securities business" is defined in rule G-37 to include "the offer or sale of a primary offering of municipal securities on behalf of any issuer ( e.g. , private placement)..." The Instructions for Completing and Filing Form G-37/G-38 provide that private placements should be indicated at least by the settlement date if within the reporting period.

With respect to rule G-23, section (d) of the rule states that no dealer that has a financial advisory relationship with respect to a new issue of municipal securities shall acquire as principal either alone or as a participant in a syndicate or other similar account formed for the purpose of purchasing, directly or indirectly, from the issuer all or any portion of such issue, or act as agent for the issuer in arranging the placement of such issue, unless various actions are taken.[2] In addition, rule G-23(g) states that each dealer subject to the provisions of sections (d), (e) or (f) of rule G-23 shall maintain a copy of the written disclosures, acknowledgments and consents required by these sections in a separate file and in accordance with the provisions of rule G-9, on preservation of records. Finally, rule G-23(h) states that, if a dealer acquires new issue municipal securities or participates in a syndicate or other account that acquires new issue municipal securities in accordance with section (d) of rule G-23, such dealer shall disclose the existence of the financial advisory relationship in writing to each customer who purchases such securities from such dealer, at or before the completion of the transaction with the customer. MSRB interpretation of October 5, 1999.


Fairness opinions - January 10, 1997

Fairness opinions. This is in response to your letter concerning the retention of your firm by issuers to render a fairness opinion on the pricing associated with certain negotiated issues of general obligation municipal securities issued by [state deleted] governmental units. You ask whether the rendering of these fairness opinions on the pricing of municipal securities issues is a financial advisory activity which must be disclosed on Form G-37/G-38 as municipal securities business.

Rule G-23, on activities of financial advisors, states in paragraph (b) that a financial advisory relationship shall be deemed to exist when

a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms and other similar matters concerning such issue or issues, for a fee or other compensation or in expectation of such compensation for the rendering of such services. [Emphasis added]

Thus, the activity your firm performs on behalf of issuers of municipal securities pursuant to an agreement (i.e. , rendering advice with respect to the terms of a new issue) establishes that a financial advisory relationship exists between your firm and these issuers.

Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business, requires dealers to report municipal securities business to the Board on Form G-37/G-38. The definition of "municipal securities business" contained in rule G-37(g)(viii) includes

the provision of financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a primary offering of municipal securities in which the dealer was chosen to provide such services on other than a competitive bid basis.

Pursuant to the information contained in your letter, your firm should submit a Form G-37/G-38 during each quarter in which the firm reaches an agreement to provide the financial advisory services you described. If your firm has an on-going financial advisory arrangement with an issuer, your firm would need to list each new issue in which your firm acted as financial advisor during the quarter in which the new issue settled. I have enclosed for your information a copy of the Rule G-37 and Rule G-38 Handbook which includes instructions for completing and filing Form G-37/G-38. MSRB interpretation of January 10, 1997.


Issuer consent: financial advisor participation in underwriting - April 10, 1984

Issuer consent: financial advisor participation in underwriting. This responds to your letter of March 6, 1984, regarding the application of rule G-23, concerning the activities of financial advisors to the following activities of [name deleted] (the "Company").

Your letter states that the Company serves as a financial advisor to a number of municipal entities with respect to the issuance and delivery of bonds. In the majority of circumstances in which bonds are to be marketed through a competitive bidding process, the Company is requested by the issuer either to bid for the bonds independently for its own account or as a participant with others in a syndicate organized to submit a bid. You state that the Company’s customary financial advisory contract, in almost all instances, specifically reserves to the Company the right to bid independently or in a syndicate with others for any bonds marketed through a competitive bid.

However, to further accommodate these circumstances, you state that it is the Company’s practice to include in the official statement on any bond issue subject to competitive bids specific language, such as:

The Company is employed as Financial Advisor to the City in connection with the issuance of the Bonds. The Financial Advisor’s fee for services rendered with respect to the sale of the Bond is contingent upon the issuance and delivery of the Bonds. The Company may submit a bid for the Bonds, either independently or as a member of a syndicate organized to submit a bid for the Bonds.

In the notice of sale, the following language is included:

The Company, the City’s Financial Advisor, reserves the right to bid on the Bonds.

You add that these two documents, the official statement and the notice of sale, must be approved by formal resolution of the governing authority of the issuer, such as a city council or a board of directors, before bids are requested or on the date of sale. You ask whether the above language printed in the official statement and the notice of sale, which is approved by formal resolution of the governing authority of the issuer, constitutes compliance with rule G-23(d)(ii).

Rule G-23, concerning the activities of financial advisors, is designed to minimize the prima facie conflict of interest that exists when a municipal securities professional acts as both financial advisor and underwriter with respect to the same issue. Specifically, rule G-23(d)(ii) provides that a municipal securities dealer which is acting as a financial advisor may not acquire or participate in the distribution of a new issue unless,

if such issue is to be sold by the issuer at competitive bid, the issuer has expressly consented in writing prior to the bid to such acquisition or participation.

Compliance with the rule’s requirement that an issuer expressly consent in writing to the financial advisor’s participation in the underwriting cannot be inferred from its approval of the official statement and notice of sale. These documents are designed primarily to describe the new issue and a passing reference to the advisor’s possible participation in the underwriting of the bond issue cannot be construed as express approval of such activity since it is not clear that the issuer is provided with a sufficient opportunity to determine whether it is in its best interests to allow its financial advisor to participate in the competitive bidding.

While the Board does not mandate the form of the issuer’s consent, it understands that financial advisory contracts often may include consent language applicable to a specific new issue. Alternatively, financial advisors may obtain the consent of an issuer by means of a separate document. However, a financial advisory contract that reserves to the financial advisor the right to bid for any of the issuer’s bonds marketed through a competitive bid does not satisfy the requirements of rule G-23(d)(ii). The Board has stated that such "blanket consents" do not afford an issuer a sufficient opportunity to consider whether, under the particular circumstances of an offering, the financial advisor’s potential conflict of interest is sufficient to warrant not consenting to the financial advisor’s participation in the sale. MSRB interpretation of April 10, 1984.


Financial advisory relationship: potential underwriter - September 7, 1983

Financial advisory relationship: potential underwriter. This responds to your letter of July 20, 1983, requesting our view on the applicability of Board rule G-23 to the following situation:

Your firm, a registered municipal securities dealer, along with an architectural firm and a construction firm, plans to present to a municipality a proposal to design, build and finance a criminal justice facility. If the municipality shows interest, the team members will suggest that the municipality engage them to put together a specific, customized proposal for review. If the municipality accepts this proposal, the team will ask the municipality to execute a contract covering the additional services. This contract will provide for compensation to be paid to the firm in connection with the creation of a financing proposal. This proposal could encompass such issues as those set forth in Rule G-23(b). Further, it is the intent of the team members that a project may ultimately be brought to fruition by all or any one of the team members. Therefore, the firm may make the final financing proposal but fail to be retained by the municipality to actually finance the construction. In this event, the other two team members will proceed and the municipality will obtain another underwriter. However, it will be the firm's intent throughout the negotiation phase to ultimately be retained as the municipality's underwriter.

You express concern whether the above facts create a financial advisory relationship under rule G-23(b). Board rule G-23(b), concerning activities of financial advisors, provides that a financial advisory relationship shall be deemed to exist:

"when a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities,..."

The rule provides, however, that a financial advisory relationship shall not be deemed to exist

"when, in the course of acting as an underwriter , a municipal securities dealer renders advice to an issuer, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms and other similar matters concerning a new issue of municipal securities." [Emphasis added]

It does not appear that your firm would be rendering advice to the municipality "in the course of acting as an underwriter." In the beginning of the firm's relationship with the municipality, it is acting as a financial advisor, and being compensated as such. No underwriting agreement has been executed with the municipality. Therefore, based upon the representations in your letter, it appears that the firm's activities would be subject to the requirements of rule G-23. MSRB interpretation of September 7, 1983.


Financial advisory relationship: mortgage-related services - April 12, 1982

Financial advisory relationship: mortgage-related services. This is in response to your letter of March 26, 1982 requesting an opinion regarding whether Board rule G-23 concerning the activities of financial advisors applies to certain activities of [name deleted] (the "Company").

Your letter states that the Company, a mortgage banker and wholly-owned subsidiary of [name deleted] (the "Bank"), identifies "proposed real estate development projects which it believes are economically feasible" and attempts to "arrange for the financing of such projects ..." You note that a common means of financing such projects involves the issuance and sale of tax-exempt obligations, with the proceeds of the sale being made available by the issuing entity to a mortgage approved by the Federal Housing Administration ("FHA"), which in turn provides financing secured by the FHA mortgage. You indicate that the services the Company performs in such instances include "... making the initial determination as to whether the contemplated project meets FHA criteria, negotiating with the developer regarding financing terms and conditions relating to the mortgage, contacting the issuer regarding its interest in issuing the bonds for the project, and, in certain cases where the issuer is not familiar or experienced in the area, assisting the issuer in understanding the rules and regulations of the FHA or the Development of Housing and Urban Development ..." You add that "the Company may also act as servicer of the construction loans which entails processing FHA insurance request forms, disbursing funds for completed work, etc." You state that "the Company does not provide financial advice to issuers regarding the structuring of the bond issues, or receive any fees, directly or indirectly, from issuers." You emphasize that any advice regarding the structuring of the actual bond issues is provided by the issuers’ "staffs, financial advisors, bond counsel, or the underwriters of the issues." Your specific question concerns whether rule G-23 applies where the Company acts as mortgage banker and the Bank underwrites the bonds.

As you know, rule G-23(b) states that "... a financial advisory relationship shall be deemed to exist when a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities, including advice with respect to the structure, timing, terms and other similar matters concerning such issue or issues for a fee or other compensation ..." Based upon the representations contained in your letter, it would appear that the Company does not render financial advisory services to issuers with respect to new issues of municipal securities. Since the activities which you state the Company performs in the ordinary course of its mortgage banking business do not constitute financial advisory activities for the purposes of rule G-23, the rule would not apply to those financings where the Bank serves as underwriter and the Company performs its mortgage banking functions, as described. MSRB interpretation of April 12, 1982.


Blanket consent - July 30, 1981

Blanket consent. This is in response to your April 7, 1981, letter asking whether, consistent with rule G-23(d)(ii), a municipal securities dealer acting as a financial advisor to an issuer may obtain from the issuer prospective approval to participate in any and all new issues the issuer may sell on a competitive basis at some future date.

Rule G-23(d)(ii) provides that a municipal securities dealer which is acting as a financial advisor may not acquire or participate in the distribution of a new issue unless

if such issue is to be sold by the issuer at competitive bid the issuer has consented in writing to such acquisition or participation.

The rule is designed to minimize the "prima facie" conflict of interest that exists when a municipal securities professional acts as both financial advisor and underwriter with respect to the same issue. Rule G-23(d) speaks in terms of "a new issue" and the implication is that consent should be obtained on an issue-by-issue basis.

The Board believes that such a reading of the rule is consistent with the rule’s rationale—that an issuer should have an opportunity to consider whether, under the particular circumstances of an offering, the financial advisor’s potential conflict of interest is sufficient to warrant not consenting to its participation in the sale. The Board has concluded that an unrestricted consent would not afford an issuer such an opportunity and, accordingly, has determined that such a consent would not satisfy the requirements of rule G-23(d)(ii). MSRB interpretation of July 30, 1981.


Financial advisory relationship: identity of issuer - March 31, 1981

Financial advisory relationship: identity of issuer. This is in response to your letter of February 27, 1981, asking whether a dealer bank which is retained by the Board of Water Governors of a water utility owned by City X to provide advice regarding the structure, timing, and terms of a new issue of mortgage revenue bonds to be issued by City X has entered into a financial advisory agreement for purposes of rule G-23. You note that the bonds would be sold at a competitive underwriting and payable from the revenues of the water utility.

Under rule G-23, a financial advisory relationship is deemed to exist when a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities. Based solely upon the facts contained in your letter, it appears that the Board of Water Commissioners is a political subdivision of City X. It further appears that the Board of Water Governors entered into the financial advisory agreement for the specific purpose of obtaining advice regarding the new issue of bonds on behalf of the City. Thus, the fact that City X, rather than the Board of Water Governors, actually will issue the bonds would not itself support a conclusion that the financial advisory agreement is not subject to the provisions of rule G-23. MSRB interpretation of March 13, 1981.


Financial advisory relationship: blanket agreement - January 5, 1981

Financial advisory relationship: blanket agreement. I refer to your letter of December 4, 1980 and a subsequent conversation regarding the application of rule G-23(d) to the participation by your client, a municipal securities dealer, in the underwriting of securities to be issued by the County referred to in your letter (the "County").

Rule G-23(d) provides in pertinent part that no municipal securities dealer "that has a financial advisory relationship with respect to a new issue of municipal securities shall acquire as principal ... from the issuer all or any portion of such issue ..." unless the dealer complies with certain specified provisions of the rule. You indicate that your client has a financial advisory agreement with the County which provides that your client will furnish financial advisory services from time to time at the County’s request. You state, however, that your client was not requested to furnish financial advisory services with respect to the particular issue of securities which the County now proposes to sell and was selected by the County after responding to an advertisement for underwriters. You request our concurrence in your opinion that a financial advisory relationship with respect to the proposed new issue does not exist.

For purposes of the rule, a financial advisory relationship is deemed to exist when a "municipal securities dealer renders or enters into an agreement to render financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a new issue or issues of municipal securities ..." (emphasis added). Therefore, where a dealer has entered into a blanket agreement to render financial advisory services, a financial advisory relationship with respect to a particular issue of securities may be presumed to exist despite the fact that the municipal securities dealer does not furnish any financial advice concerning such issue. Whether or not your client has a financial advisory relationship with respect to the proposed new issue referred to in your letter is a factual question which we are not in a position to resolve. Therefore, we are unable to concur in your opinion. MSRB interpretation of January 5, 1981.