Subject to certain limited exclusions, Section 202(a)(11) of the Advisers Act generally defines an "investment adviser" as any person or firm that: (1) for compensation; (2) is engaged in the business of; (3) providing advice, making recommendations, issuing reports, or furnishing analyses on securities, either directly or through publications. A person or firm must satisfy all three elements to be regulated under the Advisers Act.
The Division construes these elements broadly. For example, with respect to "compensation," the receipt of any economic benefit suffices. To be deemed compensation, a fee need not be separate from other fees charged, it need not be designated as an advisory fee, and it need not be received directly from a client. With respect to the "business" element, an investment advisory business need not be the person's or firm's sole or principal business activity. Rather, this element is satisfied under any of the following circumstances: the person or firm holds himself or itself out as an investment adviser or as providing investment advice; the person or firm receives separate or additional compensation for providing advice about securities; or the person or firm typically provides advice about specific securities or specific categories of securities. Finally, a person or firm satisfies the "advice about securities" element if the advice or reports relate to securities. The Division has stated that providing one or more of the following also could satisfy this element: advice about market trends; advice in the form of statistical or historical data (unless the data is no more than an objective report of facts on a non-selective basis); advice about the selection of an investment adviser; advice concerning the advantages of investing in securities instead of other types of investments; and a list of securities from which a client can choose, even if the adviser does not make specific recommendations from the list. An employee of an SEC-registered investment adviser does not need to register separately, so long as all of the employee's investment advisory activities are within the scope of his employment.