The SEC proposes expanding the “accredited investor” definition

Tuesday June 9, 2020
Sara Hanks

The SEC proposes expanding the “accredited investor” definition

The SEC has proposed amending the definition of “accredited investors.” Accredited investors are currently defined as (huge generalization here) people who have net worth of $1 million (excluding principal residence) or income of $200,000 ($300,000 with spouse) or entities that have assets of $5 million. Here’s the full definition.

The whole point of the accreditation definition was that it was it was supposed to be a way to determine whether someone was able to “fend for themself” in making investment decisions, such that they didn’t need the protection that SEC registration provides. Those people may invest in private placements. The thinking at the time the definition was adopted was that a financial standard served as a proxy for determining whether an investor could hire a professional adviser. Financial standards have never been a particularly good proxy for investment sophistication, though, and some people who are clearly sophisticated but not rich yet have been excluded from being able to invest in the private markets.

The proposal would:

  • Extend the definition of accredited investor to natural persons (humans) who hold certain certifications or licenses, such as the FINRA Series 7 or 65 or who are “knowledgeable employees” of hedge funds;
  • Extend the definition of accredited investors to entities that are registered investment advisers, rural business investment companies, LLCs (who honestly we all assumed were already included), family offices, and other entities meeting an investments-owned test;
  • Do some “housekeeping” to allow “spousal equivalents” to be treated as spouses and tweak some other definitions; and
  • Create a process whereby other people or entities could be added to the definition by means of a clear process without additional rulemaking.

We are generally in favor of these proposals. However, we worry that the more attractive the SEC makes the private markets, the more that people of modest means will be excluded from the wealth engine that is the American economy. We also believe that the concerns raised about the integrity of the private markets by the two dissenting Commissioners, here and here, should be taken seriously. The real solution to all of this is to make the SEC registration process more attractive, and better-scaled to early-stage companies.

In the meantime, read the proposals and the comments, and make up your own minds. The comment period ends 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which hasn’t happened yet.

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