What’s Next For Private Funds Now that the SEC has Lifted the Ban on General Solicitation

SEC Seal 2

On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a new rule that will allow private funds to advertise. (Perhaps “private fund” is not the right label anymore.) Of course it’s not as simple as merely removing the word “not” and allowing public advertising of private placements.

The new rule creates a new option. It creates a public private placement. A fund manager or company can publicly advertise the offering so long as all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors and the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that such purchasers are accredited investors

The existing option is still viable that operates under the regulatory regime as it existed before 10:00 am yesterday. I suppose it’s a private private placement.

One concern I had was how a public private placement under the new Rule 506(c) would affect a private fund under its Section 3(c)1 or 3(c)7 exemption under the Investment Company Act. Private funds are precluded from relying on either of these two exemptions if they make a public offering of their securities. The SEC explicitly addressed this concern.

As we stated in the Proposing Release and reaffirm here, the effect of Section 201(b) is to permit private funds to engage in general solicitation in compliance with new Rule 506(c) without losing either of the exclusions under the Investment Company Act.(page 48 of Release 33-9415)

Another concern was whether the SEC was eliminating the “reasonable belief” standard that an investor is accredited under the new Rule 506(c) offerings. The SEC specifically addressed this concern.

We note that the definition of accredited investor remains unchanged with the enactment of the JOBS Act and includes persons that come within any of the listed categories of accredited investors, as well as persons that the issuer reasonably believes come within any such category.

My last concern was what it meant to take “reasonable steps to verify” that investors are accredited. The SEC stuck with its principles-based approach, but did provide four non-exlusive methods for verifying accredited investor status for individuals.

The principles-based approach requires you to take an “objective determination … in the context of the particular facts and circumstances.” That’s a bit messy. I was hoping the SEC would explicitly state that a minimum investment of $1 million would be enough. If the investor has $1 million, then the investor has $1 million of net worth and meets the accredited investor threshold. The SEC states that the minimum investment is a highly relevant factor.

The SEC expresses some concern that the cash investment could be financed by the issuer or a third party. Those are legitimate concerns given the potential for fraud by shady operators who would hide behind such a bright line test. But it does cause me a headache.

Clearly there will need to be some additional recordkeeping when it comes to a public offering of a private placement.

The SEC also passed a rule banning “bad actors” from having a substantial role in a private placement, regardless of whether it is public or private. I’ll take a closer look at that one later.

Lastly, the SEC is proposing changes to the Form D required to filed with a private placement. There are many changes in that rule. More than I expected.

  • the filing of a Form D no later than 15 calendar days in advance of the first use of general solicitation in a Rule 506(c) offering;
  • the filing of a closing Form D amendment within 30 calendar days after the termination of a Rule 506 offering; and
  • additional information on Form D about the offering

In addition, the rule is proposing a new disclosure on advertising materials in public private placements. The new rule 509 will require all issuers to include: (i) legends in any written general solicitation materials used in a Rule 506(c) offering; and (ii) additional disclosures for private funds if such materials include performance data.

The SEC is also proposing amendments to Rule 156 under the Securities Act that would extend the guidance contained in the rule to the sales literature of private funds.

There is a lot to digest. Looks like my weekend will be spent reading SEC releases and rules.