San Francisco Corporate & Securities partner Jay Gould is quoted in Compliance Week on new investor accreditation practices associated with the JOBS Act.

JOBS Act Puts Spotlight on Investor Accreditation Practices

Compliance Week
January 23, 2013

When the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, known as the JOBS Act, was enacted last year, a key piece was eliminating solicitation and advertising restrictions on hedge funds and private securities offerings.

Jay Gould, a partner with the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, says the renewed focus on investor accreditation follows years of the private fund industry sliding into a mere cursory “check-the-box” approach. While 20-30 years ago, thorough pre-evaluation of clients or targeting only those with pre-existing relationships was the norm, more recent years have seen evaluation standards decline. “When hedge funds really proliferated in the last 15 years or so, a lot of that stuff just didn’t get done any more,” he says.

Instead, funds began to rely primarily on the representations in subscription agreements. “You sent out a questionnaire, people answered the questions, and unless the guy was pushing a Safeway cart down skid row there was really no reason to think he or she was not an accredited person or a qualified client.”

The requirement of having a pre-existing substantial relationship with the investor similarly fell by the wayside or became loosely interpreted, all under the blinking eyes of regulators. Brazen fund managers even began to brag openly that “nobody checks this stuff any way” and “nobody really knows if anyone is accredited.”

A few years ago, such talk began to wake up regulators, who then began to once again pay more attention to procedures for verification, Gould says. By the time the JOBS Act was enacted last April it became clear that these laissez faire approaches were coming to an end.

At the time, Gould expected that the Commission would go back to some of these old standards of requiring a balance sheet or income statement, or some kind of independent verification. “But they really didn’t do that in the rule,” he says. “They just said it is mushy, so if somebody has a job where it is obvious they make $200,000 a year then you can rely on that, or you can outsource it, or rely on third parties. You just have to come up with something that makes sense for you.”

This has led to considerable debate about whether a principle-based approach is preferable to having hard-and-fast rules. Some contend that issuers want clear-cut rules “so they know how to avoid them,” says Gould.