Crowdfunding Is Something Worth Explaining to Investors

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On October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted new Regulation Crowdfunding to implement the requirements of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. Regulation Crowdfunding prescribes rules governing the offer and sale of securities under Section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act and provides a framework for the regulation of registered funding portals and broker-dealers that issuers are required to use as intermediaries in the offer and sale of securities in reliance on Section 4(a)(6). Regulation Crowdfunding is generally effective May 16, 2016, except for rules related to the registration of funding portals and amendments to Form ID, which became effective on January 29, 2016.

The SEC issued an Investor Bulletin, Crowdfunding for Investors on February 16, 2016 to educate investors about Regulation Crowdfunding and to explain this new investing opportunity — securities–based crowdfunding, which is different from websites raising funds and offering in-kind consideration for financial contributions. Starting May 16, 2016, the general public will have an opportunity to invest in start-ups and early stage companies and receive equity consideration for their investments. Continue reading “Crowdfunding Is Something Worth Explaining to Investors”

EQUITY CROWDFUNDING HAS FINALLY ARRIVED – SEC ADOPTS FINAL RULES ON CROWDFUNDING

On October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), in a 3-1 vote of the SEC Commissioners, approved final rules to adopt Regulation Crowdfunding, which sets forth the framework by which companies can “equity crowdfund” – sell small amounts of securities (typically for a small purchase price) to a large number of investors over the Internet. The final rules, which will become effective 180 days after they are published in the Federal Register, follow the SEC’s adoption of proposed rules in October 2013 (which we previously blogged about). The SEC’s proposed rules were widely criticized as unworkable and elicited more than 480 comment letters that raised a host of concerns regarding, among other things, the effectiveness of the proposed rules in promoting capital formation and protecting investors.

Issuers and investors, particularly in the startup community, have been abuzz about equity crowdfunding since the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (“JOBS Act”) was enacted in April 2012.  Title III of the JOBS Act added Section 4(a)(6) to the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) to provide an exemption for equity crowdfunding transactions from the registration requirements of the Securities Act.  After seeing the success of non-equity crowdfunding – the Kickstarter fundraising campaigns of Pebble (~$20M raised) and Pono (~$6M raised) come to mind – it is understandable why issuers and investors have placed so much hope in the promise of equity crowdfunding.  With the SEC’s final rules in place, equity crowdfunding, with its numerous limitations and requirements, will shortly become a reality.

Under the final rules, an issuer may raise up to $1 million in a 12-month period in a crowdfunding offering conducted via a single intermediary – either a broker-dealer or a funding portal registered with the SEC.  An issuer engaging in a crowdfunding offering must complete and file with the SEC a newly-created Form C (similar to the Form 1-A offering statement under Regulation A, but with fewer required disclosures), which will require the disclosure of certain business and financial information including  financial statements of the issuer. Depending on the amount sought in the crowdfunding offering and whether an issuer has previously conducted a crowdfunding offering, the final rules will require that an issuer provide audited or reviewed financial statements.  For example, an offering of more than $500,000 of securities will require reviewed financial statements unless the issuer is not a first time issuer, in which case audited financial statements will be required.

The final rules also limit the amount of funds that an individual investor may invest in all crowdfunding offerings over a 12-month period, based on an investor’s annual income and net worth. Interestingly, despite criticism on the workability of the investment limitations set forth in the proposed rules, the final rules have more stringent limitations than those included in the proposed rules.  An investor with either annual income or net worth less than $100,000 can invest up to 5 percent of the lesser of annual income or net worth, or $2,000, whichever is greater, every 12 months. An investor with both annual income and net worth greater than $100,000 can invest up to 10 percent of the lesser of annual income or net worth every 12 months, subject to a cap of $100,000 in a 12-month period.   One effect of the limits will be that crowdfunding issuers may end up with numerous investors providing small investments – for example, an issuer raising $1 million would have 500 shareholders if the $2,000 limitation applied to those investors.

Only time will tell whether the regulatory environment created by the final rules will allow equity crowdfunding to reach the heights envisioned by many proponents. Among other reasons, the costs and compliance burden for issuers and the potential returns to investors are difficult to forecast at this time.  Regardless, many issuers, especially startups, now have an additional tool to raise capital in the United States. A more detailed summary of the final rules is provided below.

Sales Limitations

The following sales limitations apply to a crowdfunding offering:

  • An eligible issuer (see below for a description of ineligible issuers) is permitted to raise a maximum aggregate amount of $1 million through crowdfunding offerings in a 12-month period. In addition, entities controlled by, or under common control, with the issuer are aggregated for purposes of determining compliance with the offering ceiling.
  • Individual investors, over the course of a 12-month period, are permitted to invest in the aggregate across all crowdfunding offerings up to:
    • If either their annual income or net worth is less than $100,000, then the greater of: (1) $2,000, or (2) 5% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth.
    • If both their annual income and net worth are equal to or more than $100,000, then 10% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth, subject to a cap of $100,000 in a 12-month period.
  • The JOBS Act requires that the SEC adjust the issuer sales limitation and investor investment limitations not less than every five years to account for changes in the CPI.

Ineligible Issuers

The following issuers are not eligible to utilize a crowdfunding offering:

  • Non-U.S. companies.
  • Reporting companies under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”).
  • Certain investment companies.
  • Companies that are disqualified under Regulation Crowdfunding’s disqualification rules (i.e., bad actors).
  • Companies that have failed to comply with the annual reporting requirements under Regulation Crowdfunding during the two years immediately preceding the filing of the offering statement (i.e., Form C).
  • Companies that have no specific business plan or have indicated their business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company or companies.

Disclosure Requirements

An issuer conducting a crowdfunding offering is required to file certain information with the SEC on new Form C and to provide this information to investors and the applicable crowdfunding portal facilitating the offering. Among other things, in its offering documents, the issuer is required to disclose:

  • Information about officers and directors as well as owners of 20 percent or more of the issuer;
  • A description of the issuer’s business and the use of proceeds from the offering;
  • The price to the public of the securities or the method for determining the price, the target offering amount, the deadline to reach the target offering amount, and whether the issuer will accept investments in excess of the target offering amount;
  • Certain related-party transactions;
  • A discussion of the issuer’s financial condition; and
  • Financial statements of the issuer that are, depending on the amount offered and sold during a 12-month period:
  • If $100,000 or less, based on information from the issuer’s tax returns and certified by the principal executive officer,
  • If more than $100,000 and but not more than $500,00, reviewed by an independent public accountant, and
  • If more than $500,000, audited by an independent auditor, except that an issuer engaging in a crowdfunding offering for the first time would be permitted to provide reviewed rather than audited financial statements.
  • In any case, if audited financial statements of the issuer are available, then they must be provided.

Issuers are required to amend the offering document during the offering period to reflect material changes and provide updates on the issuer’s progress toward reaching the target offering amount.

In addition, issuers relying on the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption are required to file an annual report with the SEC and provide it to investors.  The reporting requirements will continue until:

  • the issuer is required to file reports under the Exchange Act;
  • the issuer has filed at least one annual report and has fewer than 300 holders of record;
  • the issuer has filed at least three annual reports and has total assets that do not exceed $10 million;
  • the issuer or another party purchases or repurchases all of the securities issued pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption), including any payment in full of debt securities or any complete redemption of redeemable securities; or
  • the issuer liquidates or dissolves in accordance with state law.

Crowdfunding Platforms

Each crowdfunding offering must be conducted exclusively through a single platform operated by an “intermediary” which is either a registered broker or a funding portal – a new type of SEC registrant. The rules require that such an intermediary:

  • Provide investors with educational materials;
  • Take measures to reduce the risk of fraud;
  • Make available information about the issuer and the offering;
  • Provide communication channels to permit discussions about offerings on the platform; and
  • Facilitate the offer and sale of crowdfunded securities.

The rules also prohibit a crowdfunding portal from:

  • Offering investment advice or making recommendations;
  • Soliciting purchases, sales or offers to buy securities offered or displayed on its platform;
  • Compensating promoters and others for solicitations or based on the sale of securities; and
  • Holding, possessing, or handling investor funds or securities.

The final rules provide a safe harbor under which crowdfunding portals can engage in certain activities, consistent with these restrictions.

Miscellaneous Restrictions

Securities acquired in a crowdfunding offering are generally subject to a one year holding period before they can be resold, subject to certain exceptions. Holders of securities acquired in a crowdfunding offering do not count toward the threshold that requires an issuer to register its securities with the SEC under Section 12(g) of the Exchange Act if the issuer is current in its annual reporting obligation, retains the services of a registered transfer agent and has less than $25 million in assets.

The Alphabet Soup of Raising Capital: Regulation A or Regulation D — What Would You Prefer?

On June 19, 2015, amended Regulation A recently adopted by the SEC will become effective. The new Regulation A, mandated by the JOBS Act and often dubbed as Regulation A+, is a significant improvement over the old Regulation A, which was rarely used as a capital raising vehicle. The old Regulation A permits unregistered offerings of up to $5 million of securities in any 12-month period, including no more than $1.5 million of securities offered by security holders of the company. Permissible thresholds of Regulation A+ are much higher. It provides for two tiers of offerings: “Tier 1, for offerings of securities of up to $20 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $6 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer; and Tier 2, for offerings of securities of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $15 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer.”

However, will Regulation A+ become a more popular choice for smaller companies than Regulation D in raising capital? Is Regulation A+ a workable compromise between the company’s need to have access to capital and the SEC’s goal of investor protection?

Rule 506 of Regulation D is one of the most widely used capital raising exemptions under the US securities laws. The main reason of its popularity is its flexibility. Although Rule 506 does not provide an opportunity for selling security holders to participate in the offering as Regulation A+ does, Rule 506 does not have any caps on the dollar amount that can be raised. In addition, any company: public or private, US or foreign can raise capital under Rule 506. However, only a US or Canadian issuer that is not (i) a reporting company under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 immediately prior to the offering, (ii) an investment company, or (iii) a blank check company is considered an “eligible issuer” under Regulation A+. Note that “bad actor” disqualification applies to both Rule 506 and Regulation A+ offerings. Also, a company that had its registration revoked under Section 12(j) of the Exchange Act within five years before the filing of the offering statement or that has been delinquent in filing required reports under Regulation A+ during the two years before the filing of the offering statement (or for such shorter period that the issuer was required to file such reports) is not eligible to do an offering under such Regulation.

In some instances, Regulation A+ appears to be more accommodating than Rule 506. For example, Rule 506 allows an unlimited number of accredited investors as purchasers (with Rule 506(b) also permitting up to 35 non-accredited investors), and Tier 1 of Regulation A+ does not have any limitation on the number or type of investors. Tier 2 also does not have any limitations on the number of investors, but imposes a per-investor cap for non-accredited investors (unless the securities are listed on a national exchange) of the aggregate purchase price to be paid by the purchaser for the securities to be no more than 10% of the greater of annual income or net worth for individual investors or revenue or net assets most recently completed fiscal year for entities.  In addition, Regulation A+ allows issuers to “test-the-waters” by trying to determine whether there is any interest in a contemplated securities offering (assuming such practice is allowed under applicable blue sky laws for Tier 1 offerings), while the traditional Rule 506(b) does not allow for general solicitation and advertising (Rule 506(c) permits general solicitation and advertisement).

The biggest downside of Regulation A+ structure is that blue sky registration requirements are not preempted for Tier 1 offerings, which significantly limits the use of Tier 1 for offerings in multiple states. Such preemption exists for Rule 506 offerings as well as Tier 2 of Regulation A+ offerings. But the welcomed flexibility of doing nationwide offerings under Tier 2 comes with a heavy price tag of ongoing reporting. After a Tier 2 offering, an issuer must file with the SEC annual reports on Form 1-K, semi-annual reports on Form 1-SA and current reports on Form 1-U (within 4 business days of the event). The SEC also noted that companies may “voluntarily” file quarterly financial statements on Form 1-U, but the practical effect of desired compliance with Rules 15c2-11 and Rule 144 to maintain placement of quotes by market makers and resales of securities, will lead to “voluntary” quarterly reporting becoming essentially mandatory.

Rule 506 offerings are usually accompanied by private placement memoranda, or PPMs, (even when offerings are solely to accredited investors) to protect issuers from Rule 10b-5 liability under the Exchange Act. There is no prescribed format for such PPMs and they are not reviewed by the SEC. In connection with Regulation A+ offerings, an issuer must file Form 1-A (a “mini” registration statement) through EDGAR with the SEC (first-time issuers are eligible to initially do a non-public submission of a draft of Form 1-A). Such Forms 1-A are subject to the SEC review and comment process, which increases the cost of the transaction and extends the time from the beginning of the transaction and the closing.

The good news is that Regulation A+ provides a new way for smaller companies to raise capital and get some liquidity in their securities. However, if a company is confident that it can raise money through the traditional Rule 506 private placement, it may still want to avoid the SEC review process, the hassle of blue sky compliance under Tier 1 or ongoing reporting obligations of Tier 2 introduced by Regulation A+.

Is the SEC Doing Enough to Promote Capital Formation?

If you believe Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher, the answer is an emphatic “no”, at least with respect to small businesses. On September 17, 2014, at a Heritage Foundation event, Commission Gallagher gave a speech criticizing the Securities and Exchange Commission’s failure to adequately promote capital formation by small businesses:

[S]adly, we at the SEC are not doing nearly enough to ensure that small businesses have the access to capital that they need to grow. We layer on rule after rule until it becomes prohibitively expensive to access the public capital markets.

After noting that not all of the regulatory burden is the SEC’s fault as “much of the ever-growing rulebook is a direct result of congressional mandates,” Commissioner Gallagher makes a number of recommendations for the SEC. Highlights include recommendations to:

  • Withdraw the proposed amendments to Regulation D. (Commission Gallagher did not support the proposed amendments as he stated in the SEC’s July 10, 2013 open meeting.)
  • Consider more deeply Regulation D, including considering broadening the blue sky exemption to help make the choice between the various exemptions available under Regulation D more meaningful.  According to Commissioner Gallagher, nearly all Regulation D offerings are conducted under Rule 506, even though 2/3 of the offerings are small enough that they could have been conducted pursuant to Rule 504 or 505, because Rule 506 offerings are exempt from blue sky regulations.
  • Analyze the secondary market for private company shares, where innovation has slowed. “We need more facilities to improve trading among accredited investors in the private secondary market.”
  • Finish implementing the JOBS Act’s reforms to Regulation A and couple the reforms with the formation of venture exchanges (national exchanges with listing rules tailored for smaller companies, including those issuing shares issued pursuant to Regulation A). Commission Gallagher noted that the SEC had proposed a robust set of rules, including blue sky preemption in certain larger Regulation A Offerings. (Commissioner Gallagher also noted, with respect to the proposal for blue sky exemption, that an “outpouring of anger from state regulators . . . wasn’t unexpected. After all, state regulators have been “protecting” investors from investment opportunities that are too risky for decades – I’m sure the Massachusetts residents who missed out on the offering of Apple Computer in 1980 because of their regulator’s concerns about the risk know this all too well.”)
  • Reconsider the current thresholds for scaled disclosure and the amount of disclosure that is required at each level – including having two tiers of scaling: significant scaling of disclosure for “nanocap” companies (i.e., companies with market capitalizations of up to $50 million) and moderate scaling for “microcap” companies with market capitalizations of $50 million to $300 million.

Coincidently, the SEC released its 2014 – 2018 Strategic Plan on September 19, 2014, two days after Commissioner Gallagher’s speech. Featured on the cover of the Strategic Plan is the SEC’s mission statement – “Protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation” (emphasis added).

But, judging by the SEC’s own Strategic Plan and its current rulemaking agenda, it is unlikely that the SEC will be vigorously addressing many of Commissioner Gallagher’s concerns regarding capital formation for small businesses in the near future.

SIFMA Issues Guidance on Rule 506(c) Verification

On June 23, 2014, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”) issued a memorandum (the “Memorandum”) containing guidance for broker-dealers and investment advisers with respect to verifying the status of purchasers as accredited investors in connection with offerings made pursuant to Rule 506(c) (Reg D offerings utilizing general solicitation, as we have previously blogged about).

Pursuant to Rule 506(c), an issuer utilizing general solicitation for a Reg D offering must, among other things, take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers in the offering are accredited investors. The reasonable verification requirement is a separate condition from the condition that all purchasers in a Rule 506(c) offering must be accredited investors, and the requirement has generated significant commentary.

The Rule 506(c) adopting release provided four non-exclusive safe harbor methods that an issuer can utilize for such reasonable verification, two of which require the issuer to obtain detailed financial information from a purchaser. An issuer may also rely on the written confirmation of a purchaser’s accredited investor status issued by a registered broker-dealer or investment adviser, licensed attorney or certified public accountant. Any such third party must, however, take reasonable steps to verify the purchaser’s accredited investor status before providing written confirmation to the issuer.

To this end, the Memorandum provides two verification methods for broker-dealers and investment advisers to use in verifying natural persons as accredited investors that SIFMA believes satisfies the “reasonable verification” requirement.

One verification method (the “account balance method”) is essentially a determination by the broker-dealer or investment adviser of the purchaser’s net worth. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize the account balance method, a purchaser must have been a client of the broker-dealer or investment adviser for at least six months, must have (either individually or together with a spouse, if applicable) at least $2 million in cash and marketable securities in the purchaser’s account prior to making the investment in the Rule 506(c) offering, must make certain representations (pursuant to purchaser representations provided by SIFMA as part of the Memorandum) regarding, among other things, the purchaser’s indebtedness, and the broker-dealer or investment adviser must be unaware of any facts to indicate that the client is not an accredited investor.

The other method (the “investment amount method”) uses the purchaser’s investment amount as a proxy for the purchaser’s status as an accredited investor. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize the investment amount method, a purchaser must have been a client of the broker-dealer or investment adviser for at least six months, must invest, or unconditionally commit to fund, at least $250,000 in a Rule 506(c) offering, which commitment is callable in whole at any time, must make certain representations (pursuant to purchaser representations provided by SIFMA as part of the Memorandum) including, among other things, that the investment in the Rule 506(c) offering is less than 25% of the purchaser’s net worth (either individually or together with a spouse), and the broker-dealer or investment adviser must be unaware of any facts to indicate that the client is not an accredited investor and, in the case of a commitment, the broker-dealer or investment adviser has knowledge that the purchaser has fulfilled a call under a prior commitment.

The Memorandum also provides a method for broker-dealers and investment advisers to use in verifying legal entities (i.e., corporations, LLCs, etc.) as accredited investors. For a broker-dealer or investment adviser to utilize this method, a purchaser-entity must be named on the broker-dealer’s or investment adviser’s current list of clients that qualify as “institutional accounts” as defined in FINRA Rule 4512(c)(3)or as Qualified Institutional Buyers (which are required to have investible assets of at least $100 million), or the purchaser-entity must make an investment in the Rule 506(c) offering in excess of $5 million and must provide a written representation that it was not formed for the purpose of making that investment and that it has made at least one prior investment in securities (whether in a primary offering or in the secondary market).

If issuers begin to use Rule 506(c) offerings with increasing frequency, SIFMA’s guidance in the Memorandum may be an important guidepost for broker-dealers and investment advisers and other third parties (e.g., attorneys and accountants) in assisting issuers to comply with the “reasonable verification” requirement set forth in Rule 506(c). This guidance may also be useful to issuers and other market participants.

Have you been a “Bad Actor”? Maybe You Should Just Beg for Forgiveness.

Rule 506 under the Securities Act of 1933 is the most widely used exemption from the registration requirements of the Securities Act. The exemption is used by a wide range of issuers from small, start-up companies to the largest investment and hedge funds. Rule 506 generally permits issuers to sell an unlimited amount of securities to an unlimited number of accredited investors. However, pursuant to Section 926 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC adopted Rule 506(d) disqualifying securities offerings involving certain felons and other “bad actors” from reliance on the Rule 506 exemption. Rule 506(d) became effective on September 23, 2013.  

Rule 506(d)(2)(ii) provides that the disqualification shall not apply “upon a showing of good cause . . . if the Commission determines that it is not necessary under the circumstances that an exemption be denied.” Similar disqualification provisions are applicable to offerings exempt from registration pursuant to Regulation A and Rule 505(b). However, neither Regulation A nor Rule 505 is relied upon nearly as often as Rule 506 because of the inherent limitations of those rules. Therefore, the impact of the bad actor disqualifications under Regulation A and Rule 505 has been somewhat limited. However, given the wide use of the Rule 506 exemption, we can expect many more issuers and others involved in securities offerings to request waivers.    

Since Rule 506(d) became effective, the SEC has granted exemptions to five issuers, four of which are financial institutions. In each case, the “bad act” which led to possible disqualification (I say possible because none of the entities requesting exemption actually admitted to disqualification) was an order or judgment entered with the consent or acquiescence of the financial institution.

Generally, each of the requests for exemption cited the following facts: the bad conduct did not involve the offer or sale of securities pursuant to Regulation A or Regulation D; steps have been taken to address the underlying conduct; and disqualification would have an adverse impact on third parties. In addition, each company requesting the exemption also committed to furnishing to each purchaser in certain exempt offerings disclosure of the “bad acts.”

In each case, the order or judgment giving rise to the disqualification, the letter from the financial institution requesting an exemption from Rule 506(d)’s disqualification provision and the letter from the SEC staff confirming that the exemption had been granted, all bear the same date. Most likely the granting of the exemption was part of the overall settlement of the matters that were the subject of the various orders. The four letters can be found here, here, here and here.

SEC Issues Additional Transitional Guidance Related to Rule 506 Offerings

Today, the SEC issued new  Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DIs) related to Rule 506 offerings commenced prior to September 23, 2013, the effective date of the new Rule 506(c) exemption.   

Effective September 23, 2013, a company conducting a private placement under Rule 506 of Regulation D has had a choice of either using Rule 506(b) for a private placement subject to the prohibition against general solicitation or using new Rule 506(c) for a private placement in which securities can be offered through general solicitation provided that all purchasers are accredited investors and the company takes reasonable steps to verify that all purchasers are accredited investors (see our prior blog post for additional information about Rule 506(c)).

The new rule Rule 506(c) exemption was set forth in Securities Act Release No. 9415.  In such release, the SEC explained that for an ongoing offering under Rule 506 that commenced before the effective date of Rule 506(c), an issuer may choose to continue such offering after the effective date in accordance with the requirements of either Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c). If an issuer chooses to continue the offering in accordance with the requirements of Rule 506(c), any general solicitation that occurs after the effective date will not affect the exempt status of offers and sales of securities that occurred prior to the effective date in reliance on Rule 506(b).

The new C&DIs issued today further clarify this transitional guidance.  Please see below a summary of such C&DIs. 

  • If an issuer
    • commenced a Rule 506 offering before September 23, 2013, and
    • decides, at some point after September 23, 2013, to continue that offering as a Rule 506(c) offering under the transition guidance in Securities Act Release No. 9415,

the issuer is not required to take “reasonable steps to verify” the accredited investor status of investors who purchased securities in the offering before the issuer conducted the offering in reliance on Rule 506(c).  The issuer must take reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of only those investors who purchase securities in the offering after the issuer begins to make offers and sales in reliance on Rule 506(c).    

  • An issuer that commenced a Rule 506 offering before September 23, 2013 and made sales either before or after that date in reliance on the exemption that, as a result of Securities Act Release No. 9415, became Rule 506(b) may rely on the transition guidance in Securities Act Release No. 9415 that permits switching from Rule 506(b) to Rule 506(c) if it already sold securities to non-accredited investors before relying on the Rule 506(c) exemption as long as all sales of securities in the offering after the issuer begins to offer and sell in reliance on Rule 506(c) are limited to accredited investors and the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of those purchasers. 

SEC Guidance on “Bad Actor” Disqualifications from Rule 506 Offerings

On January 3, 2014, the SEC issued new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DIs) clarifying the application of the “bad actor” disqualifications from Rule 506 offerings.  Generally, under the new Rule 506(d), an issuer may not rely on the Rule 506 registration exemption if the issuer or any other person covered by Rule 506(d) is subject to a bad actor triggering event at the time of each sale of securities.  Most of the new C&DIs focused on one category of such covered persons – a beneficial owner of 20% or more of the issuer’s outstanding voting equity securities.  Please see below a summary of such C&DIs.

  • A shareholder that becomes a 20% beneficial owner upon completion of a sale of securities is NOT a 20% beneficial owner at the time of such sale.  However, it would be a covered person with respect to any sales of securities in the offering that were made while it was a 20% beneficial owner.  
  • The term “beneficial owner” under Rule 506(d) means any person who, directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship or otherwise, has or shares, or is deemed to have or share:  (1) voting power, which includes the power to vote, or to direct the voting of, such security; and/or (2) investment power, which includes the power to dispose, or to direct the disposition of, such security. 
  • For purposes of determining 20% beneficial owners under Rule 506(d), it is necessary to “look through” entities to their controlling persons because beneficial ownership includes both direct and indirect interests (see Exchange Act Rule 13d-3). 
  • If some of the shareholders have entered into a voting agreement under which each shareholder agrees to vote its shares of voting equity securities in favor of director candidates designated by one or more of the other parties, which effectively means that such shareholders have formed a group, then the group beneficially owns the shares beneficially owned by its members (see Exchange Act Rules 13d-3 and 13d-5(b)).  In addition, the parties to the voting agreement that have or share the power to vote or direct the vote of shares beneficially owned by other parties to the agreement (through, for example, the receipt of an irrevocable proxy or the right to designate director nominees for whom the other parties have agreed to vote) will beneficially own such shares.  Parties that do not have or share the power to vote or direct the vote of other parties’ shares would not beneficially own such shares solely as a result of entering into the voting agreement (see another new C&DI issued by the SEC on January 3, 2014).  If the group is a 20% beneficial owner, then disqualification or disclosure obligations would arise from court orders, injunctions, regulatory orders or other triggering events against the group itself.  If a party to the voting agreement becomes a 20% beneficial owner because shares of other parties are added to its beneficial ownership, disqualification or disclosure obligations would arise from triggering events against that party. 

SEC Proposes “Regulation A+” Amendments

The SEC has proposed regulations to amend Regulation A as required by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act).   Title IV of the JOBS Act directed the SEC to write regulations providing for an exemption from Securities Act registration for public offerings of up to an aggregate of $50 million of equity, debt or convertible debt securities in a 12 month period.  This provision has been termed “Regulation A+” by some observers because it is designed to be an improvement upon the SEC’s Regulation A, which permits exempt public offerings of up to $5 million by non-SEC reporting companies.  Regulation A has been little used because, for one thing, the $5 million limit is too low. 

The SEC’s proposed rules would update and expand the Regulation A exemption by creating two tiers of Regulation A offerings:

  • Tier 1, which would consist of those offerings already covered by Regulation A – that is securities offerings of up to $5 million in a 12-month period, including up to $1.5 million for the account of selling security-holders.
  • Tier 2, which would consist of securities offerings of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, including up to $15 million for the account of selling security-holders.

For offerings up to $5 million, the company could elect whether to proceed under Tier 1 or 2.

Basic Requirements

Under Tier 1 and Tier 2, companies would be subject to basic requirements, including ones addressing issuer eligibility and disclosure that are drawn from the existing provisions of Regulation A.  The proposed rules also would update Regulation A to, among other things:

  • Require issuers to electronically file offering statements with the SEC.
  • Provide that an offering statement and any amendment can be qualified only by order of the SEC.
  • Permit companies to submit draft offering statements for nonpublic SEC review prior to filing.
  • Permit the use of “testing the waters” solicitation materials both before and after filing of the offering statement.
  • Modernize the qualification, communications, and offering process in Regulation A to reflect analogous provisions of the Securities Act registration process, including permitting issuers to satisfy their delivery requirements as to the final offering circular under an “access equals delivery” model when the final offering circular is filed and available on EDGAR.

 Additional Tier 2 Requirements

In addition to the basic requirements, companies conducting Tier 2 offerings would be subject to the following additional requirements:

  • Investors would be limited to purchasing no more than 10 percent of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth.
  • The financial statements included in the offering circular would be required to be audited.
  • The company would be required to file annual and semiannual ongoing reports and current event updates that are similar to the requirements for public company reporting.

Eligibility

Regulation A would be available to companies organized in and with their principal place of business in the United States or Canada, as is currently the case under Regulation A.

The exemption would not be available to companies that:

  • Are already SEC reporting companies and certain investment companies.
  • Have no specific business plan or purpose or have indicated their business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company.
  • Are seeking to offer and sell asset-backed securities or fractional undivided interests in oil, gas, or other mineral rights.
  • Have not filed the ongoing reports required by the proposed rules during the preceding two years.
  • Are or have been subject to a SEC order revoking the company’s registration under the Exchange Act during the preceding five years.
  • Are disqualified under the proposed “bad actor” disqualification rules.

Preemption of Blue Sky Law

In view of the range of investor protections provided under the proposal, state securities law requirements would be preempted for Tier 2 offerings. 

The SEC will seek public comment on the proposed rules for 60 days.  Let’s see whether the commenters give the proposed rules an “A+”?

New SEC Guidance on “Bad Actor” Disqualifications from Rule 506 Offerings

On December 4, 2013, the SEC issued new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DIs) clarifying the application of the “bad actor” disqualifications from Rule 506 offerings.  Generally, under the new Rule 506(d), an issuer may not rely on a Rule 506 exemption from registering the offering under the Securities Act of 1933 if the issuer or any other person covered by Rule 506(d) has a relevant conviction, judgment, suspension or other disqualifying event that occurred on or after September 23, 2013 (the effective date of Rule 506(d)).  Please see below a summary of some C&DIs issued by the SEC.

When is an issuer required to determine whether bad actor disqualification under Rule 506(d) applies?

An issuer must determine if it is subject to “bad actor” disqualification any time it is offering or selling securities in reliance on Rule 506.  After the initial inquiry, an issuer may reasonably rely on a covered person’s agreement to provide notice of a potential or actual bad actor triggering event pursuant to, for example, contractual covenants, bylaw requirements, or an undertaking in a questionnaire or certification.  However, if an offering is continuous, delayed or long-lived, the issuer must update its factual inquiry periodically through bring-down of representations, questionnaires and certifications, negative consent letters, periodic re-checking of public databases, and other steps, depending on the circumstances.

If a placement agent or one of its covered control persons becomes subject to a disqualifying event while an offering is still ongoing, could the issuer continue to rely on Rule 506 for that offering?

Yes, if a placement agent or one of its covered control persons, such as an executive officer or managing member, becomes subject to a disqualifying event while an offering is still ongoing, the issuer could rely on Rule 506 for future sales in that offering if the engagement with the placement agent was terminated and the placement agent did not receive compensation for the future sales.  If the triggering disqualifying event affected only the covered control persons of the placement agent, the issuer could continue to rely on Rule 506 for that offering if such persons were terminated or no longer performed roles with respect to the placement agent that would cause them to be covered persons for purposes of Rule 506(d).

What does it mean to participate in the offering?

Participation in an offering is not limited to solicitation of investors. For example, participation in an offering include participation or involvement in due diligence activities or the preparation of offering materials (including analyst reports used to solicit investors), providing structuring or other advice to the issuer in connection with the offering, and communicating with the issuer, prospective investors or other offering participants about the offering.  However, to constitute “participation,” such activities must be more than transitory or incidental. Administrative functions, such as opening brokerage accounts, wiring funds, and bookkeeping activities, would generally not be deemed to be participating in the offering.

Is disqualification triggered by actions taken overseas?

No, disqualification under Rule 506(d) is not triggered by convictions, court orders, or injunctions in a foreign court, or regulatory orders issued by foreign regulatory authorities.

When does the “reasonable care” exception apply?

The reasonable care exception to new rules applies whenever the issuer can establish that it did not know and, despite the exercise of reasonable care, could not have known that a disqualification existed under Rule 506(d).  This may occur when, despite the exercise of reasonable care, the issuer was unable to determine the existence of a disqualifying event, was unable to determine that a particular person was a covered person, or initially reasonably determined that the person was not a covered person but subsequently learned that determination was incorrect.  An issuer may need to seek waivers of disqualification, terminate the relationship with covered persons, provide additional disclosure under Rule 506(e), or take other remedial steps to address the Rule 506(d) disqualification.