The SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies Recommendations on Finder’s Fees
Posted by Laura Anthony, Esq. on July 25, 2017
The SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies Recommendations on Finder’s Fees- Today is the first in a LawCast series talking finders fees. As a recurring topic, I discuss exemptions to the broker-dealer registration requirements for entities and individuals that assist companies in fundraising and related services. I have previously discussed the no-action-letter-based exemption for M&A brokers, the exemptions for websites restricted to accredited investors and for crowdfunding portals as part of the JOBS Act and the statutory exemption from the broker-dealer registration requirements found in Securities Exchange Act Rule 3a4-1, including for officers, directors and key employees of an issuer. I have also previously published a blog on the American Bar Association’s recommendations for the codification of an exemption from the broker-dealer registration requirements for private placement finders.
A related topic with a parallel analysis is the use of finders for investors and investor groups, an activity which has become prevalent in today’s marketplace. In that case the investor group utilizes the services of a finder to solicit issuers to sell securities (generally convertible notes) to the investment group. These finders may also solicit current shareholders or convertible note holders to sell such holdings to a new investor or investor group.
Most if not all small and emerging companies are in need of capital but are often too small or premature in their business development to attract the assistance of a banker or broker-dealer. In addition to regulatory and liability concerns, the amount of a capital raise by small and emerging companies is often small (less than $5 million) and accordingly, the potential commission for a broker-dealer is limited as compared to the time and risk associated with the transaction. Most small and middle market bankers have base-level criteria for acting as a placement agent in a deal, which includes the minimum amount of commission they would need to collect to become engaged. In addition, placement agents have liability for the representations of the issuing company and fiduciary obligations to investors.
As a result of the need for capital and need for assistance in raising the capital, together with the inability to attract licensed broker-dealer assistance, a sort of black market industry has developed, and it is a large industry. Neither the SEC, FINRA or state regulators have the resources to police this prevalent industry of finders. The fact is that there are thousands of unlicensed finders that operate openly, and even advertise their services, making it impossible for practitioners to convince small issuers that they should not utilize the services of these groups. As the saying goes, if everyone is doing it and doing it openly, it must be okay – but it is not okay.
I would recommend a regulatory framework that includes (i) limits on the total amount finders can introduce in a 12-month period; (ii) antifraud and basic disclosure requirements that match issuer responsibilities under registration exemptions; and (iii) bad-actor prohibitions and disclosures which also match issuer requirements under registration exemptions.