Eliminating the Prohibition on General Solicitation and General Advertising in Certain Offerings
The Current Offering Process
Companies seeking to raise capital through the sale of securities must either register the securities offering with the SEC or rely on an exemption from registration. Most of the SEC’s exemptions from registration prohibit companies from engaging in a general solicitation or general advertising in connection with securities offerings – that is, advertising in newspapers or on the Internet among other things. Rule 506 is one of those exemptions.
The JOBS Act, enacted earlier this year, directed the SEC to remove the prohibitions on general solicitation or general advertising for securities offerings relying on Rule 506. By requiring the SEC to remove these restrictions, Congress sought to make it easier for companies to inform the public that they are seeking to raise capital through the sale of securities.
In particular, Section 201(a)(1) of the JOBS Act directs the SEC to amend Rule 506 to permit general solicitation or general advertising provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. It also says that “[s]uch rules shall require the issuer to take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors, using such methods as determined by the Commission.”
The new law also directs the SEC to revise Rule 144A, which governs the resale of securities primarily by larger institutional investors known as qualified institutional buyers (QIBs). Under current Rule 144A, offers of securities can only be made to QIBs. Under the new law, Rule 144A would be revised so that offers of securities could be made to investors who are not QIBs as long as the securities are sold only to persons whom the seller reasonably believes are QIBs.
The Proposed Rules
Under the proposed rules, companies issuing securities would be permitted to use general solicitation and general advertising to offer securities, provided that:
The issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers of the securities are accredited investors.
All purchasers of securities are accredited investors, because either:
They come within one of the categories of persons who are accredited investors under existing Rule 501.
The issuer reasonably believes that they meet one of the categories at the time of the sale of the securities.
Under Rule 501, a natural person qualifies as an accredited investor if he or she has individual net worth – or joint net worth with a spouse – that exceeds $1 million at the time of the purchase, excluding the value of the primary residence of such person. Or, if he or she has income exceeding $200,000 in each of the two most recent years or joint income with a spouse exceeding $300,000 for those years and a reasonable expectation of the same income level in the current year.
In determining the reasonableness of the steps that an issuer has taken to verify that a purchaser is an accredited investor, the proposing release explains that issuers are to consider the facts and circumstances of the transaction. This includes, among other things, the following factors:
The type of purchaser and the type of accredited investor that the purchaser claims to be.
The amount and type of information that the issuer has about the purchaser.
The nature of the offering, meaning:
The manner in which the purchaser was solicited to participate in the offering.
The terms of the offering, such as a minimum investment amount.
The SEC’s proposing release notes that proposing specific verification methods that an issuer must use “would be impractical and potentially ineffective in light of the numerous ways in which a purchaser can qualify as an accredited investor … We are also concerned that a prescriptive rule that specifies required verification methods could be overly burdensome in some cases, by requiring issuers to follow the same steps, regardless of their particular circumstances, and ineffective in others, by requiring steps that, in the particular circumstances, would not actually verify accredited investor status.”
The proposed rules would preserve the existing portions of Rule 506 as a separate exemption so that companies conducting 506 offerings without the use of general solicitation and general advertising would not be subject to the new verification rule.
Under the proposed rules, securities sold pursuant to Rule 144A could be offered to persons other than QIBs, including by means of general solicitation, provided that the securities are sold only to persons whom the seller and any person acting on behalf of the seller reasonably believe is a QIB.
The proposed rules would amend Form D, which issuers must file with the SEC when they sell securities under Regulation D. The revised form would add a separate box for issuers to check if they are claiming the new Rule 506 exemption that would permit general solicitation and general advertising.