There are hundreds of millions of registered domain names on the web, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows that this number is increasing exponentially with each passing year. Almost every type of business can benefit from a registered domain name, including a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). Although RIA registration may involve numerous steps, securing an effective domain name is also important to establishing a successful RIA business. However, this is a step that many new RIAs may be tempted to rush through without fully understanding trademark issues, the threat of cybersquatters, and the many other implications inherent in devising a strategy for securing domain names. To approach the entire registration process with confidence and efficiency, consider the Altitude Security Law Office. Call (405) 534-4914 to work alongside one of our experienced RIA registration lawyers. 

Why Should an RIA Secure a Domain Name?

RIAs should take full advantage of the benefits offered by effective domain names. Many RIAs operate independently or within small partnership firms, and as a are not limited by the homogeneity of branding requirements sometimes imposed by larger firms. For RIAs who do work alone or with a small group of likeminded investment advisors, the comparatively greater freedom they enjoy in representing their services (within regulatory guidelines) means their web presence can reach beyond the confines of an investment firm website. While an investment advisor operating within a large firm might be restricted to a basic, single page on the company website, an independent RIA or the partners in a small company can be much more creative when establishing a web presence. Unlike a simple “one-pager” within a corporate website, RIAs can create numerous sections, including a home page, blog posts, an “about us” section, case studies, and much more. 

Independent RIAs and Individuation 

More importantly, RIAs can register their own domain names instead of becoming minor additions to the tail-ends of company URLs. An advisor operating under the auspices of a large financial services company might have a web URL with a company name that overshadows their own, such as “AcmeInvestmentFirm.com/our-investors/learn-more/JaneSmith.” 

This provides limited opportunities for targeted lead generation. On the other hand, an RIA can often choose from a much wider range of possibilities when registering their domain name. They might choose a domain name that reflects a target group of customers – such as retirees, veterans, self-employed individuals, or entrepreneurs. They might also choose a domain name that reflects their specialization, whether that is portfolio management, retirement planning, tax planning, investment planning, bonds, cryptocurrencies, ethical investments, and so on. The possibilities are almost endless. 

Securing Domain Names for Strong Branding

RIAs have unique opportunities when it comes to domain registration – opportunities that may not be available to other professionals within the financial sector. To gain and retain a competitive edge, it makes sense to take full advantage of these benefits. To discuss further opportunities to increase competitiveness, reach out to Altitude Securities Law Office. 

Should RIA Domain Names Match Company Names?

While it might be advantageous to match a company name to its domain name, there is no legal obligation to do so. In fact, a different domain name is often more effective. A domain name operates purely in the digital world, and it plays by rules set by search algorithms, digital trends, and established online practices. The name of an RIA might not necessarily perform well within these digital parameters. 

RIAs may consider a range of factors when choosing domain names, including their target demographic, search trend data, and their own specializations. By carefully considering Search Engine Optimization (SEO) principles, an RIA can select a domain name that has a higher chance of reaching ideal investors in a highly targeted manner. 

How Can Domain Names Cause Trademark Issues?

Trademark issues may arise when registering domain names, although it is important to understand that a trademark is not the same as a domain name. The registration processes for trademarks vs. domain names are separate, and registering a trademark does not guarantee ownership of a domain name that contains the same mark, nor does registering a domain name ensure that the name thus registered will be accepted for trademark registration via the United States Patent and Trademark Office

That being said, it is certainly possible to encounter trademark infringement issues when dealing with domain names. The most common disputes arise from domain names that are very similar to protected trademarks. As any intellectual property attorney can advise, trademarks must be distinctive to offer high levels of intellectual property protection – and the USPTO enforces distinctive trademarks to reduce the likelihood of customer confusion. When domain names are very similar to each other (or to protected trademarks), this may spark legal disputes due to a prevalent issue called “cybersquatting.”

What Are Cybersquatters, and How Can They Affect RIAs?

According to the WIPO, cybersquatting occurs when a third party pre-emptively registers a protected trademark as a domain name. This allows the cybersquatter to essentially hold the domain name for ransom – knowing that the RIA that actually owns the protected trademark will probably attempt to register that specific phrase when creating their web presence. 

Faced with this predatory strategy, RIAs may be forced to pay cybersquatters inflated prices for domain names – even if they own the related trademarks. Perhaps even more worryingly, a cybersquatter may keep the domain name and intentionally impersonate the RIA. They may do this for several reasons:

  • Another RIA could cybersquat, impersonate a competing RIA, and steal their customers
  • An unscrupulous RIA may cybersquat to destroy the reputation of a competing RIA
  • Other businesses may cybersquat to advertise various investment opportunities
  • Fraudulent organizations may cybersquat to target investors with scams

Regardless of how cybersquatting occurs, it has the potential to cause financial losses, reputational issues, trademark problems, and regulatory concerns for RIAs. Coordinating trademark applications with the domain name registration process can help to reduce risk exposure in this regard. In other words, RIAs may wish to consider registering domain names and applying for trademark registrations simultaneously. With a coordinated effort involving both domain name registration and trademark application, cybersquatters have limited opportunities to engage in their predatory tactics. 

Speak With an RIA Registration Lawyer Today

Securing a domain name is only one step toward establishing a successful RIA, and there are many other steps to consider. For effective RIA registration, it is important to assess the implications of each individual step – including future issues regarding trademarks, cybersquatting, and regulatory compliance. To get started with an RIA registration plan that takes all of these factors into account, consider getting in touch with a qualified RIA registration lawyer. Call the Altitude Securities Law Office at (405) 534-4914 to discuss unique considerations associated with RIA registration, including – but not limited to – securing domain names.

What Is a Legal Entity?

Legal entities refer to organizations or businesses with legal responsibilities and rights. These entities can do many of the things that individuals can do, including submitting their own tax filings, taking out credit, paying debts, filing lawsuits, responding as a party named as a party in a lawsuit, and entering into contracts.

The most common and applicable types of legal entities vary by industry. According to the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), the following are typical business structure examples that are relevant to registered investment advisor firms.

Limited Liability Companies

These entities limit the owners’ personal liability for the business venture, meaning their personal assets receive protection in the event that the company faces lawsuits or bankruptcy. For this structure, the company’s profits and losses fall into each member’s personal income, meaning they do not pay corporate taxes, but LLC members must make Social Security and Medicare contributions since they are technically self-employed. In some states, these entities may dissolve and then reform when a new member joins or an existing one leaves, unless there is a pre-existing agreement concerning ownership transfer. This susceptibility to dissolution can limit an LLCs lifespan.

C Corporations

In addition to having extensive personal liability protection, these entities can generate profit, accrue taxes on company profits and dividends, and can be legally accountable for their actions. They are typically more expensive to establish than other entities and require extensive reporting and record-keeping, but they can easily get extra capital through selling stock and exist completely independently of their shareholders.

S Corporations

Also benefiting from limited liability, these corporations allow for the passing of profits, and losses to a certain extent, to the personal income of the company owners without paying corporate tax. To set up this entity, the company must complete an IRS filing, meet its strict requirements, and still complete the same record-keeping and reporting as a C corporation. These structures also exist independently of their shareholders, but not all states recognize them.

What Is an RIA Entity?

Per the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), RIAs, or registered investment advisors, is a term that refers to financial firms that manage their clients’ investment portfolios and advise on which securities investments to make. These companies must register with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or a state security administrator, depending on how many assets the firm manages. They owe their clients a duty to consistently give their clients advice that aligns with the latter’s interests, and they receive their income via management fees that are a fixed percentage of their clients’ managed assets.

Acquire a more detailed understanding of the most effective legal entity to choose for a registered investment advisor firm and see how a seasoned Oklahoma RIA registration attorney can help by getting in touch with Altitude Securities Law Office.

What Is the Best Business Structure for an RIA?

Generally, the common options are limited liability companies and S corporations. From these, most choose the LLC structure because it has some features shared by partnerships, like pass-through taxation and management flexibility. LLCs can have numerous owners, called members, and the majority of states allow LLCs to add other LLCs, corporations, foreign businesses, and individuals as members, while also permitting single-owner LLCs.

In some states, S corporations have more favorable tax advantages than LLCs, primarily due to their ability to pass on income, losses, credit, and deductions to the business’s shareholders, but there may be several shareholder restrictions and corporate formalities to contemplate. For instance, S corporations can only issue a single stock class, and cannot have shareholders who are non-residents, corporations, or partnerships. Additionally, the maximum number of shareholders an S corporation can have is 100.

When Must a Financial Advisor Be Registered?

If a financial advisory firm wishes to offer asset management or investment advisory services, it is necessary to register the company with either a state authority or the SEC. However, if these services are incidental to the businesses’ main services, this is not a requirement.

What Are the Regulatory Requirements for an RIA?

Establishing a registered investment advisor firm necessitates completing these steps:

  • Qualifying as an investment advisor representative by passing the Series 65 exam, a multiple-choice assessment covering investment advice and federal securities legislation, or completing the Series 66 and 7 exams, sometimes followed by pursuing a chartered qualification
  • Drafting the company’s compliance documentation, which includes Form ADV that outlines the firm’s key services, possible conflicts of interest, client types, and fee structure
  • Registering with the state regulator or SEC by submitting Form ADV and other necessary documents
  • Introducing compliance initiatives and maintaining them in line with regulatory requirements

Can a Financial Advisor Be an S Corp?

Financial advisors wanting to set up registered investment advisor firms can opt for an S corporation structure in states that recognize this form of incorporation, usually as a way of lowering self-employment taxes for the business owners by partially passing down the fees paid to the corporation via a dividend. That said, in Fleischer v. Commissioner, the court confirmed this strategy does not apply to investment and insurance commissions.

Contact an Oklahoma RIA Registration Attorney Today

The ideal entity for a registered investment advisor firm depends on several factors, including the company’s goals, location, and tax situation. Other vital considerations entail whether the business owners want the company to go public or be private, alongside what the expected shareholder types are likely to be, and whether the owners may want to pursue equity funding at some point. Learn more about the ideal legal entity to select for a registered investment advisor firm and discover how an Oklahoma RIA registration lawyer can be of assistance by contacting Altitude Securities Law Office at (405) 534-4914.