The most buzz-inducing SEC filing last week (this is a relative statement, of course) was this Form S-1 filed by Fantex, Inc., seeking to register what has become known as the “Arian Foster IPO.” Foster is an accomplished running back for the NFL’s Houston Texans. The deal, in essence, is that investors will (through Fantex) be paying Foster $10 million now in exchange for 20% of his NFL-related earnings, including endorsements, coaching and broadcasting, going forward for his lifetime. So, based on those numbers, if and when Foster’s aggregate earnings from now on exceed $50 million, investors will make a profit on the investment. Fantex views this as the first of several athlete-related offerings. There has been some ridicule about the concept in the popular press, with much focus on the risks (not helped by Foster’s hamstring pull in the first game after the S-1 filing), though like most investments in individual stocks, it’s a high risk, high reward proposition.
In my earlier post on the liberalization of general solicitation and advertising in Rule 506 offerings (to be effective September 23, 2013), I briefly mentioned the more stringent requirement, when general solicitation or advertising is used, for verifying each investor’s status as an “accredited investor.” I’d like to get into more detail about what that entails.
Current practice is for companies conducting Rule 506 offerings to have prospective investors check a box on a simple accredited investor questionnaire, and that is generally sufficient to establish the investor’s accredited investor status without further investigation by the company. Going forward, Rule 506 offerings that are not accompanied by general solicitation or advertising will continue to operate in the same manner. However, when general solicitation or advertising is used, the company must take “reasonable steps” to verify each investor’s accredited investor status. This is a “principles-based” standard that is dependent on the facts and circumstances of the investors and the offering, but clearly a checked box on a questionnaire will not suffice.
Generally, the terms “public offering” and “private offering” have the meanings that the words imply: a public offering of securities is made to hundreds or thousands of investors who may have no connection to the company, and a private offering is made to a select group of investors known to the company or its broker. Historically, private offerings made under widely-used SEC Rule 506 (part of Regulation D) were required to be completed without the use of any “general solicitation or general advertising.” However, a provision of the federal JOBS Act, enacted in 2012, blurred the lines between private and public offerings by permitting general solicitation or advertising in Rule 506 offerings, subject to conditions imposed by the SEC. The SEC has now done its imposing, establishing rules to become effective in September 2013.
In private securities offerings where the company does not engage an investment banker who is a registered broker-dealer to market the offering to investors, companies will often seek the assistance of so-called “finders,” who are not registered as broker-dealers, to connect the company with potential investors. These finders are often paid a pre-determined percentage of the amount ultimately raised by the company from the investors introduced by the finder. Though this practice is extremely common, this area of the law is very much a gray area, and there are significant risks to both the finder and the company that should be considered.