THE EXPANDED DEFINITION OF ACCREDITED INVESTOR: A (FIRST) STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For all the ink spilled wondering and worrying how the SEC might change the definition of accredited investor, yesterday’s announcement seems almost anti-climactic.

Perhaps the main story is what the SEC didn’t do. It didn’t limit the definition of accredited investor in any way. Everyone who was an accredited investor yesterday is an accredited investor today. In that sense the SEC continues to demonstrate its support for the private investment marketplace and give the lie to those who believe otherwise.

On the other hand, the SEC didn’t break much new ground expanding the definition, at least for now.

The principal expansion, as expected, was in adding to the list of accredited investors individuals who hold Series 7, Series 65, or Series 82 licenses. The SEC also added investment advisers registered with the SEC or any state and, more surprisingly, venture capital fund advisers and exempt reporting advisers. I say “more surprisingly” because neither venture capital fund advisers nor exempt reporting advisers are required to pass exams or otherwise demonstrate financial knowledge or sophistication.

The list of accredited investors was also extended to include:

  • Entities, including Indian tribes, governmental bodies, funds, and entities organized under the laws of foreign countries, that (1) own “investments” (as defined in Rule 2a51-1(b) under the Investment Company Act of 1940) in excess of $5 million, and (2) were not formed to invest in the securities offered;
  • Rural business development companies;
  • Family offices with at least $5 million in assets under management and their family clients, as each term is defined under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940; and
  • Knowledgeable employees of a private fund, but only with respect to investments in that fund.

Finally, the SEC clarified that existing provisions of the accredited investor definition that refer to spouses also includes “spousal equivalents,” meaning someone who has gotten under your nerves for at least seven years (actually “a cohabitant occupying a relationship generally equivalent to that of a spouse”).

While a modest first step, these additions are welcome and a harbinger of bigger things to come. The new rule explicitly invites FINRA, other industry self-regulatory authorities, and accredited education institutions to develop “certifications, designations, or credentials” that the SEC would approve for accredited investor qualification. I imagine FINRA and professional organizations will jump at the chance. If this leads to millions or tens of millions of Americans learning about securities and participating in the Crowdfunding market, well, that’s a very good thing for everyone.

The new definition will become effective 60 days after being published in the Federal Register.

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