When Congress imposed a lifting of the ban on advertisements for private placements, it also imposed a mandate that the fundraiser “take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors.” The methods for verification were to be determined by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC, to its credit, did not impose impose strict methods for verification. It largely decided to allow fundraisers to use a principles-based approach. The SEC did include four non-exclusive safe harbors for verification.
Congress thought that lifting the ban would invigorate fundraising. But funds and companies have been reluctant to use it. According to a speech by Keith Higgins, only 10% of private placements have used the Rule 506(c) methods. Since September 2013, there were 900 offerings that raised $10 billion under Rule 506(c). But there were over 9,200 offerings that raised $233 billion under the old Rule 506(b) regime.
With the verification requirement, the outcome and backlash has been that fundraisers should only use one of the four methods. That of course, is silly. It’s safe, but overly cautious. The SEC did specifically state that reliance on an investor’s self-answered questionnaire alone is not taking reasonable steps. You will need to look at your potential investor and find out some additional information.
That investigation adds time and and energy. For private equity funds, it’s probably a step that should be taken anyhow. Investor defaults on capital calls is a bad thing. You want to make sure that your potential investor will be able to make the contributions over course of the expected timeline of capital calls. That’s a bit different than a one time contribution to a hedge fund or private company investment.
Minimum investment goes a long way to meeting the reasonable steps. If an investor is making a $1 million investment then presumably the investor has the $1 million new worth which is the accredited investor baseline test. The SEC did not specifically endorse this standard. The concern is that the investor may have borrowed the money to make the investment. The SEC is clearly worried about shady operators getting little old ladies to mortgage their homes to make risky investments.
For me, the biggest concern is the overhang of the proposed changes to Regulation D that were put up for comment at the same time the SEC lifted the ban. That injects too much uncertainty into the fundraising process. The SEC stated that there will likely be a grace period and some transitional relief. But its hard to plan a fundraising that could take 12 months with that kind of uncertainty.
I was interested in using Rule 506(c) because of the uncertainties around the definition of general solicitation and advertising. It would be great to eliminate potential foot-faults. I could sleep better at night, not worrying about whether an employee would mention fundraising at an industry event. The company could respond to media requests and could correct misinformation in the media about the fundraising.
But the SEC has left too much uncertainty in the process to fully embrace a Rule 506(c) offering.