Tag Archives: SEC regulations

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.

CFGE CROWDFUND BANKING AND LENDING SUMMIT IN SAN FRANCISCO

Roderick CFGE

Since Labor Day, I’ve spoken at half a dozen events: for entrepreneurs, for intellectual property lawyers, for finance professionals, for digital marketing groups. This week I’ll be speaking at one of the premier Crowdfunding events in country, the CFGE Crowdfund Banking and Lending Summit on the 16th and 17th in San Francisco.

The conference features some of the leaders in the industry, including:

  • Richard Swart, Director of Research for Innovation in Entrepreneur and Social Finance, Colman Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership at UC Berkeley.
  • Ron Suber, the President of Prosper.
  • Jason Fritton, the Founder and CEO of Patch of Land.
  • Tom Lockard, the Vice President for Real Estate Investment and Institutional Sales of Fundrise.
  • Nikul Patel, the Chief Lending Officer of LendingTree.
  • Jesse Clem, the Co-Founder of LOQUIDITY, LLC.
  • Joy Schoffler, the CEO of Leverage PR.

Whether you’re new to Crowdfunding or an industry veteran, I’d strongly suggest you attend. I’m always amazed how much more there is to learn.

To register, click here. Make sure to use my promo code and receive a 25% discount! Promo code: Roderick

And while you’re there, please stop by and say hello. Crowdfunding and skiing – those are my two favorite topics.

A MODEL STATE CROWDFUNDING LAW

Model State CFI was asked recently to draft a Crowdfunding statute for Texas, to augment the proposals made by the Texas State Securities Board. Having done that, I have turned my Texas statute into a model law that could be used by any state, including the handful that have already adopted Crowdfunding in one form or another. The model law is a PDF here.

I drafted the model statute with these goals:

  • To balance the interests of investors, entrepreneurs, and state securities regulators;
  • To reflect the lessons I’ve learned over more than 30 years in the capital formation business;
  • To capture the current best practices of states and the Federal government;
  • To introduce new concepts that will allow Crowdfunding to flourish; and
  • As a Jeffersonian believer in Federalism, to leave space for state-by-state experimentation.

These are some of the key features:

  • The statute relies on portals that will be registered with state securities regulators. The same portal could be registered in more than one state and, indeed, could male offerings at the Federal level as well.
  • The statute imposes disclosure requirements that mirror the disclosures typically made in private placement transactions.
  • The statute expands the concept of “control persons.”
  • The statute requires that state securities regulators have 24/7 real-time access to any material shown to prospective investors.
  • The statute introduces and expands the Federal “bad actor” concept.
  • The statute raises investment limits for truly local projects, to encourage local investing.
  • The statute expands the definition of “accredited investor.”
  • The statute allows issuers to raise up to $2 million per offering.
  • The statute prohibits issuers from seeking to limit their liability for fraud or misrepresentation.
  • The statute gives state regulators broad latitude to modify in accordance with local conditions.

Everything is about balance. Without overwhelming issuers with bureaucracy, the statute protects investors and creates an ecosystem where capitalism can flourish.

I’m going to be reaching out to states with the model law. I would love to hear your input and advice.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

CROWDFUNDING TO FOREIGN INVESTORS THROUGH REGULATION S

crowdfunding_investorMost portal operators think sooner or later about raising money from foreign investors. SEC Regulation S offers a convenient mechanism to do just that.

Regulation S allows a U.S. company to sell debt or equity securities to foreign investors under the following conditions:

  • The issuer must reasonably believe that the investors are offshore.
  • The issuer may not engage in any “direct selling efforts” in the U.S.
  • For debt securities, sales to U.S. persons are prohibited for 40 days. For equity securities, the period is increased to one year.
  • Various legends and Bylaw provisions are required to enforce the prohibition on U.S. sales.

(Careful readers will note that none of these requirements is geared toward protecting the foreign investors. Instead, all of the requirements are geared toward ensuring the the securities are sold only to foreigners. As a U.S. regulatory agency, the SEC simply has no jurisdictional mandate to protect foreign investors.)

Three features make Regulation S especially useful for Crowdfunding portals and issuers:

  • A Regulation S offering may be conducted using general solicitation and advertisement, i.e., through Crowdfunding.
  • A Regulation S offering to foreign investors may be conducted concurrently with a Regulation D offering to U.S. investors, even for the same securities.
  • Under Regulation S, the issuer can be indifferent as to whether foreign investors are accredited.

That’s not the end of it, of course. Other countries have their own securities laws and their own SEC’s, and a U.S. issuer must comply with those rules as well.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

TITLE III AND THE EVOLUTION OF BUSINESS LAW

I’m not optimistic about Title III for the usual reason:  I think the cost of complying with the statute will prove too high. I’ve even proposed my own fix to the statute. But there are plenty of smart people who think otherwise, including Ron Miller of StartEngine, and ultimately opinions don’t matter. The market will decide whether Title III can work in its current form.

The SEC proposed regulations last October 23rd and the comment period ended long ago. Rather than wait for the statute to improve, I’m ready for the SEC to consider the comments, make changes to the proposed rules as it sees fit, finalize the regulations, and let the market do its job.

Whatever the defects of current Title III, and there are many, chances are they will be fixed over time. Time after time, almost from the beginning of time, the legal system has responded to the needs of the business community. Examples:

 

  • Hundreds of years ago, governments created corporations in direct response to the need of traders and investors to limit liability on foreign adventures.
  • With the advent of income taxes in the 20th century, business people had to choose between the limited liability of a corporation and the pass-thru tax treatment of a general partnership. But not for long. Soon legislatures created limited partnerships and S corporations, providing the best of both worlds.
  • When defects were discovered in limited partnerships and S corporation – for example, the risk that limited partners could face unlimited liability – legislators fixed them and fixed them until, lo and behold, Wyoming created an even better entity, the limited liability company we all know and use today (which, in turn, has already been improved).
  • Private placements have always been legal, regulated by the SEC through no-action letters and other guidance. But the private placement market needed clear rules. Hence, Regulation D in 1982. And now Title II of the JOBS Act has improved Regulation D by adding Rule 506(c).
  • Since I have been practicing law (less than a century) the corporate laws of most jurisdictions, including Delaware, have improved dramatically, as state legislatures respond to the needs of businesses large and small.

There are two things you never want to see being made:  sausage and law. But over time, commercial laws do change, usually for the better. If Wyoming can invent limited liability companies, surely we and our Federal government can improve Title III as the need becomes apparent.

So with malice toward none, with charity toward all, let’s stop debating whether Title III can work and let the market figure it out.

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

CROWDFUNDING.BIZ INTERVIEW

CFBizJosef Helm runs a terrific site called crowdfunding.biz focused on the Crowdfunding industry. This week Josef interviewed me as part of his Crowdfunding Industry Spotlight series. He asked how I got into the Crowdfunding industry, my advice for those getting in today, my hopes and expectations for the future of Crowdfunding, and a bunch of other illuminating questions.

If you’re interested, my interview is here. But as long as you’re at the site, take a look at the eight other people Josef has identified as industry leaders, people like Richard Swart and Joy Schoffler. Responding to the same questions, you might find their answers more interesting.

I’m honored to have been selected. Josef, thank you for what you do in this space.

INVESTOR VERIFICATION: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM THE SEC

The SEC recently issued four questions and answers dealing with investor verification.

Question #1

If a purchaser’s annual income is not reported in U.S. dollars, what exchange rate should an issuer use to determine whether the purchaser’s income meets the income test for qualifying as an accredited investor?

Answer: The issuer may use either the exchange rate that is in effect on the last day of the year for which income is being determined or the average exchange rate for that year.

Question #2

Can assets in an account or property held jointly with another person who is not the purchaser’s spouse be included in determining whether the purchaser satisfies the net worth test in Rule 501(a)(5)?

Answer: Yes, assets in an account or property held jointly with a person who is not the purchaser’s spouse may be included in the calculation for the net worth test, but only to the extent of his or her percentage ownership of the account or property. [July 3, 2014]

Question #3

Rule 506(c)(2)(ii)(A) sets forth a non-exclusive method of verifying that a purchaser is an accredited investor by, among other things, reviewing any Internal Revenue Service form that reports the purchaser’s income for the “two most recent years.” If such an Internal Revenue Service form is not yet available for the recently completed year (e.g., 2013), can the issuer still rely on this verification method by reviewing the Internal Revenue Service forms for the two prior years that are available (e.g., 2012 and 2011)?

Answer: No, the verification safe harbor provided in Rule 506(c)(2)(ii)(A) would not be available under these circumstances. We believe, however, that an issuer could reasonably conclude that a purchaser is an accredited investor and satisfy the verification requirement of Rule 506(c) under the principles-based verification method by:

  • Reviewing the Internal Revenue Service forms that report income for the two years preceding the recently completed year; and
  • Obtaining written representations from the purchaser that (i) an Internal Revenue Service form that reports the purchaser’s income for the recently completed year is not available, (ii) specify the amount of income the purchaser received for the recently completed year and that such amount reached the level needed to qualify as an accredited investor, and (iii) the purchaser has a reasonable expectation of reaching the requisite income level for the current year.

Where the issuer has reason to question the purchaser’s claim to be an accredited investor after reviewing these documents, it must take additional verification measures in order to establish that it has taken reasonable steps to verify that the purchaser is an accredited investor. For example, if, based on this review, the purchaser’s income for the most recently completed year barely exceeded the threshold required, the foregoing procedures might not constitute sufficient verification and more diligence might be necessary.

Question #4

A purchaser is not a U.S. taxpayer and therefore cannot provide an Internal Revenue Service form that reports income. Can an issuer review comparable tax forms from a foreign jurisdiction in order to rely on the verification method provided in Rule 506(c)(2)(ii)(A)?

Answer: No, the verification safe harbor provided in Rule 506(c)(2)(ii)(A) would not be available under these circumstances. In adopting this safe harbor, the Commission noted that there are “numerous penalties for falsely reporting information” in Internal Revenue Service forms. See Securities Act Release No. 33-9415 (July 10, 2013). Although the safe harbor is not available for tax forms from foreign jurisdictions, we believe that an issuer could reasonably conclude that a purchaser is an accredited investor and satisfy the verification requirement of Rule 506(c) under the principles-based verification method by reviewing filed tax forms that report income where the foreign jurisdiction imposes comparable penalties for falsely reported information.

Where the issuer has reason to question the reliability of the information about the purchaser’s income after reviewing these documents, it must take additional verification measures in order to establish that it has taken reasonable steps to verify that the purchaser is an accredited investor.

The Takeaway

The lesson is that issuers and portals should not try to verify investors on their own. Leave that to a third party service like Crowdentials or VerifyInvestor – they keep track of these rules so you won’t have to.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH REGULATION A – BY BEN MILLER, CO-FOUNDER OF FUNDRISE

To improve the user experience, I am inviting guest bloggers. The first is Ben Miller, a Co-Founder of Fundrise, who explains how he and his brother Dan invented Crowdfunding through Regulation A.

Please let me know if you would like to post. I’m looking for content like Ben’s – interesting, informative, educational.

-MARK RODERICK

____________________________________________________________________________________

By: Ben Miller, Co-Founder of Fundrise.

My brother Dan and I were in the real estate business for a long time, developing commercial and residential projects in the Washington, D.C. area, before we thought about crowdfunding. We got some of our capital from the same place many real estate developers get their capital: from investment funds in New York or even outside of the country.

Most of them had little connection to the places we were building and often had never even heard of the neighborhood. On the other hand, our friends and neighbors, people with real connection to the projects, couldn’t invest with us.

fundriseWe started to imagine a world where everyone could invest in high-quality real estate deals, which were then limited to professional investors. We thought about ordinary people investing in their own communities, creating a win-win for the community and business owners. Like every other developer, we’ve had our share of battles with local zoning agencies. We imagined how that process might change if actual investors from the community showed up at council meetings to support the project.

This was before crowdfunding or the JOBS Act were on the table, and every lawyer we spoke to (and we spoke to plenty) told us that our idea was impossible.

Finally we discovered SEC Regulation A. Although Regulation A had been around since 1936, before we came along it had been used very rarely, which probably explains why the lawyers hadn’t heard about it. In all of 2012 fewer than a dozen companies had used Regulation A to raise capital across the whole country, as compared to more than 7,000 Regulation D offerings.

We soon found out why. Although Regulation A allows you to raise money from anybody, including from non-accredited investors, first you have to file a disclosure document with the SEC and with the state securities regulators in any state where you offer the security, and get the regulators to approve your offering. Regulation A is nothing like the new Crowdfunding under SEC Rule 506(c), which is simple and streamlined by comparison.

Once we figured out how to file the disclosure document, which is really like a mini registration statement, we learned that neither the SEC nor the state regulators had ever seen a real estate development project offered under Regulation A. We spent hundreds of hours and way too much in legal fees working through all of the issues. We were literally doing something that had never been done in the history of the U.S. capital markets, and at the same time paving the way for everyone else.

After lots of work, lots of frustration, and lots of conversations with regulators, we succeeded. Our Regulation A filing was approved and we raised $325,000 for the project. I won’t even tell you how much it cost to raise that $325,000, but we were okay with it because we saw the experience then, and still do, as an investment in our future.

We have completed three Regulation A offerings since then. Each time we’ve gotten better and faster, not to mention that the regulators have learned along with us.

Here’s what it took to complete our most recent Regulation A offering:

reg a breakdown

Our most recent filing:

fedex

Fundrise has branched out since those early days. As the leading real estate portal in the world we offer not only Regulation A projects but Rule 506(c) investments under the JOBS Act. And we’re very excited about the new Regulation A+. Regulation A+ improves on Regulation A by allowing us to raise up to $50 million of equity from non-accredited investors (subject to a limitation on how much each person can invest) and further streamline the process by filing only with the SEC, and not with state securities regulators. Fundrise has always been a pioneer, and we expect to pioneer the possibilities of Regulation A+ as well as soon as it becomes available.

Whatever the future holds for Fundrise, and we believe our future is unlimited, we’ll always remember that Regulation A allowed us to open the door into the world of crowdfunding and give unaccredited investors the chance to invest in real estate for the first time in history.

Follow @BenMillerise and @Fundrise on Twitter.

 

PPM OR NO PPM: THAT IS THE QUESTION

Crowdfunding Image - XXXL - iStock_000037694192XXXLargeSome Title II Crowdfunding portals use a full-blown Private Placement Memorandum for each offering, while others do not. What’s the deal?

For readers unfamiliar with the term, a Private Placement Memorandum, or PPM, is usually a long document, often half an inch thick or more printed, that is given to prospective investors and used partly to describe the deal but mostly to explain the risks.

The PPM finds its origins in the lengthy prospectus required of companies selling securities to the public in a registered offering. Following suit, Rule 502(b)(2) of Regulation D requires an issuer to provide specified information to prospective investors in some offerings and in some situations – for example, where securities are offered to non-accredited investors in an offering under Rule 506(b).

But where securities are sold only to accredited investors under Rule 506(b) or 506(c), the issuer is not required to provide the information described in Rule 506(b)2) – or any other information, for that matter. The idea is that accredited investors are smart enough to ask for the important information and otherwise watch out for themselves.

Companies like Fundrise that offer securities under Regulation A or Regulation A+ are required to provide specific information to investors. But Crowdfunding under Title II of the JOBS Act involves selling only to accredited investors in transaction described in Rule 506. Therefore, the law leaves to the issuer and the portal what information to provide and in what form.

For them, what are the pros and cons of a full-blown PPM?

The cons are obvious. Nobody but a lawyer could love a PPM. A full-blown PPM is bulky and unattractive, repetitive and filled with legalese. Ostensibly written to provide information to prospective investors, PPMs have, through time and custom, become so daunting that prospective investors rarely even read them. From a business perspective, a PPM creates friction in the transaction.

However, the pros are also obvious. Although Regulation D does not require an issuer or portal to provide any information, an issuer that fails to provide information, or provides incomplete or inaccurate information, may be liable to disgruntled investors under 17 CFR 240.10b-5, the general anti-fraud rule of Federal securities law, or various state statutory and common law rules.

That’s why the PPM exists: to provide so much information to prospective investors (albeit in an unreadable format), and to describe the risks of the investment in such repetitive detail, that no investor can claim after the fact “I didn’t know.”

The question is whether the issuer and the portal can get the same benefit without all the disadvantages. And the answer, in my opinion, is a resounding Yes!

In fact, the trend in private placements over the last two decades has been away from the full-blown PPM and toward a simpler disclosure document. I have been representing issuers in private placements of securities for more than 25 years and never prepare a PPM except where required by law (e.g., with non-accredited investors). None of the issuers I have represented during those 25+ years has been sued for securities law violations – much less successfully – and in my anecdotal experience, claims arising from alleged failures to disclose material information rarely if ever hinge on the presence or absence of a full-blown PPM.

Not only are portals not required to provide a full-blown PPM, in my opinion the question presents portals with a great business opportunity. Given that information must be provided, the manner in which it is provided, in what format, with what visual effects, how clearly and with what explanation, could well distinguish a portal in the minds of prospective investors. With the technology inherent in the platform, not to mention the creative minds in the industry, I expect that the manner of providing information will become one of the key ways that individual Title II portals distinguish themselves from one another and that the Crowdfunding industry in general improves the process of capital formation. Someday we will look back on the thick PPM and ask “Can you believe we once did it that way?”

A portal that gets it right – and there will be more than one way to get it right – will also create some protectable intellectual property interests and the accompanying breathing space vis-à-vis its competitors and additional valuation on exit.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

 

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