Better late than never…
Crowdfunding has the potential to be “the people’s Wall Street;” but the SEC worked out the final rulemakings of the JOBS act, set to address the regulatory environment for equity crowdfunding platforms. Last month, the SEC took another small step in addressing this, issuing final rules on “Regulation A+.” This has been creating a buzz in the investment community as the new rules are set to go into effect starting June of this year.
To review, “crowdfunding” is the concept of raising money for a business, project or product through small amounts from a large amount of people, rather than big chunks of money from only a few select backers. Crowdfunding is best known for getting music albums, movies and gadgets to the market through popular sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. However, these platforms only allow people to receive products in return for their financial backing, not shares of equity, because current securities regulations do not allow it.
The JOBS act, signed into law April 2012, was set to address this issue. Another piece of this legislation has now been outlined through the SEC’s final rulemaking on “Regulation A+.” Regulation A was a little used exemption in the securities regulation that allowed companies to raise up to $5 million; but since they still had to comply with all federal and individual state disclosure agreements, the prohibitive compliance cost was too high relative to the amount that could be raised. The new Regulation A+ will allow companies to raise up to $50 million by selling securities to the general public. The other big change is that it is likely individuals will not have to be “accredited investors” (which means they are wealthy) to participate. It also pre-exempts all of the individual state “blue-sky” laws making it much easier and cheaper to comply.
This is certainly a step in the right direction as it removes legal barriers and reduces compliance costs for small businesses and startups whose capital is especially precious.
While certainly a welcome development, it has taken the SEC years to get to this point of merely amending an already existing federal exemption rule. Rules for Title III of the JOBS act, which are particularly targeted at equity crowdfunding, are not yet complete. Unfortunately for small businesses, they must continue to wait which leads to opportunities lost and jobs not created. While the SEC and others may want to protect small investors from losses and scams, it is ironic that people can currently choose to risk their savings in a host of other ways, such as gambling (including state sponsored lotteries no less!), yet when it comes to making investments they cannot be trusted. Rather than taking a precautionary approach where citizens, entrepreneurs and investors need permission for any new financial innovation, the SEC and others should let people experiment on their own, letting them succeed or fail in the process. When unleashed, entrepreneurs have given us incredible innovations in a host of areas in our lives, financial markets and capital raising should be no different.
Chris Kuiper, CFA is currently a student and researcher at George Mason University pursuing a Master’s of Economics. His previous experience includes asset management, investing and banking.