A recent disciplinary action reaffirmed FINRA member firms’ obligations to conduct a reasonable investigation of the issuer and the securities it recommends in offerings made under the SEC’s Regulation D, commonly known as private placements. Regulation D provides exemptions from the registration requirements of Section 5 under the Securities & Exchange Act, but it does not exempt these transactions from the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. A broker-dealer thus has a duty—enforceable under federal securities laws and FINRA rules—to conduct a reasonable investigation of the securities it recommends. Moreover, any broker-dealer that recommends securities offered under Regulation D must meet the suitability requirements under NASD Rule 2310, and comply with the advertising and supervisory rules of FINRA and the SEC.
A broker-dealer’s reasonable investigation must be tailored to each Regulation D offering, as its scope will depend on factors such as the sophistication of the investors, the broker-dealer’s affiliation with the issuer, and other facts and circumstances of the offering. The investigation, at a minimum, should include background checks of the issuer and its management, the business prospects of the issuer, the assets held or to be acquired by the issuer, the claims being made, and the intended use of the proceeds.
A firm that engages in Regulation D offerings also must have supervisory procedures under NASD Rule 3010 that are designed to ensure that its personnel and representatives conduct an inquiry that is sufficient to comply with the legal and regulatory requirements; that they perform the suitability analysis required by NASD Rule 2310; that they qualify the investors’ eligibility to purchase the securities; and that they abide by the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and FINRA rules regarding the preparation and distribution of offering documents or sales literature. And a broker-dealer has a further duty to adequately investigate any information located during the investigation that may be considered a “red flag.”