Yesterday, the US securities industry watchdog, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), issued its latest investor alert. The alert addressed new issues related to investing in private placement deals. If you’re not familiar with FINRA and its investor alerts, you should know that the agency is responsible not just for regulating the securities industry, but also for identifying problems surrounding new financial products and trends in broker misconduct and investment fraud. The fact that private placement deals have earned their place on FINRA’s watchlist can be taken as a clear indication that these deals should be approached with caution and that they are almost certainly not appropriate for the casual and/or unsophisticated investor. In other words, buyer beware.
A private placement is a limited offering of a company’s securities that is not SEC-registered and not public. Most importantly, perhaps, as stipulated by Regulation D of the Securities Act of 1933, private placements are only suitable for “accredited investors.” Put simply, accredited investors are high net-worth individuals with assets of $1 million or more (not counting primary residence), with strong verifiable incomes over the past two years. If you do not meet these requirements, you should absolutely not be invested in a private placement, nor should your broker invest your money into one. Such investments would be deemed unsuitable according to FINRA rules and regulations.
If, on the other hand, you do qualify as an accredited investor and you are interested in purchasing securities as part of a private placement deal, proceed with all due caution. As FINRA warns, companies that issue private placements are not required to file the same financial reports as publicly-traded companies, and these securities often include risks and liquidity considerations that more simple and transparent securities do not. When considering a private placement, investors and brokers should carefully read all documents supplied by the issuing company, including especially the offering memorandum or prospectus. Then, make sure that the risk and liquidity issues associated with this securities fit well into your overall investment portfolio.
We greatly appreciate FINRA's calling attention to the pitfalls of private placement deals, since over the years we’ve seen far too many cases of novice investors purchasing these securities when they were not accredited investors and/or when they did not understand the product itself. And of course, they lost a lot of hard-earned money doing so.
As always, if you or anyone you know has been the victim of broker misconduct or investment fraud related to private placements or any other financial security, please contact us for a free consultation.