On July 10, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) voted to lift the ban on general solicitation and advertising by private funds (and other private company issuers) as mandated by Congress in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (“JOBS Act”). In addition to lifting the ban on general solicitation, the SEC approved a disqualification rule that will prospectively prohibit any felon or “bad actor” from relying on Rule 506 exemptions. Finally, the SEC voted to propose amendments to the current private offering rules.
- New Rule 506(c)
Rule 506(c), as adopted by the SEC, permits private issuers to use general solicitation and general advertising when making a securities offering, provided the issuer only sells to accredited investors. Issuers must take affirmative and reasonable steps to verify that each investor is accredited under the Rule 501 definition, and cannot simply rely upon a representation from the investor.
The burden now shifts to private fund managers to determine “reasonableness” when making a determination of an investor’s accredited status. In response to comments it received, the SEC has provided some ideas an issuer can consider when determining its verification procedures. The non-exclusive, non-required verification methods published by the SEC include: (i) review federal tax forms, (ii) confirm net worth through documentation, or (iii) obtain written confirmation from a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser, licensed attorney in good standing, or registered CPA. Accordingly, private fund managers will be able to rely upon certain third parties to make a determination of accreditation.
Current Rule 506 Exemptions
Rule 506(c) does not modify or repeal any of the current Rule 506 exemptions and issuers may still rely on those exemptions as written. Therefore, private fund managers that do not see the value in advertising or soliciting to the public, or find the conditions of the new rules too onerous, may continue under the current private offering regime and will remain subject to all of the same restrictions on communications with the public to which they are currently subject.
The current Form D filing document will be amended to include a “check-the-box” option to designate if the issuer is relying on the new Rule 506(c) in its present offering. For those private funds and other issuers that do intend to generally advertise, the SEC has proposed that a Form D would need to be filed with the SEC 15 days in advance of the offering and again within 30 days after the offering closes. It is proposed that an issuer that fails to make these filings would be prohibited from using the public advertising rules in the future.
- Rule 144A
Similar to the changes to Rule 506, under the new rules, securities sold pursuant to Rule 144A may be “offered” to investors other than qualified institutional buyers, because information about such offerings would be made public by way of general advertising, but the securities may only be sold to investors the seller reasonably believes to be qualified institutional buyers.
- Felons and “Bad Actors” Disqualification
The SEC unanimously adopted a rule that disqualifies certain felons and “bad actors” from relying on any Rule 506 exemption. This disqualification will be effective sixty days after the publication of the final rules in the Federal Register.
The SEC identified a number of events that would disqualify an issuer from relying on Rule 506, such as securities-related criminal convictions, court injunctions and restraining orders, final orders from regulators and agencies, certain SEC disciplinary orders, anti-fraud or registration-related cease-and-desist orders from the SEC, SEC stop orders, suspension or expulsion from membership or association with a self-regulated organization, or recent U.S. Postal Service false representation orders.
However, much to the consternation of the lone dissenting Commissioner Luis Aguilar, this provision will not bar persons who have committed financial and other crimes in the past. It will only bar such bad actors on a going forward basis. Presumably, the fact that a principal of an issuer is a convicted felon would be a material fact that would be required to appear in the offering materials of the issuer, and for private funds, this information would, in most cases, get picked up in the Form ADV of the fund manager.
- What Happens Next
The effective date of Rule 506(c) and the disqualification rule is 60 days following the date the rule is published in the Federal Register. For an ongoing offering under Rule 506 that began before the effective date of Rule 506(c), the issuer may elect to continue the offering after the effective date in accordance with the requirements of either the current Regulation D rule or new Rule 506(c), which permits general solicitation and advertising. Accordingly, if an issuer chooses to continue its offering under Rule 506(c), any general solicitations that take place after the effective date, will not impact the exempt status of offers and sales that took place prior to the effective date in reliance on Rule 506(b).
What Funds Can Do Now
After the effective date of Rule 506(c), private funds that are not otherwise disqualified from using the Rule 506 exemptions may begin advertising and soliciting generally. An issuer that chooses to advertise or solicit generally must put policies and procedures in place to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to verify that each purchaser is accredited and that no sales are made to non-accredited investors.
Limitations, CFTC Considerations and Fund Advertising
Since February 2012, when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) rescinded Rule 4.13(a)(4), most private funds have relied upon the de minimus exemption of Rule 4.13(a)(3) in order to be exempt from CFTC registration. Other funds that trade futures or other instruments that are subject to CFTC oversight above the de minimus threshold, avail themselves of the “registration lite” exemption in Rule 4.7, pursuant to which all fund investors must be “qualified eligible persons.” However, both of these exemptions require that the fund securities must be offered and sold without any marketing to the public in the United States. Therefore, until the CFTC acts to amend these exemptive rules on which many private fund managers rely, none of these private funds will be able to use the general solicitation provisions of new Rule 506(c). The Managed Funds Association submitted an outline of proposed rule amendments to the CFTC that would harmonize the CFTC rules with the SEC’s JOBS Act rules, but it is uncertain when the CFTC will act on this matter.
For a discussion of these provisions, see this discussion on Bloomberg.
Proposed Amendments to Regulation D, Form D and Rule 156
In connection with the approval of Rule 506(c), the SEC proposed amendments to Regulation D, Form D and Rule 156 under the Securities Act. These proposed “investor protection” amendments are intended to enhance the SEC’s ability to evaluate market changes, the nature of advertising used by issuers, the steps taken by the issuer to verify that all investors were accredited and the intended use of the proceeds of the sale. It is likely that these provisions will soon become part of the new Form D and be applicable to private fund managers that advertise or solicit to the public.
Finally, fund managers and their compliance officers should familiarize themselves with the requirements of Rule 156, as it appears likely that this anti-fraud rule will soon apply to the sales literature and advertising produced by hedge fund and private equity funds.