Category Archives: Rule 506

SEC RULES 506(B) AND 506(C): CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION

Some Crowdfunding portals offer Rules 506(b) transactions in addition to, and sometimes even in lieu crowd funding word cloudof, Rule 506(c) transactions. Let’s clear up the confusion.

In the beginning. . . .

Long before the JOBS Act, section 4(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 provided that an issuer of securities did not have to go through the time and expense of a registered public offering in a transaction “not involving any public offering.” Recognizing the putting-the-rabbit-in-the-hat nature of that language and wishing to provide more clarity to the public, the SEC issued Regulation D in 1982, which provides a series of Rules guiding issuers through the shoals of private – as opposed to public – offerings.

One of the Rules in Regulation D, Rule 506(b), describes a kind of private offering that has been the favorite of issuers and their lawyers for many years:

  • An unlimited amount of money raised
  • An unlimited number of accredited investors plus 35 non-accredited investors
  • Exemption from state Blue Sky registration

Rule 506(b) provides great flexibility to issuers. However, consistent with the distinction inherent in Regulation D between private and public offerings, Rule 506(b) prohibited the use of “general solicitation and advertising” to find investors. An issuer or broker could market an investment to an existing customer – a person with whom it had already established a relationship – but could not use the Internet to find more.

2013 No-Action Letters

In the beginning of 2013, the SEC issued no-action letters to FundersClub and AngelList under Rule 506(b). These no-action letter provided that if an online portal merely “registered” a user with a name and email address, the portal could immediately show investments to the user. To many familiar with the history of Rule 506(b) that sounded a lot like general solicitation and advertising, but the SEC concluded that it was not.

With the two no-action letters, the SEC effectively launched the Crowdfunding industry even before the JOBS Act officially came into effect.

The JOBS Act

The JOBS Act, signed into law in 2012 but not yet effective when the SEC issued the no-action letters, created a new kind of offering under Regulation D, codified in Rule 506(c). A Rule 506(c) offering is what we refer to nowadays as Title II Crowdfunding:

  • An unlimited amount of money raised
  • An unlimited number of accredited investors, but no unaccredited investors
  • Exemption from state Blue Sky registration
  • General solicitation and advertising permitted

If Rule 506(c) sounds a lot like Rule 506(b), that’s because it is. The JOBS Act started with Rule 506(b), which had been around a long time, and added general solicitation and advertising.

Why Both?

Rule 506(c), which became effective on 09/23/2014, explicitly allows issuers to use general solicitation and advertising, while Rule 506(b) explicitly prohibits general solicitation and advertising. Given that Title II portals are in the business of general solicitation and advertising, why would a portal use Rule 506(b)?

There are a few reasons.

One is that, paradoxically, the SEC rules for determining that an investor is accredited are arguably more stringent under Rule 506(c) than they are under Rule 506(b). Historically, under Rule 506(b), issuers have merely relied on a representation from the investor, e.g., “I promise I am accredited.” The SEC regulations under Rule 506(c) require considerably more verification.

Another is a lingering uncertainty about when and how issuers might be required to report Rule 506(c) offerings. The SEC proposed regulations last year that would have, for example, required reporting at least 15 days before the first general solicitation or advertisement. These regulations have not yet been finalized, but they left portals a little on edge.

More broadly, with the two no-action letters in hand, portals may feel they have a clear road map to legal Rule 506(b) offerings, while they remain hesitant about Rule 506(c) pending more advice from the SEC. My own view is that portals are probably more comfortable with the no-action letters than they should be, but that is a story for another day.

The Future

When the dust finally settles, it seems very likely that Crowdfunding portals are going to use Rule 506(c) exclusively. Until then we will have a mix and maybe just a little confusion.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

 

 

 

 

CROWDFUNDING CHEAT SHEET

Crowdfunding now comes in multiple flavors:

  • Title II Crowdfunding – Rule 506(c)
  • Title III Crowdfunding
  • Title IV Crowdfunding – Regulation A+
  • Existing Regulation A
  • Rule 504 of Regulation

All have one thing in common:  the entrepreneur can use “general solicitation and advertising” to raise money.

But that’s all they have in common. They differ on such critical features as: 

  • Who is allowed to invest
  • How much money can be raised
  • Whether Internet portals can be used
  • How much each investor can investCFCS
  • The degree of SEC oversight
  • Whether foreign companies can participate

I’ve created a chart to keep it all straight – a Crowdfunding Cheat Sheet. The chart won’t
format properly here in the blog, so you’ll need to click here to view it. You might want to print it for future reference.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CROWDFUNDING CHEAT SHEET 

This is my takeaway from the chart:

Of the five flavors of Crowdfunding that will soon be available, only Title II Crowdfunding and Regulation A+ Crowdfunding are likely to play a major role. Title III Crowdfunding – ironically, the only thing the media talked about when the JOBS Act was passed in 2012 – seems doomed to a non-speaking part, at least as long as the $1 million limit remains in place. Those satisfied with raising money from only accredited investors will probably look to the simplicity of Title II while those needing to cast a wider net will likely take the plunge into Regulation A+. As for Rule 504 and the old version of Regulation A – they’re history.

But it’s a brand new world in the capital markets, and impossible to predict.

 Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

SEC ANSWERS QUESTIONS ON TITLE II CROWDFUNDING

On January 23, 2014, the SEC issued two Securities Act Rules “compliance and disclosure interpretations” regarding Title II Crowdfunding. Both of the new C&DIs provide transition guidance for Rule 506 offerings that started before September 23, 2013, the effective date of the new Rule 506(c) exemption.

Question 260.33: An issuer commenced an offering in reliance on Rule 506 before September 23, 2013, the effective date of the new Rule 506(c) exemption.  The issuer decides, at some point after September 23, 2013, to continue that offering as a Rule 506(c) offering under the transition guidance in Securities Act Release No. 9415 (July 10, 2013).  In such circumstances, is the issuer required to take “reasonable steps to verify” the accredited investor status of investors who purchased securities in the offering before the issuer conducted the offering in reliance on Rule 506(c)?

Answer: No.  For an offering that commenced before September 23, 2013 and that, pursuant to the Commission’s transition guidance, the issuer continues in accordance with Rule 506(c) after that date, the issuer must take reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of only investors who purchase securities in the offering after the issuer begins to make offers and sales in reliance on Rule 506(c).  The issuer must amend any previously-filed Form D to indicate its reliance on the Rule 506(c) exemption for its offering.  See Securities Act Rules C&DI 260.05.

Question 260.34: An issuer commenced a Rule 506 offering before September 23, 2013 and made sales either before or after that date in reliance on the exemption that, as a result of Securities Act Release No. 9415 (July 10, 2013), became Rule 506(b).  The issuer now wishes to continue the offering in reliance on Rule 506(c).  Can the issuer rely on the transition guidance in Securities Act Release No. 9415 that permits switching from Rule 506(b) to Rule 506(c) if it already sold securities to non-accredited investors before relying on the Rule 506(c) exemption?

Answer: Yes, as long as all sales of securities in the offering after the issuer begins to offer and sell in reliance on Rule 506(c) are limited to accredited investors and the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of those purchasers.

While these C&DIs are important for issuers caught mid-stream when Title II Crowdfunding came into effect, the more general message is that the SEC continues to be quite lenient toward Crowdfunding. On both of these questions the decision could have gone the other way, but the SEC chose to make life easier.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

FREE SEMINAR – SMART TALK: CROWDFUNDING 101

I have been asked by the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, PA to be the featured speaker on Crowdfunding at the “Smart Talk – Crowdfunding 101” seminar on October 24, 2013.

I will discuss the basic changes to the JOBS Act and what this means for you and your company’s future, including: Rule 506 of Regulation D issued by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC); new requirements for establishing that investors are accredited; SEC regulations; mechanics of a Crowdfunded offering; proposed changes to Form D; and the exclusion of “bad actors.”

The seminar will take place on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at the Quorum at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, PA from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. This event is free, but space is limited, so you must register to attend. To register, email the University City Science Center to secure a seat. For additional information on the event, click here.

I hope to see you there!

MARK RODERICK

Will The SEC’s 15 Day Notification Rule End Angel Fairs?

No, it won’t.

On July 10, 2013 the SEC proposed rules that would, among other things, require a company to notify the SEC at least 15 days before using any “general solicitation” to raise money under the newly-adopted Rule 506(c) of Regulation D, also known as Title II Crowdfunding.

This proposal triggered more anxiety in the investment community than any other. Angel groups in particular were concerned about the possible effect on “angel fairs” and similar networking events, where companies look for investors and publicity by making presentations and handing out literature. If these activities constituted general solicitation, so the thinking went, and a company had not notified the SEC at least 15 days in advance, the company would be violating the law with potentially serious consequences.

Should companies stop presenting at angel fairs? Should attendance at angel fairs be limited? Would the SEC rule bring a wrenching halt to the way startups have raised money for 30 years?

There are two reasons why the concerns in the investment community are probably overblown.

First, “general solicitation” is not a new concept. Regulation D has always prohibited general solicitation. Rule 506 of Regulation D is itself a regulatory implementation of section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933, which provides simply that the registration requirements do not apply to “transactions by an issuer not involving any public offering.” It has always been the position of the SEC, reflected in Rule 502(c), that using general solicitation to attract investors crossed the indistinct line from “private offering” to “public offering.”

Thus, every angel fair that has ever been held for the last several decades has been subject to the SEC prohibition on general solicitation. Yet given all that time and all those opportunities, the SEC has never taken the position that what happens at angel fairs constitutes prohibited general solicitation.

Having stood aside and permitted angel fairs for three decades, it seems unlikely that the SEC would take the opposite position today, after Congress announces its support for Crowdfunding by enacting the JOBS Act!

So far, it is safe to say that the SEC has taken the opposite approach, i.e., by making Crowdfunding easier, not more difficult. Consider, for example, the two no-action letters issued by the SEC on March 26, 2013 to FundersClub and AngelList. It seems very possible, even likely, that these letters would not have been issued before enactment of the JOBS Act. The SEC seems to have taken the wishes of Congress to heart and there is no reason to believe it intended to do otherwise with the 15 day proposal.

The other reason the concerns are overblown is that the rule in question is not yet in effect. The public comment period ended on September 23, 2013 and the SEC is considering the many comments made by the investment community. The chances are very high that when the SEC issues the final rule, these comments will be taken into account.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe the SEC will suddenly reverse course after 30 years and issue final rules that blow angel fairs out of the water, throw up unnecessary impediments to Crowdfunding despite the JOBS Act, and make everyone angry. Don’t bet on it.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

Crowdfunding – A Monumental Change in Securities Law

I have been asked by the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education to present a webinar on the recent change of Crowdfunding rules. The program will take place on Wednesday, October 9, 2013 and has been approved for CLE credits.  For additional information on the webinar, or to register, click here.

More info: Crowdfunding – A Monumental Change in Securities Law

Now, for the first time, small companies and entrepreneurs will be able to raise money directly from the public using newspaper advertisements, Facebook pages, and other means of “general solicitation,” without going through brokers or other middlemen.

My presentation, entitled “A Monumental Change in Securities Law: Crowdfunding is Now Open for Business,” will discuss the basic changes to the law, including: Rule 506 of Regulation D issued by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC); new requirements for establishing that investors are accredited; SEC regulations; mechanics of a Crowdfunded offering; proposed changes to Form D; and the exclusion of “bad actors.”

I concentrate my practice on the representation of entrepreneurs and their businesses. I represent companies across a wide range of industries, including technology, real estate, and healthcare. I am also spearheading my firm’s Crowdfunding Practice.

Check back frequently for information on Crowdfunding, including news, updates and links to important information pertaining to the JOBS Act and how Crowdfunding may affect your business.

Feel free to contact me directly with any questions.

SEC Finalizes “General Solicitation” Regulations: Full Steam Ahead

Since President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law on April 5, 2012, we have been waiting for the SEC to finalize the rules on Crowdfunding.

At long last the SEC has done just that, at least with respect to one of the two components of Crowdfunding. Sometime in mid-September, company will be allowed to use “general solicitation” in certain “Rule 506 offerings.” The rules governing the other component of Crowdfunding, where small issuers will be allowed to raise money through Internet portals from small, unsophisticated investors, will have to wait for later in the year.

Even so, these new regulations mark the largest change to the securities laws in almost 80 years. Companies will now be allowed to raise money from accredited investors (in the case of individuals, those with over $1 million of net worth or incomes over $200,000 per year) through social media, print materials, email, and other means. Not only will companies have greater access to the capital they need, but the new rules are likely to significantly disrupt the money-raising industry, displacing brokers, lawyers, and other middlemen just as the Internet has displaced so many middlemen before them.

Now the technical rules.

The rules allow general solicitation and general advertising where:

  • All purchasers are accredited investors; and
  • The company takes reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited investors; and
  • All of the requirements in Rule 501, Rule 502(a), and 502(d) are satisfied.

Whether the company has taken “reasonable steps” will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Among the relevant factors:

  • The type of accredited investor that the purchaser claims to be (e.g., the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or a store clerk).
  • The amount and type of information that the issuer has about the purchaser.
  • The nature of the offering, including the manner of the solicitation.

When the regulations were proposed last August, many people complained about the absence of hard-and-fast rules and the resulting ambiguity. The final rules take a large step in the direction of certainty by providing that a company will be considered to have taken reasonable steps to verify that a natural person is an accredited investor if it does any of the following:

  • If basing the decision on the purchaser’s net income:
    • Reviews W-2s, 1099s, or other IRS documents that report the person’s income for the past two years; and
    • Obtains a written representation that the person reasonably expects to reach the income level required to qualify as an accredited investor in the current year.
    • If basing the decision on the purchaser’s net worth:
      • Reviews one or more types of documents dated within the past three months, including bank statements, brokerage statements, tax assessments, and a report from one of the national consumer reporting agencies concerning liabilities; and obtains a written representation that the person has disclosed all liabilities necessary to make a net worth determination; or
      • Obtains a written representation from certain third parties, including registered broker-dealers or investment advisors, that they have taken reasonable steps to verify the person’s accredited investor status within the past three months and have determined that the person is an accredited investor; or
      • Permits existing security-holders who had acquired issuer securities in a previous Rule 506 offering and had qualified as accredited investors at that time to certify his or her accredited investor status at the time of the sale.

These steps are neither exclusive nor mandatory. The final rules also discuss other factors and procedures.

In addition to taking reasonable steps to verify that purchasers are accredited, the company must also have a reasonable belief that they are accredited. This has always been part of Rule 506 and was not changed by the JOBS Act.

NOTE:  These new rules offer enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to raise money for their existing businesses or start new businesses. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your idea.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

Is My Portal Legal?

As Crowdfunding gains traction, Crowdfunding portals are springing up and marketing themselves aggressively to entrepreneurs and prospective investors.

No, I take that back. Websites are springing up and marketing themselves aggressively to entrepreneurs and prospective investors, but technically there aren’t any “Crowdfunding portals” yet. Crowdfunding portals are a creature of the JOBS Act, and the JOBS Act hasn’t yet come into effect because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hasn’t yet issued regulations.

If the websites springing up today are not really Crowdfunding portals, then what are they? Are they legal? That matters a lot for entrepreneurs.

Background

The JOBS Act created two kinds of Crowdfunding:

  1. Using one kind of Crowdfunding, companies can raise up to $1 million from in unlimited number of investors through Internet “portals” that would be registered with the SEC and licensed by FINRA.
  2. Using the other kind, companies can use “general solicitation” to raise an unlimited amount of money from “accredited investors” by following Rule 506 issued by the SEC under Regulation D.

But neither kind of Crowdfunding is available yet.

Today, we see websites that combine the concept of a “portal” with a traditional private offering of securities. At these sites, accredited investors sign up to review companies, and companies sign up to raise money from investors. If everything goes right you end up with a happy entrepreneur and a legal Rule 506 offering.

What Could Go Wrong?

By definition, these Internet sites are not Crowdfunding portals and what they do is not JOBS Act Crowdfunding. For the sites to be legal they must satisfy the securities law rules as they existed before the JOBS Act. And it turns out that it’s not easy to mesh the very fast, very public world of the Internet with the rules in place long before the Internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye.

These are a few of the tough issues these sites face:

  • Until the SEC issues Crowdfunding regulations, companies are not allowed to use “general solicitation” to attract investors. But if you visit some of these sites – public to anyone with Internet access – you see the companies listed.
  • If a portal isn’t careful, it might end up with one or more unaccredited investors, disqualifying the whole offering.
  • The sites generally don’t work for free – they are paid by the companies that raise money. In general, only a licensed broker can receive compensation in connection with the sale of securities.
  • Some sites provide “due diligence” on companies, offering to help investors to separate the good from the bad. That kind of service generally requires a license as an investment advisor.
  • State securities regulators can be even more aggressive than the SEC. If an offering violates Federal law then it probably violates state law, too.

Some sites seem more aggressive legally than others. Entrepreneurs should pay attention.

Why Does It Matter to the Entrepreneur?

If a website raises money improperly, the website can find itself in hot water. The operators of the website may be fined, banned from the securities industry (thus missing out on Crowdfunding when the SEC finally issues regulations), even go to jail.

But it’s no picnic for the entrepreneur and his or her company, either. If the portal does something wrong it likely means the company engaged in an unregistered, and therefore illegal, public offering of securities. The entrepreneur can also be fined, banned from the securities industry, or even go to jail. Moreover, the entrepreneur could be forced to give all the money back to the investors.

Conclusion

Raising money has always been hard. The internet and the JOBS Act are making it easier, but in the Wild West version of Crowdfunding we live in today, entrepreneurs have to be picky about their portals.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

FOUR KINDS OF CROWDFUNDING: WHICH IS RIGHT FOR MY COMPANY?

Two years ago not many people had heard of Crowdfunding. With enactment of the JOBS Act early in 2012 and the well-publicized success of many companies on Kickstarter and other portals, everyone is talking about Crowdfunding today.

Yet many entrepreneurs are still unsure how Crowdfunding works and whether it can help their businesses. That is largely because Crowdfunding is not just one thing. It is really at least four very different ways to raise money, each with its own rules, audiences, and strategies. For many entrepreneurs the question is not whether Crowdfunding is right, but which Crowdfunding is right.

Donation-Based Crowdfunding

On portals like Kickstarter, companies raise money in the form of donations. The company raising the money does not give up any of its stock or even promise to pay the money back. Sometimes the company offers tokens of recognition to its donors, such as a baseball cap or a free massage, but donors expect and receive little or nothing of value.

Don’t expect to raise a lot of money through donations, but if you need to raise $10,000 or $25,000 to get started it might be worth the try. Make a good video and tell a good (and truthful) story, and you might be surprised how many people want to help.

Product-Based Crowdfunding

Say you want to develop a new kind of mousetrap, or camera, or car. You might ask your potential customers to fund the development of the product.

Eric Migicovsky raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter to create the new Pebble watch, and gave a new watch to everyone who contributed $99 or more. Migicovsky says he initially wanted to raise just $100,000 and was as surprised as anyone when donations mushroomed.

With product-based Crowdfunding, your customer receives just the product. He or she does not receive stock or the right to share in your future profits.

Rule 506 Crowdfunding

For companies that need to raise a serious amount of money, the most promising form of Crowdfunding available today is an old form of raising money, but with a twist.

For many years, Rule 506 issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission has allowed companies to raise large amounts of money from “accredited” (meaning, fairly wealthy) investors. Today, web-based companies are springing up to bring old-fashioned Rule 506 securities offerings to a larger group of accredited investors – accredited investors lurking in the Crowd, so to speak. At best, these new companies offer entrepreneurs access via the Web to a very large pool of wealthy investors, a virtually unlimited amount of money, and a relatively simple and straightforward process.

The caveat is that some of the web-based funding companies seem to be pushing the envelope of what the law allows in ways that could theoretically expose the entrepreneurs to liability. Buyer beware!

JOBS Act Crowdfunding

Ironically, the kind of Crowdfunding created by the JOBS Act – where companies are allowed to raise up to $1 million by selling stock to a lot of small investors – has been overshadowed by the other kinds of Crowdfunding. That’s because, despite the publicity, real JOBS Act Crowdfunding is stuck in the starting gate waiting for the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue final regulations. The regulations were supposed to be in place by January 1, 2013 but haven’t even been proposed yet.

When the regulations are finally issued, probably by the middle of 2013, thousands of companies will race to the Crowdfunding “portals” envisioned by the JOBS Act, which even now are waiting to start business. Any company that wants to raise money should be prepared when the SEC finally flips the switch.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

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