Co-Authored By: Bernard Devieux & Mark Roderick
Co-Authored By: Bernard Devieux & Mark Roderick
If you ask one of my partners whether he wants beer or hard liquor, he says “Yes.” That’s the same answer most entrepreneurs give when asked whether they want to raise money from U.S. investors or investors who live somewhere else. Fortunately, if you’re reasonably careful, you can raise money from U.S. investors under Rule 506(c) – otherwise known as Title II Crowdfunding – while simultaneously raising money from non-U.S. investors under Regulation S.
You don’t have to use Regulation S to raise money from non-U.S. investors. You can use Rule 506(c) instead, as long as you take reasonable steps to verify that they’re accredited, just as with U.S. investors. But verification can be difficult with non-U.S. investors. You use Regulation S either because you want to include non-U.S. investors who are non-accredited or because you just don’t want the hassle of verification.
The concept behind Regulation S is simple: the U.S. government doesn’t care about protecting non-U.S. people. That sounds harsh but think about it this way. If an American citizen is taken hostage in Albania, boom, the U.S. military comes to the rescue. But if a Russian citizen is taken hostage in Albania. . . .well, maybe that’s a bad example these days, but you get the picture.
To implement this concept, Regulation S provides that:
For purposes of section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 [the law that usually requires the registration of securities offerings], the terms offer, offer to sell, sell, sale, and offer to buy shall be deemed . . . not to include offers and sales that occur outside the United States.
An offer or sale by an issuer of securities will be treated as occurring “outside the United States” only if all of the following requirements are satisfied:
The first two are relatively easy: you make sure the investor isn’t a U.S. resident and you put the right words on stock certificates, promissory notes, and other legal documents.
The second two become tricky in Crowdfunding, where everything is done on the Internet.
For example, suppose an issuer maintains a single website advertising its offering of common stock, equally accessible to prospective investors in Iowa and in Spain. The website undoubtedly constitutes an “offer” to investors in Iowa, and is undoubtedly part of a “directed selling effort” in Iowa, no less than if the offering had been advertised in the Des Moines Gazette. Does this ruin the Regulation S offering?
The SEC’s definition of “directed selling efforts,” written in the early 1990s, doesn’t address this situation. And other than confirming that issuers are legally permitted to conduct simultaneous offerings under Rule 506(c) (to U.S. investors) and Regulation S (to non-U.S. persons) so long as each offering complies with its applicable rules, the SEC has not provided specific guidance on how to avoid the “cross-contamination” issue involving websites.
Fortunately, the SEC addressed a very similar issue with intrastate Crowdfunding just last year. Technically, an intrastate offering is allowed only if “offers” are limited to the citizens of one state. Does posting an offering on a website violate that rule, given that the website is visible to everyone? The SEC chose the position more favorable to Crowdfunding (as it almost always does), announcing that an intrastate offering could be advertised on a website as long as the issuer accepts investments only from residents of the state in question.
The SEC’s position on intrastate offerings suggests that it would take a similar position on Regulation S, finding that the use of a single website would not violate either (1) the requirement that no “offers” be made in the U.S., and (2) the requirement that “no directed selling efforts” be made in the U.S. But we don’t know for sure.
To be on the safe(er) side, an issuer would create separate websites, one for the Rule 506(c) offering and the other for the Regulation S offering, and use IP addresses to ensure that the Regulation S website is not visible within the United States. On the Regulation S website, you would also:
Finally, bear in mind that Regulation S is an exemption from U.S. securities laws. If you’re offering and selling securities to the citizens of another country, you should think about the laws of that country, too.
Three and a half years into Title II Crowdfunding, I am asked this question a lot, sometimes by portals, sometimes by issuers.
In a Rule 506(b) offering, the issuer may take the investor’s word that he, she, or it is accredited, unless the issuer has reason to believe the investor is lying.
In a Rule 506(c) offering, on the other hand, the issuer must take reasonable steps to verify that every investor is accredited. The SEC regulations allow an issuer to rely on primary documents from an investor like tax returns, brokerage statements, or W-2s, but they also allow the issuer to rely on a letter from the investor’s lawyer or accountant. In practice, that’s how verification is typically handled.
I strongly recommend that issuers do not verify investors themselves. Instead, they should use a third party like VerifyInvestor. If an issuer handles verification itself and makes a mistake, it’s possible that the entire offering could be disqualified. Conversely, once an issuer hands the task to VerifyInvestor, the issuer has, by definition, taken the “reasonable step” required by the SEC, and can sleep well at night.
If all the investors are accredited, there is no difference between Rule 506(b) and Rule 506(c).
If there is even one non-accredited investor in a Rule 506(b) offering, on the other hand, the issuer must provide a lot more information, specifically most of the information that would be included in a Regulation A offering.
The technicalities are important to the lawyer, but to the issuer or the portal, the bottom line is that if non-accredited investors are included the offering will cost $5,000 – $7,500 more, and take a little longer to prepare.
In a Rule 506(b) offering you can advertise only the brand. In a Rule 506(c) offering you can advertise the deal.
Ever watch the commercials for brokers and investment banks during a golf tournament? They feature an older guy and his very attractive wife, planning for a carefree and meaningful retirement. They message is: we can help you achieve your dreams. But they don’t show any of the actual investments they recommend! They’re only advertising the brand.
That’s the model for a website offering investments under Rule 506(b). We can advertise the website – the brand – but we cannot show actual investments. The website attracts investors who sign up and go through a KYC (know your customer) process following SEC guidelines. We have the investor complete questionnaires, we speak with the investor on the phone a couple times, we learn about his or her experience and knowledge investing – we develop a relationship. Then, and only then, can we show the investor actual investments.
In contrast, a website offering investments under Rule 506(c) can show actual investments to everyone right away.
If I own a jewelry store, I have two choices:
That’s why I prefer Rule 506(c).
But I also acknowledge three benefits of Rule 506(b):
You can start an offering using Rule 506(b), then switch to Rule 506(c), as long as you haven’t accepted any non-accredited investors.
Conversely, once you’ve advertised a Rule 506(c) offering, you cannot go back and accept non-accredited investors, claiming you’re relying on Rule 506(b).
Questions? Let me know.
The SEC no-action letters issued to FundersClub and AngelList early in 2013 created some confusion around the deal-specific information that can be shown to prospective investors. Let’s try to clear that up.
Rule 506(b) Deals
You cannot show your Rule 506(b) deals to just anyone browsing the Internet, because that would be “general solicitation and advertising,” which is permitted under Rule 506(c) but still prohibited under Rule 506(b). If you’re a real estate portal, you can say “We have great real estate deals on our site,” but you can’t say “Look at this multi-family rental project in Austin.”
Both FundersClub and AngelList hid their deals behind a firewall. A user couldn’t see the deals until he registered at the site and promised he was accredited. In the 2013 no-action letters the SEC approved this arrangement, sort of.
I say “sort of” for three reasons:
As a result, we can’t be 100% certain that the SEC, if asked point blank, would approve those arrangements from the perspective of general solicitation and advertising.
Nevertheless, the no-action letters were issued and the Crowdfunding industry has adopted the FundersClub and AngelList model: if you’re doing Rule 506(b) deals, you put the actual deals behind a registration firewall.
Once an investor registers at your site he can see the deals, but he can’t invest in them. In a series of no-action letters issued long before the JOBS Act, the SEC established that once an investor has become a customer, he has to wait before investing – the so-called “cooling off period.”
Some sites today are using a 21 day cooling off period, presumably because Title III incorporates a 21 day cooling off period. But the Title III rule is irrelevant to Rule 506(b). Thirty days is probably better, although, again, the notion of a cooling off period comes from SEC rulings, not a statute.
One more twist: at the end of the cooling off period, your investor can invest only in new deals, not deals that were on the site when he registered.
Rule 506(c) Deals
Rule 506(c) is far simpler. If you are doing only Rule 506(c) deals, you can show anything to anyone anytime.
Using Rule 506(c), you can show every detail of every deal to every casual viewer, even before the viewer has registered at your site. If you think that’s a bad idea from a marketing perspective or because you’re trying to protect confidential information, no problem. You don’t have to show all the details on your home page, but you can.
You can also make users register before they can see deals, just like Rule 506(b). If you take that route, you can ask users whether they’re accredited when they register, as you would under Rule 506(b), but you don’t have to ask. You can let everyone see the deals, accredited and non-accredited alike.
If you ask whether users are accredited – because you think it’s a good idea from a marketing perspective – that doesn’t mean you have to stop non-accredited investors at the door. Non-accredited investors can see the deals, too. Maybe they’ll tell their accredited friends.
Suppose a user tells you she’s accredited when she registers. Can you take her word for it? At that point in the process, absolutely! We don’t want to spend money or time on verification yet, and we don’t want to create transactional friction where we don’t have to.
With Rule 506(c), there is only one critical moment: when your investor is ready to write a check. At that point you must verify that she’s accredited, not merely by asking her but by looking at her tax returns, or getting a letter from her lawyer, or, most likely, having her verified by a third party service like VerifyInvestors or Crowdentials.
There’s no cooling off period with Rule 506(c), either. Your investors can see all the deals and invest right away.
Have I mentioned before that Rule 506(c) is better for Crowdfunding?
Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.