CONTINGENCY OR BEST EFFORTS OFFERING:
Securities and Exchange Act Rules 10-b9 and 15c2-4 contain requirements that must be satisfied in “Contingency” or “Best Efforts” offerings. FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) has provided guidance to broker/dealers regarding the requirements of these rules and to remind broker-dealers of their responsibility to have procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with these rules.
Broker-dealers that participate in best efforts public and private securities offerings that have a contingency (i.e., an underlying condition or qualification that must take place by a specified date prior to the issuer taking possession of the offering proceeds) must safeguard investors’ funds they receive until the contingency is satisfied. If the contingency is not met, broker-dealers must ensure that investors’ funds are promptly refunded. There are various contingencies that might need to be satisfied in addition to meeting a subscription amount.
- Best Efforts Contingency Offerings
In a best efforts offering, a broker-dealer does not commit to purchase any securities from the issuer or guarantee that the issuer will receive any amount of money from the offering (This is in contrast to a firm commitment). Furthermore, a best efforts offering subject to satisfaction of an underlying condition is deemed to be a “contingency offering.” The most common contingency offerings reviewed by FINRA are either “all-or-none” or “part-or-none” offerings that require all or a certain amount of the securities to be sold for the offering to close. Under Securities Exchange Act Rule 10b-9, a best efforts offering subject to either an “all-or-none” or “part-or-none” contingency must provide for the prompt return of investor funds in the event the requisite contingency fails to be met by a specific date.
- Broker-Dealer Responsibilities in a Best Efforts Contingency Offering.
As discussed in Regulatory Notice 10-22, a broker-dealer that participates in an offering and recommends a security must, among other requirements, conduct a reasonable investigation of the security and the issuer’s representations about it. If the security is offered as part of a contingency offering, the broker-dealer’s reasonable investigation must include a review of the terms of the contingency, including any agreement and disclosure by the issuer regarding the contingency.
III. Requirements Concerning Manner of Handling Investor Funds
Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-4 requires that upon receiving money or other consideration from an investor in a contingency offering, a broker-dealer must promptly:
- deposit those funds into “a separate bank account” for which the broker-dealer is the account holder and is designated as agent or trustee “for the persons who have the beneficial interests therein”; or
- transmit those funds to a bank that has agreed in writing to act as the escrow agent for the offering.
The manner in which a broker-dealer must handle investor funds generally will be determined by two factors. First, pursuant to SEA Rule 15c3-1, only a broker-dealer that maintains at least $250,000 in net capital is allowed to carry customer accounts and receive or hold funds or securities for those persons. Therefore, while not a requirement of SEA Rule 15c2-4, a broker-dealer that maintains less than 250,000 in net capital and deposits investors’ funds into a separate bank account rather than transmitting those funds to an independent bank escrow agent would violate SEA Rule 15c3-1. Second, when a participating broker-dealer is an affiliate of the issuer, investors’ funds must be transmitted to an independent bank escrow agent.
- Escrow Agreements
In contingent offerings that require an escrow agent, the escrow agreement must be executed with a bank that is unaffiliated with the broker-dealer and the issuer. The escrow account should be established before the broker-dealer receives any investor funds. The escrow account may not be controlled by the issuer, the broker-dealer or an attorney. As a general matter, the escrow agent must be a financial institution that meets the definition of a “bank” under SEA Section 3(a)(6), although the SEC staff has provided no-action relief to permit certain other entities to act as escrow agents.
- Prompt Transmittal of Funds
SEA Rule 15c2-4(b) requires that a broker-dealer promptly transmit funds to either an escrow agent or a separate bank account. SEC staff has interpreted “promptly” to mean by noon of the next business day. Failure to promptly transmit funds to either the escrow agent or a separate bank account has resulted in sanctions. However, in certain offerings, such as direct participation programs that require suitability determinations by the issuer, the SEC staff has provided procedural guidance under which a broker-dealer can still comply with the “promptly” component of SEA Rule 15c2-4 even if the funds are not transmitted by noon the next business day after they are received.
A broker-dealer’s responsibility does not end when it promptly transmits investor funds to an escrow agent or separate bank account. A broker-dealer must also promptly refund investors’ funds if the contingency is not met.
- Disbursal to the Issuer
Broker-dealers must segregate investor funds they receive at least until the contingency is met.
It is important to keep in mind that the private security offerings that are not offered through a broker/dealer are subject to many of the core requirements discussed in this post.
Please keep in mind that the above summary is being provided for educational purposes only. It is not designed to be complete in all material respects. If you have any question relative to the contents of this post, you should contact a qualified professional.