SEC Advisory Committee On Small And Emerging Companies Issues Further Recommendations On Accredited Investor Definition

by Attorney Laura Anthony on August 02, 2016 in Accredited Investors, SEC, SEC Advisory Committee, SEC Guidance

On July 19, 2016, the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies (the “Advisory Committee”) met and drafted its recommendations and response to the SEC report on the definition of accredited investor.  The subject of changes to the definition of accredited investor has been debated in a series of reports, recommendations, proposals and comment letters since early 2015.

On December 18, 2015, the SEC issued a 118-page report on the definition of “accredited investor” (the “report”).  The report follows the March 2015 SEC Advisory Committee recommendations related to the definition.  The SEC is reviewing the definition of “accredited investor” as directed by the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires that the SEC review the definition as relates to “natural persons” every four years to determine if it should be modified or adjusted.  See my blog HERE on the report and additional background on the subject.

At the July 19 meeting, the Advisory Committee finalized a draft of a letter to the SEC outlining its recommendations on changes to the definition of accredited investor.  The Advisory Committee had previously submitted a letter to the SEC on March 9, 2015, on the same subject; see my blog HERE for details.

The Advisory Committee made five recommendations related to the definition of “accredited investor,” each of which I support fully.  In particular:

  • The core of prior recommendations remain the same, with the added statement that “the overarching goal of any changes the Commission might consider should be to ‘do no harm’ to the private offering ecosystem”;
  • The SEC should not change the current financial thresholds in the definition except to adjust for inflation on a going-forward basis
  • The definition should be expanded to take into account measure of non-financial sophistication, regardless of income or net worth, thereby expanding rather than contracting the pool of accredited investors;
  • “Simplicity and certainty are vital to the utility of any expanded definition of accredited investor.  Accordingly, any non-financial criteria should be able to be ascertained with certainty”; and
  • The SEC should continue to gather data on this subject and, in particular, what “attributes best encompass those persons whose financial sophistication and ability to sustain the risk of loss of investment or ability to fend for themselves render the protections of the Securities Act’s registration process unnecessary.”

Advisory Committee Considerations in Support of its Recommendations

The Advisory Committee Letter lists practical facts and realities related to small business and emerging company capital formation in support of its recommendations.  In particular:

  • Emerging companies play a significant role as drivers in the U.S. economy, including supporting innovation and job creation. The ability of these emerging companies to raise capital in unregistered offerings is critical to the economic well-being of the U.S.
  • The exemptions under Regulation D are the most widely used transactional exemptions, resulting in $1.35 trillion of raised capital in 2015, which amount is comparable to capital raised in registered offerings;
  • The accredited investor definition is the centerpiece of Regulation D and is intended to “encompass those persons whose financial sophistication and ability to sustain the risk of loss of investment or ability to fend for themselves render the protections of the Securities Act’s registration process unnecessary.”
  • Currently a natural person is an accredited investor if they have (i) earned income in excess of $200,000 (or $300,000 together with a spouse) in each of the prior two years, and reasonably expects the same for the current year; or (ii) a net worth in excess of $1 million excluding the value of their primary residence.
  • If the individual and net worth thresholds are raised significantly, it would considerably decrease the number of households that qualify as accredited investors. This decrease would disproportionately affect areas with a lower cost of living, which areas already coincide with regions of lower venture capital activity.  Moreover, a decrease in the accredited investor pool would have a disproportionate effect on women and minority entrepreneurs.
  • The Advisory Committee notes that it is “unaware of any evidence suggesting that fraud in the private markets is driven or affected by the levels at which the accredited investor definition is set.”

Refresher on Current Accredited Investor Definition

An “accredited investor” is defined as any person who comes within any of the following categories: Any bank as defined in section 3(a)(2) of the Act, or any savings and loan association or other institution as defined in section 3(a)(5)(A) of the Act, whether acting in its individual or fiduciary capacity; any broker or dealer registered pursuant to section 15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; any insurance company as defined in section 2(a)(13) of the Act; any investment company registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 or a business development company as defined in section 2(a)(48) of that Act; any Small Business Investment Company licensed by the U.S. Small Business Administration under section 301(c) or (d) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958; any plan established and maintained by a state, its political subdivisions, or any agency or instrumentality of a state or its political subdivisions, for the benefit of its employees, if such plan has total assets in excess of $5,000,000; any employee benefit plan within the meaning of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 if the investment decision is made by a plan fiduciary, as defined in section 3(21) of such act, which is either a bank, savings and loan association, insurance company, or registered investment adviser, or if the employee benefit plan has total assets in excess of $5,000,000 or, if a self-directed plan, with investment decisions made solely by persons that are accredited investors;

  • Any bank as defined in section 3(a)(2) of the Act, or any savings and loan association or other institution as defined in section 3(a)(5) of the Act, whether acting in its individual or fiduciary capacity; any broker or dealer registered pursuant to section 15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; any insurance company as defined in section 2(a)(13) of the Act; any investment company registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 or a business development company as defined in section 2(a)(48) of that Act; any Small Business Investment Company licensed by the U.S. Small Business Administration under section 301(c) or (d) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958; any plan established and maintained by a state, its political subdivisions, or any agency or instrumentality of a state or its political subdivisions, for the benefit of its employees, if such plan has total assets in excess of $5,000,000; any employee benefit plan within the meaning of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 if the investment decision is made by a plan fiduciary, as defined in section 3(21) of such act, which is either a bank, savings and loan association, insurance company, or registered investment adviser, or if the employee benefit plan has total assets in excess of $5,000,000 or, if a self-directed plan, with investment decisions made solely by persons that are accredited investors;
  • Any private business development company as defined in section 202(a)(22) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940;
  • Any organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, corporation, Massachusetts or similar business trust, or partnership, not formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the securities offered, with total assets in excess of $5,000,000;
  • Any director, executive officer, or general partner of the issuer of the securities being offered or sold, or any director, executive officer, or general partner of a general partner of that issuer;
  • Any natural person whose individual net worth, or joint net worth with that person’s spouse, at the time of his or her purchase exceeds $1,000,000, not including their principal residence;
  • Any natural person who had an individual income in excess of $200,000 in each of the two most recent years or joint income with that person’s spouse in excess of $300,000 in each of those years and has a reasonable expectation of reaching the same income level in the current year;
  • Any trust, with total assets in excess of $5,000,000, not formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the securities offered, whose purchase is directed by a sophisticated person as described in Rule 506(b)(2)(ii); and
  • Any entity in which all of the equity owners are accredited investors.

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The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

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