Tag Archives: FINRA

What “Solicit” Means Under Title III

Before the JOBS Act came along, listing a security on a public website would itself have been treated as an act of “solicitation.” That’s the odd thing: Title III portals aren’t allowed to “solicit,” yet in the traditional sense of the term that’s the most important thing Congress created them to do.

The fact is that Congress was ambivalent when it created Title III portals. They are allowed to list offerings of securities, but are not allowed to do other things often associated with the sale of securities, including holding investor funds or offering investment advice. They are regulated by the SEC and FINRA, but with a light touch compared with other regulated entities. They are privately-owned, but are required to provide educational materials to investors, police issuers, provide an online communication platform, and ensure that investors don’t exceed their investment limits – in short, they are required to assume a quasi-governmental role.

Title III portals are a new animal, part fish, part bird. Which makes it that much more difficult to decide what “solicit” means when they do it.

Based on the statute, the SEC regulations, the legislative background of the JOBS Act, and the history and overall context of the U.S. securities laws, I think a Title III portal engages in prohibited “solicitation” anytime it tries to steer an investor to a particular security. If it’s not trying to steer an investor to a particular security, then it’s probably okay.

I’ve included some practical guidelines in the chart below. Although there are plenty of gaps, I hope this helps.

Click the following for a print ready version of the complete chart: Rules for Title III Portals

Rules for Title III Portals

 

 

How To Operate A Title II Portal And A Title III Portal On The Same Platform

crainsMost Title II and Title IV portals will also want to operate Title III portals, and vice versa. Can they do it?

The Title III regulations issued by the SEC appear to contemplate that a Title III portal – a “funding portal” – will do more than operate a Title III portal. For example, 17 CFR §227.401 provides that “A funding portal. . . .is exempt from the broker registration requirements of section 15(a)(1) of the Exchange Act in connection with its activities as a funding portal.” If a Title III portal couldn’t do anything else, that extra language at the end wouldn’t be necessary.

The same is true for of the regulations issued by FINRA. FINRA prohibits Funding Portals from making false or exaggerated claims, implying that past performance will recur, claiming that FINRA itself has blessed an offering, or engaging in other misconduct, but a well-behaved Title II or Title IV portal would have no trouble meeting those standards.

What about the platform itself? The Title III regulations (17 CFR §227.300(c)(4)) define “platform” as:

A program or application accessible via the Internet or other similar electronic communication medium through which a registered broker or a registered funding portal acts as an intermediary in a transaction involving the offer or sale of securities in reliance on section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act.

Nothing there would prohibit Title II, Title III, and title IV securities from appearing on the same website.

The fly in the ointment is 17 CFR §227.300(c)(2)(ii), which provides that a Title III portal may not:

  • Offer investment advice or recommendations; OR
  • Solicit purchases, sales or offers to buy the securities displayed on its platform.

What does that mean, in the context of a portal offering both Title II and Title III securities? What it should mean is that a Title III portal cannot offer investment advice or recommendations concerning Title III securities, and cannot solicit purchases, sales, or offers of Title III securities. The idea of Title III is to protect Title III investors. Why should the SEC care whether the portal is offering investment advice concerning Title II or Title IV securities?

But we can’t be 100% sure that’s what it means. If it means that a Title III portal can’t offer investment advice about any securities and can’t solicit offers to buy any securities, then we need to steer clear.

I’ve spoken informally with the SEC and they’re not sure how to interpret 17 CFR §227.300(c)(2)(ii). They suggested I submit a request for a no-action ruling and I guess I will, unless one of my Crowdfunding colleagues already has.

Pending that guidance, there are several ways to operate a Title II portal, a Title III portal, and a Title IV portal on the same platform:

  • Operate the portals through a single legal entity. Avoid giving investment advice to anybody or soliciting purchases, sales, or offers of any securities.
  • Operate the portals through one legal entity. If you want to offer investment advice and/or actively solicit, do it through or more additional legal entities. For now, limit the investment advice and active solicitation to Title II and Title IV securities.
  • Create a separate legal entity to hold the Title III license. Create an arm’s length license agreement between that entity and the entity that owns the platform (a simple downloadable form is here). List all the deals on the same platform, but make sure that when an investor clicks on a Title III deal the Title III portal handles the investment process.

Finally, FINRA is a wonderful organization, but I’m not necessarily eager to have FINRA looking at everything my clients do. All other things being equal, I might choose option #3 just to keep a degree of separation between the regulated entity and my non-regulated activities. But that’s not necessarily the end of it – FINRA will want to explore the relationship between the funding portal and its affiliates.

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding Legal Resources

I really appreciate the time you spend on my blog. To make the blog more useful, I’ve added a Legal Links button, up there to the right. To start, you’ll find links to:

I plan to add more links in the future and welcome your suggestions.

Questions? Let me know.

IT’S EASY TO BE A TITLE III CROWDFUNDING PORTAL!

All you have to do is:

  • Register with the Securities and Exchange Commission by filing a Form Funding Portal and posting a bond of at least $100,000.
  • Notify the SEC within 30 days if any of the information on Form Funding Portal changes.
  • Join FINRA and comply with all its rules and regulations.
  • Implement written policies and procedures “reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the federal securities laws.”
  • Comply with the requirements of 31 CFR Chapter X relating to money laundering.
  • Comply with the requirements of 17 CFR 248 relating to privacy.
  • Permit inspection by all your records and facilities by the SEC.
  • For each issuer (company trying to raise money) listed on your platform, have a reasonable basis for believing the issuer (1) complies with all applicable requirements, and (2)  has established a way to keep accurate records of investors.
  • Deny access to any issuer if:
    • You believe the issuer is a “bad actor.” To enforce this requirement you must (at a minimum) conduct a background and securities enforcement check on each issuer and on each officer, director, and beneficial owner of at least 20% of the issuer.
    • You believe the issuer or the offering presents the potential for fraud “or otherwise raises concerns regarding investor protection.” How would you know? If you are unable to “effectively assess the risk of fraud,” you have to deny access.
  • Provide educational materials to potential investors that explain in plain language “and are otherwise designed to communicate effectively and accurately”:
    • The mechanism for purchasing stock of the issuer;
    • The risks of purchasing stock;
    • The types of securities offered on your platform and the risks of each type;
    • The restrictions on resale imposed by law or contract;
    • The kinds of information the issuer is required to provide;
    • The per-investor limitations on investment;
    • The investor’s right to cancel the investment, and the limitations on those rights;
    • The need for the investor to think about whether the investment is appropriate; and
    • That following the investor’s purchase of stock, there might be no further relationship between the investor and your portal.
  • Keep all those educational materials current on your website and, where appropriate, make any revisions available to investors before accepting investments.
  • Tell investors about the requirements applicable to promoters.
  • Disclose to investors how you are being compensated.
  • Make available to investors and the SEC – in
    downloadable form – all the information the issuer itself is required to make available, including:

    • The name, address, and website of the issuer;
    • The names of the directors and officers, their positions with the issuer, and their overall business experience over the last three years;
    • Each person’s principal occupation and employment, and the name and principal business of any other entity where the occupation and employment took place;
    • The name of each person who owns at least 20% of the issuer;
    • A description of the issuer’s business and business plan;
    • The number of the issuer’s employees;
    • A discussion of factors that make the investment risky;
    • The target offering amount, and a statement that if the target is not reached, all the money will be returned;
    • Whether the issuer will accept money in excess of the target, and how;
    • The purpose and intended uses of the offering proceeds;
    • A description of the process to complete a purchase and sale of stock, including statements that:
      • An investor may cancel his investment up to 48 hours before the deadline;
      • The portal (you) will notify investors when the target amount is reached;
      • The issuer may close the offering before the deadline if the target amount is reached; and
      • If the investor does not cancel his investment and the target is reached, the offering will close
    • That a material change is made after an investor commits, his or her money will be returned unless he or she affirmatively re-commits;
    • The price of the stock;
    • A description of the capital structure of the issuer, including:
      • A summary of all securities, including associated voting rights;
      • A statement how the exercise of rights held by the principal stockholders of the issuer could affect investors;
      • The name and “ownership level” of each person who owns 20% or more of the issuer;
      • How the stock purchased by the investor was valued, and might be valued in the future;
      • The risks associated with minority ownership and the issuance of additional securities in the future; and
      • A description of all restrictions on transfer;
    • The name of the portal (you);
    • The amount of your compensation;
    • A description of all indebtedness of the issuer;
    • A description of all non-public offerings of securities within the last three years, including:
      • The date of the offering;
      • The offering exemption;
      • The types of securities offered; and
      • The amount of money raised and how it was used;
    • A description of any transaction since the beginning of the issuer’s last full fiscal year, involving at least 5% of the amount to be raised in the Title III offering, in which any of the following had an interest:
      • A director or officer of the issuer;
      • A person who owned 20% or more of the issuer;
      • A promoter of the issuer; or
      • A family member of any of the foregoing;
    • A description of the issuer’s financial condition;
    • Financial statements (the kind of statement is based on how much money the issuer is raising);
    • Any matters that would have resulted in disqualification under the “bad actor” rules had they occurred after Title III became effective.
  • Make all of that information available to investors and the SEC on a Form C (newly created) at least 21 days before any securities are sold, update the progress of the offering, and keep all of the information available until the offering is completed or canceled.
  • Before accepting money from an investor:
    • Have a reasonable basis for believing the investor satisfies the applicable investment limitations (you can generally rely on the investor’s representations); and
    • Obtain from the investor:
      • A representation that the investor has reviewed the education materials and can bear the entire loss of his or her investment; and
      • A questionnaire demonstrating the investor’s understanding that:
        • There are restrictions on his or her ability to cancel the investment;
        • It may be difficult to re-sell the stock; and
        • Investing is risky – in fact, the investor should be able to afford the loss of his or her entire investment.
  • Establish communications channels (message boards?) that allow investors to communicate with one another and with representatives of the issuers about offerings on your platform, provided that:
      • You can’t participate in these communications;
      • You have to provide unlimited public access to the communications, but can allow comments only from those registered with your platform; and
      • You require anyone posting comments to disclose whether he or she is affiliated with the issuer;
  • Upon receiving a commitment from an investor, you must give him or her notification of:
    • The dollar amount of the commitment;
    • The price of the security;
    • The identify of the issuer; and
    • The deadline for canceling the commitment;
  • Establish a relationship with a bank as an escrow agent under a written escrow agreement and direct that:
    • Funds from investors be transferred to the issuer if the target amount has been reached, the cancellation period has expired, and at least 21 days have elapsed since the issuer’s information was first made available on your platform; and
    • Return the funds to the investor if the investor cancels or the offering terminates.
  • On or before the closing of the offering, give notice to all investors, providing:
    • The date of the closing;
    • The type of security purchased by the investor;
    • The identity, price, and number of securities purchased by the investor;
    • The total amount of securities sold by the issuer and the price(s) at which they were sold;
    • If the security is a debt security, the interest rate, the maturity date, and the yield to maturity;
    • If the security is callable, the first date it can be called; and
    • The amount and source of your remuneration.
    • If the issuer decides to close the transaction earlier than the deadline established initially, give notice to all investors, providing:
      • The date of the new deadline;
      • The right for investors to cancel up to 48 hours before the new deadline; and
      • Whether the issuer will continue to accept commitments during the 48 hour period before the new deadline.
  • If there is a material change to the terms of the offering or the information about the issuer, notify investors that all commitments will be canceled unless investors re-confirm their commitments.
  • If any investor fails to re-confirm within five business days, notify the investor and direct the return of his or her money.
  • If an offering is canceled, notify all investors, direct the return of their money, and ensure that no further commitments are made for the offering.
  • Maintain the following records for five years:
    • Records relating to each investor who purchased securities or tried to;
    • Records relating to each issuer that offered securities or tried to;
    • Records of all communications on your platform;
    • Records relating to anyone who uses your platform to promote securities or communicate with investors;
    • Records that document your compliance with the SEC’s rules and regulations;
    • All your notices to issuers and investors, including your Terms of Use;
    • All your contracts;
    • Daily, monthly, and quarterly summaries of transactions, including:
      • Transactions that have successfully closed; and
      • Transaction volume, expressed in:
        • Number of transactions;
        • Number of securities sold in transactions;
        • Total amounts raised by each issuer; and
        • Total amounts raised by all issuers; and
    • A log reflecting the progress of each issuer.
    • Maintain and preserve all your organizational documents.

But you must not:

  • Have any financial interest in any of your listed companies.
  • Receive any financial interest as compensation for your services.
  • Offer investment advice or recommendations.
  • Deny access to an issuer based on your assessment of the issuer’s prospects.
  • Solicit purchases, sales or offers to buy the securities offered on your platform.
  • Compensate employees or others for such solicitation.
  • Hold or manage investor funds.
  • Pay anyone for providing personally identifiable information of investors.
  • Pay anyone except registered brokers or dealers for directing issuers or investors to your platform on a commission basis.

That’s all you have to do!

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

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