The New Era of Public Private-Placements

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s new Rule 506(c) goes into effect today, lifting the ban on general solicitation and advertising. Fund managers, start-ups, and established companies can make public, their private placements of securities. That is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s good because start-ups can now pitch their products to potential consumers and for investments by investors. Demo days are no longer operating in a shadowy area that may violate the rule on private placements. Private fund managers can now advertise their brand, much as mutual fund companies can advertise. Private fund managers can speak to the press so that their coverage is no longer incorrect.

It’s bad because once you advertise, you have to take “reasonable steps to verify” that you should have a “reasonable belief” that an investor is an accredited investor. For individuals, it may mean that an issuer would ask for tax returns or certified financial statements. I think most individuals will resist that request. So a start-up that is seeking individual investors may actually handicap its ability to attract investors by engaging in general solicitation or advertising.

It’s also bad for securities regulators. If a regulator could see information on what should be a private placement, the regulator knows its a bad private placement. By the old definition of private placement, the regulator should not be able to see the information because its private. Either the company made a bad mistake or there’s fraud involved. In the new era of public private-placements, regulators will have little insight into the nature of the private offering.

At some point the regulators will have access to the Form D filing that provides a basic set of information about the public private-placement. But that does not need to be filed until 15 days after the first sale of securities.

In an attempt to fix the loss of the red flag, the SEC proposed some additional rules to help with investor protection. I, and many others, feel the proposed rules are more likely to impede private fundraising more than protect investors.

The better solution would have been to improve the poor definition of “general solicitation and advertising.” There were many things that clearly fit into the definition and many things that clearly fell outside of the definition. If the SEC had just carved out a few more items (see the “good” above), private placements would not be in their current turmoil.

But it was not up to the SEC. It was a Congressional mandate in the JOBS Act that swept aside the ban. It was Congress who imposed the investor verification requirement.

The good news is that the old private placement regime is still in place. As long as you don’t engage in general advertisement or solicitation, in other words have a private private-placement, you don’t have to engage in the messy investor verification process.