Beneficiary Designations by Crowdfunding Issuers and Portals

Some Crowdfunding portals and issuers allow investors to designate a beneficiary, i.e., a person who will take ownership of the security (the LLC interest, debt instrument, whatever) should the investor die. Just be careful.

Most states (not Texas) allow the owners of securities, including privately-held securities, to designate a beneficiary outside the owner’s will, under a version of the Uniform TOD (Transfer on Death) Security Registration Act (the Delaware version is 12 DE Code §801 et seq). For the investor, the advantage of designating a beneficiary is that the security doesn’t go through the probate process but instead passes directly to the designated beneficiary.

For the Crowdfunding issuer or portal, there is a benefit to making life easier for investors. And it’s pretty straightforward to create a beneficiary designation form on your website.

Nevertheless, adding convenience for investors carries some risks. For example:

  • Suppose an investor wants to designate her cousin Jacob as the beneficiary of her LLC interest. She uses Jacob’s name on the beneficiary designation form but mistakenly uses her husband’s social security number, out of habit. What happens?
  • The investor correctly designates Jacob on the form but later changes her mind and designates her husband as the beneficiary of the LLC interest in her will. Unfortunately for her husband, the beneficiary designation made using your form cannot be undone by the will. Your form didn’t make that clear.
  • The investor property designates Jacob as the beneficiary of her LLC interest and doesn’t change her mind, but she lives in a community property state and your form didn’t tell her she needed her husband’s consent.
  • The investor property designates Jacob as the beneficiary of her LLC interest but he dies before she does, and she hasn’t designated a successor beneficiary.
  • Your site crashes and the investor’s beneficiary designation is lost.

What’s your budget for legal fees this year?

Designating a beneficiary on your site isn’t the investor’s only option. She can sign a simple will or codicil (if she already has a will) designating a beneficiary for her LLC interest and any other securities or other property, which probably makes more sense than designating beneficiaries security-by-security. And if her cousin and husband end up arguing over the codicil, you’re not involved.

If you’d like a sample of a Beneficiary Designation Form let me know.

TWO REASONS WHY EVERY TITLE II PORTAL SHOULD ADD A TITLE III PORTAL

If you operate a Title II Crowdfunding platform, whether Rule 506(c) or Rule 506(b), you should add the functionality for Title III. Two reasons:

  • It will be good for you, i.e., you will make more money.
  • It will be good for our country.

Adding Title III Will Be Good for You

Any day now the SEC will announce a bunch of changes to the Title III rules, including these: 

  • Sponsors will be able to raise $5M rather than $1.07M.
  • There will be no limit on the amount an accredited investor can invest.
  • The limits for non-accredited investors will be raised.

Most of the deals on your site are less than $5M. Even though the $5M limit under Title III is per-sponsor rather than per-deal, this means that if your Title III portal were up and running today you could expand your potential audience from about 10 million households to about 120 million households.

There are four benefits to making deals available to non-accredited investors.

The first, immediate benefit is that non-accredited investors do have money. By adding non-accredited investors you make it easier to fill deals.

The second, immediate benefit is that adding non-accredited investors allows you to market to affinity groups. If you’re selling a mixed-use project in Washington, D.C. you can market to the neighbors. If you’re selling a company developing a therapy for cystic fibrosis you can market to everyone whose family has been affected.

The third, immediate benefit is you can start taking commissions. If you’re like most Title II portals you spend time and effort to make sure you’re not a broker-dealer. If you were a Title III portal those issues would disappear.

The fourth benefit is not immediate but is much more important than the first three, in my opinion. It’s about building a brand and a funnel of investors.

If you operate a portal you are selling a product, no different than shoes or automobiles. Just as Mercedes offers the A-Class sedan to bring less-affluent customers into the showroom and the Mercedes family, adding Title III can vastly increase your audience and revenue as some non-accredited investors become accredited and the SEC further relaxes the rules for non-accredited investors.

Alternatively, they could start shopping in somebody else’s Title III showroom.

Adding Title III Will Be Good for the Country

Our country is suffering in many ways. Yes, we’re suffering politically, but in some ways the political suffering is just one manifestation of our deep and deepening income and wealth inequalities. You can find a hundred charts showing the same thing:  the very wealthy are becoming wealthier while everyone else, especially the lower 50%, becomes poorer and more desperate.

When I was a teenager I delivered newspapers in Arlington, Virginia. In my suburban territory I delivered papers to accredited investors, whose houses were a little bigger and drove Cadillacs and Town Cars, and to non-accredited investors, whose houses were a little smaller and drove Chevies and Toyotas. One of my customers was George Shulz, the Secretary of the Treasury, who came to the door in his bathrobe and tipped well.

Tax policies, trade policies, all the instrumentalities of government have been focused over the last 40 years to serve the interests of the well-off. Part of it was cynical politics, part too much faith (which I shared) in the power of markets to lift all boats. Most of the boats in our country remain moored at low tide. Steve Mnuchin and his wife wouldn’t dream of living in that neighborhood today while 98% of Americans couldn’t afford to.

Call me an idealist, but I believe Crowdfunding can at least claw back some of the inequality. The deals on your Title II portal should be available to ordinary Americans. They should participate in those returns. They should regain faith that the capitalist system can work for them. We should all hope that the phrase “institutional quality,” when applied to investments, will lose its meaning.

Crowdfunding isn’t the whole solution, but it’s part of the solution. And you can make it happen.

How many companies have stayed away from Crowdfunding and the capital it can provide based on a fallacy? Way too many,

THE BIG PROBLEM FOR CROWDFUNDING THAT REALLY ISN’T A PROBLEM

Ask 10 entrepreneurs why they haven’t used Crowdfunding. Three will answer they haven’t heard of it while seven will say “Crowdfunding will screw up my cap table.” Once and for all, let’s lay that fallacy to rest.

We’ll start by noting that many companies have raised money from Crowdfunding and gone on to later rounds of funding, including public offerings. That proves that what passes for common knowledge in some circles can’t actually be true. But let’s drill down a bit more.

What is it about Crowdfunding that could screw up a cap table?

It couldn’t be the number of investors. Public companies with hundreds of thousands of shareholders have no problem managing their cap tables or raising more capital when they need it. Beyond that, technology has made keeping track of investors pretty simple. You can send 1099s to 2,000 shareholders as easily as you can send them to 20, while Excel spreadsheets have 1,048,576 rows. Cap table management tools like Carta make the process even easier.

Don’t want to manage the cap table yourself? Fund managers like Assure Fund Management will handle it for you.

If having lots of investors doesn’t screw up a cap table, what does?

The answer is that a cap table is screwed up by the terms of the securities issued to investors. For example:

  • A company issues 52% of its voting stock to early investors.
  • A company issues stock to early investors with an agreement giving the investors veto rights over a sale of the company.
  • A company issues stock giving early investors a “put” after five years.

In those circumstances and many others, the rights given to early investors inhibit or even preclude the company from raising money in the future. Who’s going to invest in a company where the founder no longer has voting control?

But for purposes of this post, the important observation is that none of those examples depends on the number of rows in your Excel spreadsheet or how the money was raised. If the first round of funding came from just 10 friends and family members who together received 52% of the voting stock, that company has a screwed up cap table and will have a hard time raising more money. By contrast, the company that raised money from 1,000 strangers in Title III by issuing non-voting stock does not have a screwed up cap table and can raise money from anyone in the future, no problem.

To avoid screwing up your cap table, don’t worry about the number of investors and certainly don’t avoid Crowdfunding. Instead, focus on what matters:  the kinds of securities you issue and the rights you give investors. 

Where did the fallacy come from? The venture capital and organized angel investor folks, i.e., the same folks who predicted a few billion dollars ago that Rule 506(c) would never work because accredited investors wouldn’t submit to verification. Considering themselves indispensable middlemen, these folks view Crowdfunding as a threat. (I’ve always thought they should use Crowdfunding as a tool instead of fighting the tide, but that’s a different blog post.)

The fallacy has proven very hard to shoot down, perhaps because of the outsized influence venture capital and organized angel investor folks enjoy in the capital formation industry. In fact, it’s proven so hard to shoot down that the soon-to-be-released SEC rules allowing SPVs in Title III were written in response. If we’re smart about the kinds of securities we issue we don’t need an SPV, while if we issue the wrong kind of security then an SPV doesn’t help. The new SEC rules were written solely for the sake of perception, “solving” a problem that didn’t really exist.

Similarly, the perception that Crowdfunding screws up your cap table led one of the largest Title III platforms, WeFunder, to create an even more convoluted “solution.” WeFunder has investors appoint a transfer agent to hold their securities. Under 17 CFR §240.12g5-1, this means that all the securities are “held of record” by one person for purposes of section 12(g) of the Exchange Act. Based on the section 12(g) definition WeFunder then claims that a round of financing on its platform leaves the issuer with “a single entry on your cap table.” That’s a creative claim, given that the term “cap table” has no legal meaning and if an issuer is an LLC and raises money from 600 investors there are going to be 600 K-1s.  But the point is that WeFunder goes to this trouble and the attendant costs over a problem of perception, not reality.

How many companies have stayed away from Crowdfunding and the capital it can provide based on a fallacy? Way too many, that’s for sure.

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.

New Year and a New Law Firm

For all its warts and disappointments, 2019 was a record-breaking year for the Crowdfunding industry, promising even better things to come.

I wish for everyone — readers, friends, colleagues, clients, even casual hookups — a terrific New Year filled with self-awareness, peace, close, meaningful personal relationships, financial success, and a sense of having made the world better than we found it.

I’ll also take the opportunity to announce that effective tomorrow, January 1st, I and a group of selected lawyers from this firm and others are forming a new law firm, Lex Nova Law LLC.

The new firm will allow me to expand my practice in Crowdfunding, Fintech, and digital assets, with an even greater focus on aligning my legal practice with the way my clients run their businesses. More generally, Lex Nova Law will focus on the needs of entrepreneurs and their businesses, always the engine of the American economy. We will be guided by our motto: character matters.

My contact information:

Mark Roderick
Lex Nova Law LLC
1810 Chapel Avenue West, Suite 200
Cherry Hill, NJ 08002
t:(856) 382-8402
e: mroderick@lexnovalaw.com

Connect with me on LinkedIn
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As always, thank you for reading.

Regulation A: What Country Do You See When You Wake Up?

sara palin

A company may use Regulation A (Tier 1 or Tier 2) only if the company:

  • Is organized in the U.S. or Canada, and
  • Has its principal place of business in the U.S. or Canada.

I’m often asked what it means for a company to have its principal place of business in the U.S. or Canada. The first step is to identify the people who make the important decisions for the company. The next step is to ask what country those people see when they wake up in the morning. If they see the U.S. or Canada, they’re okay. If they see some other country, even a beautiful country like Norway or Italy, they’re not okay, or at least they can’t use Regulation A.

Seeing the U.S. or Canada via Facetime doesn’t count.

A company called Longfin Corp. ignored this rule and suffered the consequences. The people who made the important decisions for the company saw India when they woke up in the morning. The only person who saw the U.S. was a 23-year-old, low-level employee who worked by himself in a WeWork space. In its offering materials the company claimed to be managed in the U.S., but a Federal court found this was untrue and ordered rescission of the offering, $3.5 million in disgorgement, and $3.2 million in penalties.

Harder questions arise if, for example, three of the directors and the CFO see the U.S. when they wake up, but two directors and the CEO see Ireland.

On the plus side, a U.S. mining company with headquarters in Wyoming definitely can use Regulation A even if all its mines are in South America. The “principal place of business” means the location where the company is managed, not where it operates.

Questions? Let me know.

The High Return Real Estate Show Podcast: Crowdfunding For Real Estate Investors 

2019-10-22_10-03-37CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Jack gets the day off, and Shecky gets to have a one-on-one conversation with Mark Roderick, the leading Crowdfunding and FinTech lawyer in the US.

In this episode, you’ll learn…

  • What is Crowdfunding?
  • The two different kinds of Crowdfunding
  • What and who to look for in a Crowdfunding company.
  • How does Crowdfunding apply to Real Estate Investing?
  • Who are the big players in the Crowdfunding space?
  • The three types of Equity Crowdfunding

This episode is a MUST listen to anyone wanting to understand how technology is changing our investing landscape!

Questions? Let me know.

Podcast: Understanding Crowfunding with Mark Roderick

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CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Rules are always changing in the crowdfunding space. Make sure that it is the best way for you to raise private capital by understanding the mechanics of this process. In this episode, let one of the leading Crowdfunding and FinTech attorneys, Mark Roderick, get you up to speed with the new laws and technology, and how the internet has disrupted this industry. Mark also talks about three flavors of Equity Crowdfunding and the rules for each type. Get an investor’s point-of-view and determine factors that dictate how much money you need to raise.

Questions? Let me know.

The Biggest Challenge With Title III Crowdfunding

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The biggest challenge with Title III Crowdfunding isn’t the $1,070,000 maximum or the per-investor limits. The biggest challenge is how a small company complies with the disclosure requirements on a tight budget.

The disclosures required by Title III — I’m talking specifically about the long list of disclosures required by 17 CFR 227.201 — are fundamentally the same as those required by Title IV (aka Regulation A), which is itself only a slightly scaled-down version of a full-blown public offering.

There are easy questions, like naming the directors and officers, but the most important disclosures make sense only to securities lawyers. Ask the owner of a small business to list the “risks of investing” and you get mostly a blank stare, not the careful list the regulations anticipate. And when you get through everything else, you’re told to disclose “Any material information necessary in order to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.”

To a securities lawyer that’s just a restatement of SEC Rule 10b-5. To the founder of a small business it means nothing.

The result is what we see in the Title III market today, a mishmash. Some sites and companies manage to do it well, but many don’t. The widespread failure of compliance has led some to question whether Title III should be expanded before the Title III industry gets its house in order.

How does the industry get its house in order?

Before trying to answer that question, let’s think about how small companies raised money before Title III.

Before Title III, the typical small business was only vaguely aware of securities laws, if at all, and raised money however it could from whomever it could. Without knowing it, the microbrewery raising $250,000 from friends and family was eligible for the Federal exemption under Rule 504 and might have been eligible for state exemptions as well. But it probably wasn’t making the kind of disclosures required by Title III.

The same was true for would-be Silicon Valley unicorns. I’m pretty sure SoftBank didn’t ask Adam Neumann for a list captioned “Risks of Investing.”

The fact is that investing in a small business before 2016, big or small, generally was driven by relationships, not by legal disclosures. Because disclosure is the heart of the U.S. securities laws, it’s no surprise that the SEC turned to disclosure to protect widows and orphans in Title III. But the full-disclosure paradigm is new to this world. Ironically, the typical Title III issuer – even the issuer whose Form C falls short – is making far more disclosures than most small companies made before Title III, and far more than would-be unicorns are making to VCs today.

Does the paradigm used for large companies and institutional investors make sense for tiny companies and non-accredited investors? I’ll leave that for another day.

As an industry, we can take a few steps to improve:

  • Software and Templates – Better software and better templates can help. At the same time, no template or software can produce “Any material information necessary in order to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.” I translate that to “What would you tell your grandparents if they were investing?” But still, it’s hard.
  • Standardization – Depending on your point of view, standardization is either the price or the benefit of participating in a mass market. In either case, I’m convinced that Title III can’t function properly without far more standardization:
    • Standardized Corporate Structures – It would be great if every Title III issuer were a Delaware corporation or a Delaware limited liability company, using the same standardized Bylaws or Limited Liability Company Agreement.
    • Standardized Securities – Common stock, a simple preferred stock, a straight term loan, a simple revenue-sharing note, a SAFE, and their tokenized equivalents.
    • Standardized Disclosure Templates – An investor should be able to compare the disclosures between companies and portals apples-to-apples.
    • Standardized Legal Documents – Subscription Agreement, contract between portal and issuer, terms of the SAFE – everything should be standardized. Toward that end, within the next month I’m going to make a set of standardized documents available for issuers and portals.
  • No More $10,000 MinimumsC’mon, man! The Target Amount should reflect the minimum required for a viable business, or to get a necessary patent, or something. The widespread use of artificially-low Target Amounts has damaged the Title III market, driving away serious investors.

As long as I’m at it, I’ll ask just one thing of the SEC. Ideally, figure out a way to eliminate the per-investor limits for accredited investors under Title III, which serve no purpose and are inconsistent with Regulation D. Or, if that’s not possible under the language of the JOBS Act, get to almost the same place by creating a regulatory safe harbor under the Exchange Act, which would allow funding portals to receive commissions from accredited investors in a side-by-side offering.

Everyone benefits, and the Title III market gets healthier.

Questions? Let me know.

IRS Issues New Guidance on Taxation of Cryptocurrencies

MSR Update

The Internal Revenue Service just issued more guidance on the taxation of cryptocurrencies. The guidance comes in the form of Revenue Ruling 2019-24 and a set of FAQs. Officially, the guidance applies only to Federal income taxes. However, states are likely to follow the IRS rules.

Revenue Ruling 2019-24 is about hard forks in a distributed ledger. The IRS concludes that the hard fork is not itself a taxable event – that is, if you hold a cryptocurrency immediately before a hard fork and still hold it immediately after, the hard fork has no tax consequences. On the other hand, if you receive an air drop of the new cryptocurrency following the hard fork, you’re taxed on the value of the air drop.

Otherwise, there are no surprises in the new guidance. Thus:

  • Cryptocurrency is treated for Federal income tax purposes just like any other property, a diamond or a rusty 1964 Chevrolet. Cryptocurrency is not treated like U.S. dollars in any sense.
  • If you receive cryptocurrency in exchange for something else, whether property or services, you’re treated as having received a payment equal to the value of the cryptocurrency at the time you received it. If the bitcoin was worth $3,000 at the time you received it, you received a payment of $3,000 for each bitcoin you received, even if the bitcoin was worth $500 the month before or $10,000 the month afterward.
  • When you dispose of cryptocurrency, you have gain or loss based on the difference between the amount you paid for the cryptocurrency – your tax “basis” – and the amount you received for it, just as if you were selling the 1964 Chevy.
  • In general, you have capital gain or loss from selling cryptocurrency. But if you’re in the business of trading cryptocurrency the cryptocurrency will be treated as “inventory” and you’ll have ordinary income or loss.
  • Cryptocurrency received for services is treated as income for purposes of self-employment taxes as well as for purposes of income taxes.
  • Most people would guess that receiving cryptocurrency is taxable, g., my employer paid me $5,000 of ether, so I’m taxed on $5,000 of income. Less obvious is that you’re subject to tax when you pay someone with cryptocurrency. For example, if you’re the employer and pay your employee $5,000 of ether, you have engaged in a taxable sale of your ether, as if you had sold the ether for $5,000 and then turned around given $5,000 of cash to your employee.
  • If you trade one cryptocurrency for another, it’s a taxable sale. There is no such thing as a tax-free exchange of cryptocurrency, as there is for real estate.
  • If you own a bunch of bitcoin and want to use some to buy a house, you can choose which of your bitcoin to use (presumably the bitcoin with the highest tax basis).
  • If you receive cryptocurrency as a gift, it’s not taxable. Caution: there is no such thing as a business “gift.”
  • You can make a charitable contribution using cryptocurrency. If you’ve held the cryptocurrency for more than a year, your deduction is generally equal to the value of the cryptocurrency. Otherwise, your deduction is the lesser of the value of the cryptocurrency or your tax basis.
  • If you contribute cryptocurrency to an LLC or partnership, it’s not taxable at the time of the contribution. But when the LLC later disposes of the cryptocurrency, you will be taxed on any gain that was “built in” to the cryptocurrency at the time you contributed it.
  • If you own multiple crypto wallets, you can transfer among them without tax consequences.

Questions? Let me know.