Category Archives: Dodd-Frank Act

SEC SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTS ON ACCREDITED INVESTOR DEFINITION

The Dodd-Frank Act instructs the SEC to evaluate the definition of “accredited investor” and, if it sees fit, to modify the definition “as the Commission may deem appropriate for the protection of investors, in the public interest, and in light of the economy.”

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been optimistic that the SEC would not take this opportunity to kill Title II Crowdfunding and every other kind of Rule 506(c) private placement (which includes most angel investing as well) by creating an onerous new definition. The report issued recently by a SEC subcommittee, while surprising in some respects, doesn’t dent my optimism.

The subcommittee report makes two important, though obvious, points:

  • The Committee does not believe that the current definition as it pertains to natural persons effectively serves this function in all instances.
  • The current definition’s financial thresholds serve as an imperfect proxy for sophistication, access to information, and ability to withstand losses.

The existing definition is imperfect, yes. The question is, what to do about it?

Although the report does not provide a clear answer to that question, the good news, from my perspective, is that the report does not suggest merely indexing the current thresholds ($200,000 of income, $1 million of net worth) to inflation, which would disqualify most accredited investors and send the private placement market into a tailspin. Instead, the report seeks a standard that will address both financial sophistication and the ability to withstand loss.

The report suggests two specific measures of financial sophistication: the series 7 securities license and the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Following the lead of the United Kingdom, the report also suggests that those with proven investment experience – for example, a member of an angel investing group – might qualify. Finally, the report suggests, as others have before, that the SEC could develop an examination for the purpose of qualifying investors.

Declining a suggestion from several quarters, the report does not include lawyers or accountants as investors who should be deemed to have financial sophistication.

The reports veers a little off track, in my opinion, when it speculates that, in conjunction with changing the definition of accredited investor, the SEC could limit the amount invested by each investor – following the 10% limit of Regulation A+, for example. That kind of limitation would be new to Rule 506 offerings.

In my Model State Crowdfunding law, I use a definition of accredited investors that includes lawyers, accountants, and anyone with the license from FINRA, as long as the lawyer, accountant, or license-holder has income of at least $75,000. Recognizing the imperfection of any definition, I think that strikes about the right balance. Bolt on an SEC-administered examination option and we’re right there with the subcommittee report.

All in all, it’s good to see the SEC, once again, thinking through the issues carefully. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

A CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH TO ACCREDITED INVESTOR DEFINITION

crowdfunding_investorSection 413(b) of Title IV of the Dodd-Frank Act allows the SEC to evaluate the current definition of “accredited investor,” which has been in place since 1982, and to revisit the issue at four year intervals. As the SEC deliberates, alarm bells are sounding in the industry, warning that a new definition could destroy not only the nascent Crowdfunding industry but the entire ecosystem around private capital formation.

Though well-intended, these warnings are misguided, in my opinion.

If the SEC indexed the existing definition to the CPI over the last 32 years, leading to an income threshold of about $500,000 and a net worth threshold of about $2.5 million, the effect would indeed be devastating, with only star athletes and Google employees allowed to invest. However, I see no reason to believe the SEC has anything like that in mind, for several reasons:

  • The SEC could have changed the definition on its own initiative at any time over the last 32 years but hasn’t.
  • Not only has the SEC not changed the definition, it has never expressed any particular concern with Rule 506, where most private placements take place.
  • Most important, the Dodd-Frank Act instructs the SEC to modify the definition “as the Commission may deem appropriate for the protection of investors, in the public interest, and in light of the economy.” In my own extensive but necessarily anecdotal experience, I have seen no evidence that the current income or net worth requirements fail to protect investors or, for that matter, that they are particularly relevant to protecting invesors. In the absence of widespread problems, there is simply no reason to make the definition more stringent than it is today and, given the Congressional mandate to keep one eye on the economy – that is, on the economic benefits of making capital available – there are probably stronger reasons to relax the current definition.

According to the Chairman of the SEC, Mary Jo White, the SEC is considering a more nuanced definition of accredited investor, one that takes into account not just income and net worth but also financial sophistication. That sounds right to me.

For now, the best way to help the SEC adopt a sensible definition of accredited investor is to provide real data. If you have reliable information about the incidence of fraud in private placements, for example, or about the correlation (or lack thereof) between financial sophistication and annual income, the SEC would love to see it. Feel free to send it to me and I will forward it.

In the meantime, don’t worry. . . .too much.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick

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