Tag Archives: Title II Crowdfunding Portals

Crowdfunding & Fintech for Real Estate Podcast

CF and Fintech for Real Estate Podcast

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Technology has made it easier to raise capital for real estate deals. Since Crowdfunding has grown exponentially, John Casmon, host of the popular Target Market Insights podcast, invited me on his show to learn more about crowdfunding and fintech (financial technology).  On this episode, I talk about different ways to use the internet to raise money and the impact new technologies will have on the way we buy real estate.

Key Market Insights

  • Crowdfunding is raising money on the internet

  • Two versions – donation based (think Kickstarter) and equity based

  • Crowdfunding is online syndication with 3 flavors: title 2, title 3 and title 4

  • All crowdfunding falls under the JobsAct

  • Title 2 is very similar to 506c for accredited investors

  • Title 3 is very different, can only raise $1MM annually

  • Title 4 can raise $50 million

  • FinTech – any technology disrupting the financial services industry

  • Many believe banks should be a disintermediary

  • Roboadvisor apps are apart of FinTech

  • Online syndication is not more risky than traditional syndication

  • Anytime you take money, you can be sued

  • When done properly, you should not be exposed to any actual liability – even if they lose money

  • Blockchain technology could disrupt the real estate industry

  • Blockchain is a database or ledger that cannot be changed and has no central authority – everyone must consent

  • Title companies and other “middle men” could be pushed away through blockchain

Questions? Let me know.

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.

Why Title II Portals Will Also Become Title III Portals, And Vice-Versa

CF Portal Mall

Why has Home Depot made local hardware stores a thing of the past? Partly price, but mainly selection. And I think the same forces will require most Crowdfunding portals to offer investments under Title II, Title III, and Title IV, all at the same time.

Crowdfunding portals are like retail stores that sell securities. They have suppliers, which we call “sponsors” or “portfolio companies,” and they have customers, which we call “investors.” They pick the market they want to serve – hard money loans, for example – then try to stock their shelves with products from the best suppliers to attract the largest number of customers. Think of DSW, but selling securities rather than shoes.

Now consider these situations:

  • You’re a Title II portal and have established a relationship with Sandra Smith, a real estate developer you’ve learned to trust. She informs you she’d like to raise $30 million to build a shopping center in Chicago and needs to attract investors from the local community. You could tell her you only do Title II and send her across the street, but maybe she’ll find a competitor where she can get Title II and Title IV under one roof. So you’d really like to offering Title IV as well, which means attracting non-accredited investors.
  • You’re a Title II portal raising money for biotech. A company approaches you with a new therapy for cystic fibrosis. They have 117,000 Facebook followers and wide support in the cystic fibrosis community, and have already raised $30,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. They want to raise $800,000 for clinical tests, then come back and raise $5 million if the tests are successful. Sure, you could tell them to go somewhere else for the $800,000 raise and come back for the larger (and more profitable) $5 million round, but once they leave they’re probably not coming back.
  • You’re a Title III portal with lots of investors signed up. Turned away by the portal she’s used to working with, Sandra Smith asks for your help in the $30 million Title IV raise. Any reason to turn her down?

Those of us in the industry see Title II, Title III, and Title IV as separate things, but to the suppliers and customers of the industry they’re all the same thing. The differences between Title II and Title IV are nothing compared to the differences between sneakers and 6-inch heels! Yet DSW sells them both and everything in between because in the eyes of customers, they’re all shoes.

It doesn’t matter to suppliers and customers that Title II and Title III require different technology and business models. It doesn’t matter that one is more profitable than the other. Mercedes might lose money selling its lower-end cars but doesn’t mind doing so because customers who buy the lower-end Mercedes today buy the higher-end Mercedes 10 years from now. The Vanguard Group probably loses money on some of its funds but sells them anyway to keep customers in the fold. As the Crowdfunding market develops, I think the same will be true of the interplay with Title II, Title III, and Title IV.

For portals that have achieved success in Title II, it might be unwelcome news that Title II isn’t enough. But on the positive side, Fundrise has managed to leverage its reputation in Title II into a well-received REIT under Title IV. In any case, I think it’s inevitable.

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding Is Just the Internet

red mouse with money and comment

Fortunately for me, there are a lot of complicated legal issues around Crowdfunding, including:

  • The differences among Title II, Title III, and Title IV
  • The differences between Rule 506(b) offerings and Rule 506(c) offerings
  • The differences between accredited investors and non-accredited investors
  • The Trust Indenture Act of 1939
  • The Investment Company Act of 1940
  • Applying broker-dealer and investment adviser laws to Crowdfunding portals

But at a higher level Crowdfunding isn’t complicated at all. Crowdfunding is just the Internet coming to the capital formation industry.

What happens when the Internet comes to an industry? Look at the publishing industry and the travel industry and the music industry and, increasingly, the entire retail industry:

  • Buyer and sellers connect directly
  • Middlemen are displaced
  • Prices decrease as the industry becomes more efficient
  • The middlemen being displaced are sure it won’t happen as it’s happening
  • In the end, the industry looks completely different and we all take it for granted

In Crowdfunding, the “sellers” are entrepreneurs and real estate developers seeking capital and the “buyers” are investors. The middlemen are the lawyers, bankers, finders, brokers, venture capital funds, investment advisors, and all the others who for the last 80 years have played an indispensable part in connecting entrepreneurs with investors. Today, for the first time, entrepreneurs and investors can connect directly, via the Internet. The middlemen have already started to be pushed to the side. The picture in my mind is an ice field slowly breaking apart as temperatures warm.

People sometimes ask whether Crowdfunding will last. I respond “When was the last time you planned a vacation through a bricks-and-mortar agency?” The Internet is here to stay!

The capital formation industry is enormous – far, far bigger than the book selling industry or the travel industry. And the middlemen in the capital formation industry enjoy far greater political power than Barnes & Noble. But in the end, resistance is futile.

As you’re planning and managing your own portal, or any other Crowdfunding business, pause every now and then and remember that for all the legal complexity, for all the nuts-and-bolts, day-to-day grind of generating cash flow, Crowdfunding is nothing more or less than the Internet come to the capital formation industry.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

Title II Needs Company

Statue of Lib CF_Purchased

Title II Crowdfunding is great, and it’s booming. For the first time in history entrepreneurs have access to every accredited investor in the world, and every accredited investor in the world has access to deals once reserved for the very wealthy. New Crowdfunding portals – I call them “stores” – are opening all the time, serving more and wider markets. The stores are growing in sophistication and attracting a growing number of customers, i.e., investors. Register with Fundrise and you can invest in 3 World Trade Center!

But as long as Crowdfunding remains limited to Title II, it’s not going to achieve its potential. And that’s not only, not even primarily, because allowing non-accredited investors to participate would deepen the pool of available capital.

It’s not primarily about capital, but about the Crowdfunding ecosystem. Accredited investors represent a small fraction of Americans. Open the ecosystem to another 100 million potential investors and everything changes. Awareness changes. New ideas are borne and flourish. New businesses are created that wouldn’t have been created otherwise. New experts come into the field, new business models are tested. Behavior and expectations change.

I’m sure there are better and more sophisticated ways to describe what happens when more people join an ecosystem. Maybe things like “network effects” and “information feedback loops.”

Whatever it’s called, we need non-accredited investors in the market for Crowdfunding to achieve its potential. To get non-accredited investors into the market we need the SEC to issue final regulations under Title III and Title IV, and for that to happen it looks as if we’re going to need urging from the Legislative branch.

If you have a moment and the inclination, please click on the link below to find the names and email addresses of your Congressman and Senators, and drop them an email. I’ve included a sample form but of course feel free to create your own.

Title II has been lonely for too long!

Find My Congressman and Senators

Sample Email

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

THERE IS A FUTURE FOR TITLE II PORTALS

Imagine that!

CircleUp just raised an additional $14 million of capital (for itself, not for its portfolio companies) and RealtyMogul an additional $9 million.

Both of these Title II portals were early to the starting gate and RealtyMogul was the first portal to recognize the value in segmenting the market, i.e., limiting itself to real estate. Given that Crowdfunding represents the most significant change in the U.S. capital markets since the Great Depression, with the potential to channel a river of capital through Title II portals, it is not surprising that investors would be keen on the prospects of these two market leaders.

CircleUp, RealtyMogul, and a handful of others saw the opportunity early and, more important, have successfully executed their business plans. At the same time, these new investments likely are as much about the potential of theTitle II market as much as they are about individual companies.

In an industry as young as Crowdfunding, the term “market leader” doesn’t mean as much as it does in a mature industry. When Title II became legal on September 23, 2013, just six months ago, it was as if millions acres of vacant land were suddenly opened for development. The names CircleUp and RealtyMogul are deservedly well-known among the cognoscenti, but far from household names. You might say that the market leaders of today have staked claims but that the malls and office buildings and skyscrapers are yet to be built.

To me, it seems reasonable that within 10 years at least one Title II portal will be large enough to buy Morgan Stanley. And business being business, the chances are that this portal has yet to be formed.

There are at least two lessons from these new investments.

The obvious lesson is that it’s a great time to create and develop Title II portals.

The less obvious lesson is that creating a successful Title II portal takes real money. CircleUp and RealtyMogul don’t need $23 million of new capital to build websites. They are building businesses, building brand names, trying to stay on top of the Crowdfunding wave. To compete, others must do the same.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

%d bloggers like this: