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 exemptions from registration prohibit companies from engaging in general solicitation or general advertising -- that is, advertising in newspapers or on the Internet among other things -- in connection with securities offerings.
Rule 506 of Regulation D is the most widely-used exemption from registration. In an offering that qualifies for the Rule 506 exemption, an issuer may raise an unlimited amount of capital from an unlimited number of "accredited investors" and up to 35 non-accredited investors. Under SEC rules, accredited investors are individuals who meet certain minimum income or net worth levels, or certain institutions such as trusts, corporations, or charitable organizations that meet certain minimum asset levels.
In April 2012, Congress passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act). Section 201(a)(1) of the JOBS Act directs the SEC to remove the prohibition on general solicitation or general advertising for securities offerings relying on Rule 506 provided that sales are limited to accredited investors and an issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. By requiring the SEC to remove this general solicitation restriction, Congress sought to make it easier for a company to find investors and thereby raise capital.
While issuers will be able to widely solicit and advertise for potential investors, the JOBS Act required the SEC to adopt rules that "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." In other words, there is no restriction on who an issuer can solicit, but an issuer
faces restrictions on who is permitted to purchase its securities.
The law also directed the SEC to amend Rule 144A under the Securities Act, an exemption from registration that applies to the resale of securities to 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 rule, Rule 144A is amended so that offers of securities can be made to investors who are not QIBs as long as the securities are sold only to persons whom the seller reasonably believes are
Last August, in order to comply with the congressional mandate to implement Section 201(a)(1) of the JOBS Act, the Commission proposed a rule that would remove the general solicitation ban for certain 506 offerings in which sales of securities would be limited to accredited investors and issuers would be required to take reasonable steps to verify such accredited status. After doing so, the Commission received numerous comments, including requests seeking greater clarification on the types of verification that would be considered reasonable under the rule.
Commenters also suggested that the SEC consider measures that they believed would provide additional protections for investors in connection with removing the general solicitation ban. Several of those additional measures identified by these commenters are included in a separate proposal that the Commission approved today.
The final rule approved on July 10 makes changes to Rule 506 to permit issuers to use general solicitation and general advertising to offer their securities provided that:
The issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that the investors are accredited investors.
All purchasers of the securities fall within one of the categories of persons who are accredited investors under an existing rule (Rule 501 of Regulation D) or the issuer reasonably believes that the investors fall within one of the categories at the time of the sale of the securities.
Under existing Rule 501, a person qualifies as an accredited investor if he or she has either:
An individual net worth or joint net worth with a spouse that exceeds $1 million at the time of the purchase, excluding the value (and any related indebtedness) of a primary residence.
An individual annual income that exceeded $200,000 in each of the two most recent years or a joint annual income with a spouse exceeding $300,000 for those years, and a reasonable expectation of the same income level in the current year.
The determination of the reasonableness of the steps taken to verify an accredited investor is an objective assessment by an issuer. An issuer is required to consider the facts and circumstances of each purchaser and the transaction. Nevertheless, in response to commenters' requests, the final rule provides a non-exclusive list of methods that issuers may use to satisfy the verification requirement for individual investors.
The methods described in the final rule include the following:
Reviewing copies of any IRS form that reports the income of the purchaser and obtaining a written representation that the purchaser will likely continue to earn the necessary income in the current year.
Receiving a written confirmation from a registered broker-dealer, SEC-registered investment adviser, licensed attorney, or certified public accountant that such entity or person has taken reasonable steps to verify the purchaser's accredited status.
The existing provisions of Rule 506 as a separate exemption are not affected by the final rule. Issuers conducting Rule 506 offerings without the use of general solicitation or general advertising can continue to conduct securities offerings in the same manner and aren't subject to the new verification rule.
Under the final rule, securities sold pursuant to Rule 144A can 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 to be QIBs.
The final rule amends Form D, which is the notice that issuers must file with the SEC when they sell securities under Regulation D. The revised form adds a separate box for issuers to check if they are claiming the new Rule 506 exemption that would permit general solicitation or general advertising.
The rule amendments become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.