(With thanks to Bill Carleton and Joe Wallin)
High-growth startups are a cornerstone of our economy. Studies have shown that these startups account for much of the job growth in the US and are critical for America’s competitiveness. Angels who finance these companies often become actively involved and help the companies thrive. Angel investment in startups provides the primary and the best source of early-stage capital needed for startup tech companies and other innovative new businesses in America. Such investment is encouraged in many states and other countries.
Section 926 of the Dodd bill would impose new, unwarranted and devastating restrictions on the “Reg D” process by which Angels (and Angel Groups) support America’s startup innovation economy. Moreover, as we explain below, these restrictions are wholly unnecessary: more-effective, more precisely-tailored reforms are available to fix the abuses of Regulation D that occur outside the Angel investing arena.
We do not believe that it is the intent of Sen. Dodd or Section 926 of his bill to do so, but a consequence of the current language in the bill would be to seriously impede angel investments.
Today’s process (Reg D) requires that startup companies funded by “accredited investors” (sophisticated business Angels who understand the risks in such investments) can invest without undergoing the expense, complexity and delay of a registration process. Instead, within a few days after the first sale, startup that has received the investment files a simple “Form D” notice filing with the SEC and with each state in which an investing Angel resides. This system has worked well for over 15 years, as shown by the growth of early-stage companies. Remarkably, there are virtually no examples of fraud or abuse in such angel investments.
On reflection, it makes sense that Reg D should work so well for startups and Angel investing. First and foremost, the startups in which Angels invest are not in the business of selling or trading securities. They do not engage broker dealers to do so, and they do not sell to the general public. Instead, these startups are placing securities directly in the hands of sophisticated Angels in order to obtain needed capital to get a new business off the ground. If the startups and the Angels are successful in what they set out to do, they will create jobs in the process and possibly returns on investment. Angels know the risks, going in.
In this vital process, the way that innovation in America is financed at the grass roots, no one is making a living or taking a profit from the process of selling securities. Startups are “incidental” issuers only, and all participants in startup “grass roots financing” (including entrepreneurs, Angel investors, and lawyers) have every reason to self-police. In the rare instances of securities fraud, the Reg D exemption notice filings serve a critical record-making function, just as they should: investors who feel cheated can sue to show how a Reg D exemption was claimed and filed falsely. If there was fraud, those investors are going to have recourse, personally, from the officers, directors and others associated with the rare problem startup. And you can bet the persons in those rare, fraudulent startups will not be supported again by the Angel community, nor should they be.
Section 926 wants to toss out this process that has worked so well and start over with a 120 day review period for all Reg D filings. For most early-stage startups, time equates to life or death and the regulatory review process proposed in Section 926 will kill many promising companies. For those of us willing to spend the time, expertise, and money to start potential high-growth companies, the changes that would be imposed by Section 926 seem unnecessary and counter-intuitive.
Section 926 also wants the SEC to define by rule a class of securities that are too small in size and scope to merit eligibility for the uniform, federal Reg D notice exemption system. But it is exactly the small, “seed” (getting a startup off the ground) financing that most needs the benefit of Reg D!
From discussions with Joe Borg (Director, Alabama Securities Commission, and Member, NASAA Board of Directors) and others, we have come to understand that the States, as a part of financial system reform, have been plagued with certain disreputable promoters, brokers, dealers and investment advisors (“bad actors”) defrauding investors by abusing Reg D filings. The State regulators have the authority to prosecute, but feel they are hamstrung by being able to do so only after the fact when the money is already gone. The primary intent of Section 926 is to give the States the ability to regulate these “bad actors” before they are allowed to take in funds under fraudulent terms. Angel investors and groups share this concern and would like to suggest a solution to the State Regulators’ problem that does not restrain Angel investors (or Angel groups) from creating high-growth startups.
There is a valid need to regulate promoters, brokers, dealers, and investment professionals that raise money for others. Attached you will find a suggested amendment to Section 926 that achieves the following:
Address the concerns of State Securities Administrators by:
- Eliminating federal preemption of state authority with respect to exempt offerings that that involve brokers, dealers, or investment advisers.
- Instructing the SEC to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D, to incorporate by reference the disqualifications already in Regulation D that pertain to Rule 505, so that “bad actors” can’t abuse Regulation D.
- Clarifying that existing state jurisdiction to investigate and bring enforcement actions with respect to fraud or deceit, or unlawful conduct, applies not only to broker-dealers, but also to investment advisers.
- Disallowing the use of Rule 506 for offerings that are not “all accredited investor” offerings (current rules allow 506 offering with up to 35 non-accredited investors if certain information requirements are met).
Address the concerns of startups and angel investors by:
- Eliminating the 120 day SEC wait/review period in the current version of the bill.
- Eliminating the authority given to the SEC under the current proposed bill to establish, by rule making, a class of securities offering that would be too small to merit federal exemption, leaving in place the current, national, uniform notice-filing system for startups.
- Clarifying that a security is a covered security with respect to a transaction that is exempt from registration under Rule 506, including with respect to groups of purchasers comprised solely of accredited investors.
We believe that this meets the needs of the State Regulators to clean up the industry without the chilling effect that an elimination of Reg D would impose on funding startups by accredited angel investor.
Furthermore, by eliminating the “bad actors,” we will enhance the ability to get new startups going investors will feel more secure in knowing that they are not investing in scams. This is a true win-win.
Also of concern in Senator Dodd’s bill is Section 412, which would change the definition of an “accredited investor.” It is hard to argue that an individual with a net worth of greater than $1,000,000 is not a sophisticated investor. Section 412 would index that $1M back to 1982 and make the new definition $2.25M, eliminating 77% of the potential accredited investors (see Shane’s article in Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/mar2010/sb20100318_367600.htm).
Section 412, in our view, is nothing more than a poorly conceived tool to limit the scope of broker dealers and investment advisers abusing regulation D. The tool is poorly conceived, because it is so indirect. In the process of eliminating three quarters of the population from which the fraudulent broker-dealers might operate, it also would devastate the single most important source for start up financing in America. And it would also prevent knowledgeable and sophisticated angel investors with high net worth (but not high enough) from receiving the returns that their richer brethren receive; this is neither fair nor democratic and, once again, not in the spirit of the Dodd bill.
As part of saving angel investing, if we make the protective changes to Section 926, we believe that we no longer need the protections suggested in Section 412 there should not be an indexing of the definition of accredited.
Amendment to S. ____
“Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010”
Offered by ____________
Page 816, strike line 3 through page 819 line 4 and insert the following:
SEC. 926. AMENDMENTS OF RULE 506 UNDER REGULATION D ; AUTHORITY OF STATE REGULATORS OVER REGULATION D
OFFERINGS INVOLVING BROKERS, DEALERS, AND
Section 18(b)(4) and Section 18(c)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. Sections 77r(b)(4) and 77r(c)(1), respectively) are amended
(1) by inserting, following subparagraph (D) of said Section 18(b)(4), a new subparagraph (E), as follows:
“(E) Rule 506 under Regulation D, provided that all purchasers with respect to such transaction are accredited investors, as such term is defined in the rules of the Commission under the Securities Act of 1933, or are persons, entities or groups composed solely of accredited investors purchasing securities solely for the beneficial interest of said accredited investors.”
(2) by redesignating paragraph (1) of said Section 18(c) , “Fraud Authority,” as subparagraph (1)(A) thereof, and restating it as follows:
“(A) The securities commission (or any agency or office performing like functions) of any State shall retain jurisdiction under the laws of such State to investigate and bring enforcement actions with respect to fraud or deceit, or unlawful conduct by, a broker, dealer, or person associated with a broker or dealer, or an investment adviser, or persons associated with an investment adviser, in connection with securities or securities transactions.”
(3) by inserting, following such redesignated and restated subparagraph (A) of said paragraph (1) of Section 18(c), a new subparagraph (B), as follows:
“(B) A security is not a covered security with respect to a transaction that is exempt from registration under this subchapter if the offering of such security involves the payment of any commission based on funds raised by the issuer in connection with such offering, or otherwise involving a broker, dealer, person associated with a broker or dealer, or involving an investment adviser who has a financial interest, direct or indirect, in the offering of such securities, or a person associated with such an investment adviser.”
(4) by inserting, following subparagraph (D) of said Section 18(c)(2), a new subparagraph (E), as follows:
“(E) AVAILABILITY OF PREEMPTION CONTINGENT ON LACK OF DISQUALIFICATIONS. The Commission shall amend, by rule, Rule 506 under Regulation D, to disqualify securities issued in reliance on said rule as covered securities under Section 18(b) of the Securities Act of 1933, for reasons which are comparable to the disqualifications currently set forth at subparagraph (b)(2)(iii) of Rule 505 of Regulation D.”