Section 413(b) of Title IV of the Dodd-Frank Act allows the SEC to evaluate the current definition of “accredited investor,” which has been in place since 1982, and to revisit the issue at four year intervals. As the SEC deliberates, alarm bells are sounding in the industry, warning that a new definition could destroy not only the nascent Crowdfunding industry but the entire ecosystem around private capital formation.
Though well-intended, these warnings are misguided, in my opinion.
If the SEC indexed the existing definition to the CPI over the last 32 years, leading to an income threshold of about $500,000 and a net worth threshold of about $2.5 million, the effect would indeed be devastating, with only star athletes and Google employees allowed to invest. However, I see no reason to believe the SEC has anything like that in mind, for several reasons:
- The SEC could have changed the definition on its own initiative at any time over the last 32 years but hasn’t.
- Not only has the SEC not changed the definition, it has never expressed any particular concern with Rule 506, where most private placements take place.
- Most important, the Dodd-Frank Act instructs the SEC to modify the definition “as the Commission may deem appropriate for the protection of investors, in the public interest, and in light of the economy.” In my own extensive but necessarily anecdotal experience, I have seen no evidence that the current income or net worth requirements fail to protect investors or, for that matter, that they are particularly relevant to protecting invesors. In the absence of widespread problems, there is simply no reason to make the definition more stringent than it is today and, given the Congressional mandate to keep one eye on the economy – that is, on the economic benefits of making capital available – there are probably stronger reasons to relax the current definition.
According to the Chairman of the SEC, Mary Jo White, the SEC is considering a more nuanced definition of accredited investor, one that takes into account not just income and net worth but also financial sophistication. That sounds right to me.
For now, the best way to help the SEC adopt a sensible definition of accredited investor is to provide real data. If you have reliable information about the incidence of fraud in private placements, for example, or about the correlation (or lack thereof) between financial sophistication and annual income, the SEC would love to see it. Feel free to send it to me and I will forward it.
In the meantime, don’t worry. . . .too much.
Questions? Let me know.