Tag Archives: Investors

What’s the Difference Between Rule 506(c) and Rule 506(b) in Crowdfunding?

Three and a half years into Title II Crowdfunding, I am asked this question a lot, sometimes by portals, sometimes by issuers.

A Chart, of Course

Three Important Differences

Verification

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.

Information

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.

Advertising

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.

Which is Better?

If I own a jewelry store, I have two choices:

  • I can display jewelry in the front window where passersby can see it.
  • I can display a sign in the front window saying “Great jewelry inside. Must register to enter.”

That’s why I prefer Rule 506(c).

But I also acknowledge three benefits of Rule 506(b):

  • To include non-accredited investors, you must use Rule 506(b), or another kind of offering altogether.
  • If you use Rule 506(c), you might lose bona fide accredited investors who are unwilling to provide verification.
  • If you use Rule 506(b), which doesn’t require verification, you might get money from non-accredited investors who are willing to lie.

Switching Midstream

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.

Regulation A Webinar Follow-Up Q&A

A couple weeks ago, Howard Marks of StartEngine and I presented a webinar about Regulation A. Listeners asked far more questions than we were able to answer in the time given, and I promised to post their questions and answers on the blog. Here goes.

First, a few links:

What’s the difference between Regulation A and Regulation A+?

There is no difference. Regulation A has been around for a long time, but was rarely used primarily because issuers could raise only $5 million and were required to register with every state where they offered securities. Title IV of the JOBS Act required the SEC to create a new and improved version of Regulation A, and the new and improved version is sometimes referred to colloquially as Regulation A+. But it’s the same thing legally as Regulation A.

Can I use Regulation A to raise money from non-U.S. investors?

Definitely. Non-U.S. investors may participate in all three flavors of Crowdfunding: Title II, Title III, and Title IV (Regulation A).

But don’t forget, the U.S. isn’t the only country with securities laws. If you raise money from a German citizen, Germany wants you to comply with its laws.

Can non-U.S. companies use Regulation A?

Only companies organized in the U.S. or Canada and having their principal place of business in the U.S. or Canada may use Regulation A.

What about a company with headquarters in the U.S. but manufacturing facilities elsewhere?

That’s fine. What matters is that the issuer’s officers, partners, or managers primarily direct, control and coordinate the issuer’s activities from the U.S (or Canada).

Is Regulation A applicable to use for equity or debt for a real estate development project?

I believe that real estate will play the same dominant role in Regulation A that it plays in Title II. I also believe that real estate development will be more difficult to sell than stable, cash-flowing projects simply because of the different risk profile.

Is there any limit on the amount an accredited investor can invest?

No. An accredited investor may invest an unlimited amount in both Tier 1 and Tier 2 offerings under Regulation A. A non-accredited investor may invest an unlimited amount in Tier 1 offerings, but may invest no more than 10% of her income or 10% of her net worth, whichever is greater, in each Tier 2 offering.

What kinds of securities can be sold using Regulation A?

All kinds: equity, debt, convertible debt, common stock, preferred stock, etc.

But you cannot sell “asset-backed securities” using Regulation A, as that term is defined in SEC Regulation AB. The classic “asset-backed security” is where a hedge fund purchases $1 billion of credit card debt from the credit card issuer, breaks the debt into “tranches” based on credit rating and other factors, and securitizes the tranches to investors. However, the SEC views the term more broadly.

Can I combine a Regulation A offering with other offerings?

In general yes. For example, there’s no problem if an issuer raises money using Rule 506 (Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c)) while it prepares its Regulation A offering. The legal issues become more cloudy if an issuer wants to combine multiple types of offerings simultaneously. Theoretically just about anything is possible.

Can the same platform list securities under both Regulation A and Title II?

Yes. In fact, the same platform can list securities under all three flavors of Crowdfunding:  Title II, Title III, and Title IV. But on that platform, only licensed “Funding Portals” can offer Title III securities.

Does a platform offering securing under Regulation A have to be a broker-dealer?

The simple answer is No. But a platform that crosses the line into acting like a broker-dealer, or is compensated with commissions or other “transaction based compensation,” would have to register as a broker-dealer or become affiliated with a broker-dealer.

Can a non-profit organization use Regulation A?

Regulation A is one exception to the general rule that all offerings of securities must be registered with the SEC under section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933. Non-profit organizations are allowed to sell securities without registration under a different exception. So the answer is that non-profits don’t have to use Regulation A.

With that said, I represent non-profit organizations that have created for-profit subsidiaries that plan to engage in Regulation A offerings. For example, a non-profit in the business of urban development might create a subsidiary to develop an urban in-fill project, raising money partly from grants and partly from Regulation A.

Can I use Regulation A to create a fund?

If by “fund” you mean a pool of assets, like a pool of 30 multi-family apartment communities, then Yes. You can either buy the apartment communities first and then raise the money, or raise the money first and then deploy it in your discretion. If you want to own each apartment community in a separate limited liability company subsidiary, that’s okay also.

If by “fund” you mean a pool of investments, like a pool of 30 minority interests in limited liability companies that themselves own multi-family apartment communities, then No. Your “fund” would be treated as an “investment company” under the Investment Company Act of 1940, and Regulation A may not be used to raise money for investment companies.

Can a fund be established for craft beverages?

Same idea. You could use Regulation A to raise money for a brewery that will develop multiple craft beverages. You cannot use Regulation A to buy minority interests in multiple craft beverage companies.

For a brand new company, can the audited financial statements required by Tier 2 be dated as of the date of formation, and just show zeroes?

Yes, as long as the date of formation is within nine months before the date of filing or qualification and the date of filing or qualification is not more than three months after the entity reached its first annual balance sheet date.

How does the $50 million annual limit apply if I have more than one project?

The $20 million annual limit under Tier 1, and the $50 million limit under Tier 2, are per-issuer limits. A developer with, say, three office building projects, each requiring $50 million of equity, can use Regulation A for all three at the same time.

NOTE:  This is different than Title III, where the $1 million annual limit applies to all issuers under common control.

What does “testing the waters” mean?

It means that before your Regulation A offering is approved (“qualified”) by the SEC, and even before you start preparing all the legal documents, you can advertise the offering and accept non-binding commitments from prospective investors. If you don’t find enough interest, you can save yourself the trouble and cost of going through with the offering.

NOTE:  Any materials you use for “testing the waters” must be submitted to the SEC, if the offering proceeds.

Where can Regulation A securities be traded?

Theoretically, Regulation A securities could be registered with the SEC under the Exchange Act and traded on a national market. But I’m sure that’s not what the listener meant. Without being registered under the Exchange Act, a Regulation A security may be traded on the over-the-counter market, sponsored by a broker-dealer.

This sounds expensive! Can you give us an estimate?

Stay tuned! A post about cost is on the way.

Questions? Let me know.

 

 

Diagram For Borrower-Dependent Notes

Borrower-dependent notes secured by real estate are the backbone of today’s Crowdfunding industry. Here’s a diagram showing one possible structure. There are others, but I like this best in most situations.

Caveat #1:  A diagram can’t address these critical issues:

  • Broker-dealer registration
  • The terms of the Notes and the Indenture
  • The terms of the Trust
  • The assignment of collateral
  • State lending laws

Caveat #2:  This structure doesn’t work for Title III or Title IV. More on that later.

Questions? Let me know.

Will Someone Please Offer Investment Advice For Crowdfunding?

business handshake

Very few retail investors have the skill to pick a great deal from a mediocre deal. I know I don’t, and I’ve been representing real estate developers and entrepreneurs my whole career.

Taking a cue from the public stock market, one way to address the retail market is to create the equivalent of a mutual fund for Crowdfunding investments. You would create a limited liability company to act as the fund, raise money from investors using Crowdfunding, and the manager would select investments from Crowdfunding portals.

Great idea conceptually, but it doesn’t work legally:

  • The LLC would, by definition, be an “investment company” under the Investment Company Act of 1940. As such, you would be prohibited from using Title III or Title IV to raise money for the fund.
  • You could use Title II to raise money for the fund, but as an investment company the fund would be subject to extremely onerous and costly regulation, e., the same regulation that applies to mutual funds. To avoid the regulation, you would have to limit the fund to either (1) no more than 100 accredited investors, or (2) only investors with at least $5 million of investments. In either case, you defeat the purpose.

But there is another way! A licensed investment adviser could offer investment advice with respect to investments in Crowdfunding projects and, for that matter, make the investments on behalf of his or her retail customers, charging an annual fee based on the amount invested. The adviser would allow each retail investor to effectively create his or her own “mutual fund” of projects based on individual preferences.

Not only would the investment adviser make money, the availability of unbiased advice would draw retail investors into the space – a win for the industry.

To quote Pink Floyd, is there anybody out there?

Questions? Let me know.

No Demo Days For Title III Issuers

Crowdfunding is a marketing business. But when it comes to marketing an offering of securities by a Title III issuer, things get complicated. That’s why this is three times longer than any blog post should be.

Why It Matters

No Demo Days For YouSection 5(c) of the Securities Act provides that an issuer may not make an “offer” of securities unless a full-blown registration statement is in effect, of the kind you would prepare for a public offering.

There are lots of exceptions to the general rule and Title III is one of them: you can make “offers” of securities without having a full-blown registration in effect, if you comply with the requirements of Title III.

On one hand that’s good, because if you market your offering as allowed by Title III, you’re in the clear. On the other hand, if you make “offer” of securities without meaning to, or without complying with the intricacies of Title III, you could be in trouble in two ways:

  • You might have violated section 5(c), putting yourself in jeopardy of enforcement action by the SEC and other liability.
  • By making an illegal offer, you might have jeopardized your ability to use Title III at all.

What is an “Offer” of Securities?

Section 2(a)(3) of the Securities Act defines “offer” very broadly, to include “every attempt or offer to dispose of, or solicitation of an offer to buy, a security or interest in a security, for value.” And the SEC has defined “offer” even more broadly than those words suggest. Going back to 1957, the SEC said that any publicity that could “contribute to conditioning the public mind or arousing public interest” could be treated as an “offer.”

These examples illustrate the spectrum:

  • A company continues to advertise its services as usual, keeping its plans for an offering under wraps, then files an S-1 registration statement.
  • A company steps up its public relations efforts before a new product announcement, which happens to coincide with a new public offering.
  • For six months before it files a registration statement, a company triples its advertising budget, trying to build brand recognition specifically with the investing public.
  • A company puts up a website announcing “Please buy our common stock!”

The SEC has adopted a number of rules describing behavior that will not be treated as an “offer” for purposes of section 5(c). For example, Rule 135 allows so-called “tombstone” advertisements of registered offerings, Rule 135c allows notices of private offerings by publicly-reporting companies, and Rule 169 allows factual business information released by an issuer that has filed or intends to file a registration statement. But all these rules apply only to companies that are or intend to become public or publicly-reporting. There are no equivalent rules dealing with the behavior of small companies.

A Different Definition for Small Companies?

With that background, advice given by the SEC in 2015 catches your attention:

Question: Does a demo day or venture fair necessarily constitute a general solicitation for purposes of Rule 502(c)?

SEC Answer: No. Whether a demo day or venture fair constitutes a general solicitation for purposes of Rule 502(c) is a facts and circumstances determination. Of course, if a presentation by the issuer does not involve an offer of a security, then the requirements of the Securities Act are not implicated.

The italicized statement is true, by definition. If there is no “offer,” the securities laws don’t apply. Even so, it’s hard to reconcile with the SEC guidance for public companies. A “demo day” iDemo Day Presentations, by any definition, an event where companies make presentations to investors. Not to customers, to investors. If merely “conditioning the public mind” can be an offer, it is very hard to understand how presenting to a roomful of investors could not be an offer.

Trying to reconcile the two, you might conclude that the SEC is, in effect, using different definitions of “offer” depending on the circumstances. During the period surrounding a public offering of securities a stringent definition applies (the 1957 ruling involved the period immediately following the filing of a registration statement) while outside that period a more lenient definition applies. If that were true, those of us trying to advise Title III issuers would sleep better.

There are two glitches with the theory, however:

  • Maybe the SEC will view the period surrounding a Title III listing in the same way it views the period surrounding a public registration statement.
  • The preamble to the final Title III regulations actually cites Rule 169 and cautions that “The Commission has interpreted the term ‘offer” broadly. . . .and has explained that ‘the publication of information and publicity efforts, made in advance of a proposed financing which have the effect of conditioning the public mind or arousing public interest in the issuer or in its securities constitutes an offer. . . .’” That sure doesn’t sound like a more lenient rule for Title III.

The Title III Rule for Advertising

Title III is about Crowdfunding, right? Doesn’t that mean Title III issuers are allowed to advertise anywhere and say anything, just like Title II issuers?

Not exactly.

A core principle of Title III is that everything happens on the portal, where everyone can see it, so nobody has better access to information than anyone else. A corollary is that that Title III issuers aren’t allowed to advertise freely. If a Title III issuer put information about its offering in the New York Times, for example, maybe readers of the New York Post (are there any?) wouldn’t see it.

A Title III issuer can advertise any where it wants – Twitter, newspapers, radio, web, etc. – but it can’t say any thing it wants. All it can do is provide a link to the Funding Portal with an ad that’s limited to:

  • A statement that the issuer is conducting an offering tweet
  • The terms of the offering
  • Brief factual information about the issuer, e.g., name, address, and URL

In the public company world, those are referred to as “tombstone” ads and look just about that appealing. In the online world issuers can do much better. A colorful post on the issuer’s Twitter or Facebook pages saying “We’re raising money! Come join us at www.FundingPortal.com!” is just fine. 

Insignificant Deviations From The Rules

Recognizing that Title III is very complicated and new, section 502 of the Title III regulations provides:

A failure to comply with a term, condition, or requirement. . . .will not result in the loss of the exemption. . . .if the issuer shows. . . .the failure to comply was insignificant with respect to the offering as a whole and the issuer made a good faith and reasonable attempt to comply. . . .”

The language is vague, as it has to be, but it certainly suggests that Title III issuers can make mistakes without losing the exemption. And there’s no reason why mistakes in advertising an offering should be treated more harshly than other mistakes.

The purpose of the advertising rule, as we’ve seen, is to ensure that every investor has access to the same information. If a Title III issuer mistakenly provides more information about its offering in a Facebook post than it should have, the infraction could be cured easily – for example, by ensuring that any information in the Facebook post appeared on the Funding Portal for at least 21 days before the offering goes live, or by correcting the Facebook post and directing Facebook friends to the Funding Portal.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Ideally, a company thinking about raising money using Title III would follow these simple rules:

  • Don’t attend demo days.
  • In fact, don’t mention your plan to raise money to any potential investors until you register with a Title III Funding Portal.
  • The minute you want to talk about raising money, register with a Title III Funding Portal.
  • After registering with a Title III Funding Portal, don’t mention your offering except in “tombstone” advertising.
  • After registering with a Title III Funding Portal, don’t meet, speak, or even exchange emails with investors, except through the chat room on the Funding Portal.

ducks in a row 2A company that follows those rules shouldn’t have problems.

That’s ideal, but what about a company that didn’t speak to a lawyer before attending a demo day? What about a company that posted about its offering on Facebook before registering with a Funding Portal, and included too much information? What about a company that’s spoken with some potential investors already? What about a real company?

Nobody knows for sure, but unless the SEC takes a very different position with regard to Title III than it has taken with regard to Regulation D, I think a company that has engaged in any of those activities, or even all of those activities, can still qualify for a successful Title III offering.

Let’s not forget, the SEC has been very accommodating toward Crowdfunding, from the no-action letters in March 2013 to taking on state securities regulators in Regulation A. With section 502 in its toolbox, it’s hard to believe that the SEC is going to smother Title III in its cradle by imposing on startups the same rules it imposes on public companies.

It’s instructive to look at the way the SEC has treated the concept of “general solicitation and advertising” under Regulation D.

By the letter of the law, any contact with potential investors with whom the issuer does not have a “pre-existing, substantive relationship” is treated “general solicitation,” disqualifying the issuer from an offering under Rule 506(b) (and all of Rule 506, before the JOBS Act). But the SEC has taken a much more pragmatic approach based on what it refers to as “long-standing practice” in the startup industry. In fact, in a 1995 no-action letter the SEC concluded that there had been no “general solicitation” for a demo day event even when investors had been invited through newspaper advertisements.

I think the SEC will recognize “long-standing practice” in interpreting Title III also.

Bearing in mind the language of section 502, I think the key will be that an issuer tried to comply with the rules once it knew about them, i.e., that a company didn’t violate the rules flagrantly or intentionally. If you’re a small company reading this post and start following the rules carefully today, I think you’ll end up with a viable offering. Yes, there might be some legal doubt, at least until the SEC issues clarifications, but entrepreneurs live with all kinds of doubt, legal and otherwise, all the time.

It’s Not Just the Issuer

The issuer isn’t the only party with a stake in the advertising rules. The Funding Portal might have even more on the line.

Here’s the challenge:

  • Before allowing an issuer on its platform, a Funding Portal is required to have a ”reasonable basis” for believing that the issuer has complied with all the requirements of Title III.
  • We’ve seen that one of the requirements of Title III is that all advertising must point back to the Funding Portal.
  • Before the issuer registered with a Funding Portal, advertising by the issuer couldn’t have pointed back to the Funding Portal.
  • Therefore, if a would-be issuer has engaged in advertising before registering with the Funding Portal, including any activity that could be construed as an “offer” for purposes of section 5(c), the Funding Portal might be required legally to turn the issuer away.

QuestionnaireWith their legal obligations in mind, dozens of Funding Portals are preparing questionnaires for would-be issuers as I write this, asking questions like “Have you made any offers of securities during the last 90 days? Have you participated in demo days?”

If the Funding Portal denies access to any issuer that answers “I don’t know” or “Yes,” it might end up with very few issuers on its platform. On the other hand, if it doesn’t ask the questions, or ignores the answers, it’s probably not satisfying its legal obligation, risking its SEC license as well as lawsuits from investors.

The Funding Portal will have to make some tough calls. But its answer doesn’t have to be limited to “Yes” or “No.” For one thing, using its own judgment, the Funding Portal might suggest ways for the issuer to “fix” any previous indiscretions. For another, rather than make the call itself, the Funding Portal might ask for an opinion from the issuer’s lawyer to the effect that the issuer is eligible to raise money using Title III.

Advertising Products and Services

We’ve seen that product advertisements by a company that has filed, or is about to file, a public registration statement can be viewed as an “offer” of securities for purposes of section 5(c) if the company uses the product advertisement to “arouse interest” in the offering.  However, I don’t believe this will be a concern with Title III:

  • A company that has registered with a Funding Portal should be free to advertise its products and services however it pleases. There’s no “quiet period” or similar concept with Title III the way there is with a public registration.
  • A company that has not yet registered with a Funding Portal and is not otherwise offering its securities should also be free to advertise its products or services. Just not at a demo day!

Many companies in the Title III world will be looking to their customers as potential investors. For those companies it makes perfect sense to advertise an offering of securities in conjunction with an advertisement of products or services. Sign up with a Funding Portal, follow the rules for advertising, and “joint” advertisements of product and offering should be fine.

Will a Legend Do the Trick?

Suppose a company thinking about raising money using Title III Crowdfunding makes a presentation to a roomful of investors at a demo day, but includes on each slide of its deck the disclaimer: “This is Not An Offering Of Securities.”

The disclaimer doesn’t hurt and might tip the balance in a close case, but don’t rely on it.

An Issuer With A Past:  Using Rule 506(c) to Clean Up

Great Gatsby original ad

Photo Credit: Fast Company editor Jason Feifer

In Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the main character reaches for a new future but, in the end, finds himself rowing “against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” In this final section I’ll suggest a way that an issuer might raise money using Title III notwithstanding a troubled past, succeeding where Jay Gatsby could not.

Suppose an issuer registers with a Funding Portal, raises money using Title III, then fails. Looking for a basis to sue, investors learn that the issuer attended a demo day three weeks before registering with the Funding Portal. An illegal offer! Gotcha!

“No,” says the issuer, calmly. “You’re right that we attended a demo day and made an offer of securities, but that’s when we were thinking about a Rule 506(c) offering. As you know, offers made under Rule 506(c) are perfectly legal. It was only afterward that we started to think about Title III.”

As long as the record – emails, promotional materials, investor decks, and so forth – demonstrates that any “offers” were made in contemplation of Regulation D rather than Title III, I think the issuer wins that case. The case would be even stronger if the issuer actually sold securities using Rule 506(c) and filed a Form D to that effect, before registering with the Funding Portal.

An issuer with a troubled past – one that has attended lots of demo days, posted lots of information on Facebook and met with a bunch of different investors – might go so far as to engage in and complete a Rule 506(c) offering before registering on a Funding Portal. With the copy of the Form D in their files, the issuer and the Funding Portal might feel more comfortable that the troubled past is behind.

Questions? Let me know.

Postcast: An Australian’s Guide to Investing in U.S. Real Estate

AussieEarlier this month I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Reed Goossens, who speaks with a strange accent but knows a heck of a lot about real estate. During the program, the third installment in Reed’s series on U.S. real estate syndication, I talked about raising capital from non- U.S. investors and other more general issues that face syndicators and investors.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the podcast here.

Workshop on Regulation A+

 

On March 4th I had the pleasure of co-presenting a workshop on Regulation A (Title IV Crowdfunding) in Mountain View, California, at an event organized by Crowdfund Beat. My co-presenter, Jillian Sidoti of SyndicationLawyers.com, is a terrific person, an engaging speaker, and one of the country’s leading authorities on Regulation A.

I hope you enjoy our conversation and get a sense of the real-life practicalities of preparing and filing a Regulation A offering.

CrowdFund Beat Media International is an online source of news, information, events and resources for the crowdfunding industry. Currently we cover the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, and Holland, and soon we’ll be expanding to Spain, Australia, Japan and China. We think of our work as an educational and informative service to the crowdfunding community, and appreciate your suggestions.

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