FINRA Action Against Crowdfunding Platform

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On November 2, 2016, FINRA terminated the FINRA registration for UFP, LLC (“UFP”), making UFP the first crowdfunding portal to be expelled from FINRA.   UFP ran an online funding portal, uFundingPortal.com, where it acted as an intermediary in debt and equity crowdfunding offerings conducted in reliance on SEC Regulation Crowdfunding rules.  FINRA’s investigation into UFP alleged that from May through September 2016, UFP violated various SEC Regulation Crowdfunding rules and FINRA Funding Portal Rules. As a result of FINRA’s investigation, UFP pulled its website and submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (the “AWC”) in order to settle these alleged rule violations with FINRA.  The AWC is available at: http://disciplinaryactions.finra.org/Search/ViewDocument/67004.

FINRA alleged that UFP violated Rule 301(a) and Rule 301(c)(2) under SEC Regulation Crowdfunding.  Rule 301(a) requires funding-portal intermediaries like UFP to have a reasonable basis for believing that issuers using its crowdfunding portal comply with applicable regulatory requirements, and Rule 301(c)(2) requires that access to funding portals be denied to issuers that present the potential for fraud or otherwise raise investor protection concerns. FINRA found UFP to be in violation of Rule 301(a) because 16 of the issuers on UFP’s portal had failed to file certain requisite disclosures with the SEC and, in each case, UFP had reviewed these issuers’ SEC filings and therefore had reason to know that these filings were incomplete.  In addition, FINRA found UFP to be in violation of Rule 301(c)(2) by failing to deny access to its portal when it had a reasonable basis to believe these issuers and/or their offerings presented the potential for fraud. For example, FINRA found that these 16 issuers all had impracticable business models and oversimplified and unrealistic financial forecasts; 13 of these issuers disclosed identical amounts for their funding targets, maximum funding requests, price per share of stock, number of shares to be sold, total number of shares and equity valuation; three of these issuers had identical language in the “Risk Factors” sections of their websites; and two issuers listed identical officers and directors even though they had vastly different business plans.  Additionally, UFP had reason to know that four of these issuers either had officers or directors who owed back taxes or had not filed an annual tax return for 2015.   FINRA also alleged that UFP violated Funding Portal Rule 200(c)(3), which prohibits funding portals from including any issuer communication on its website that it knows or has reason to know contains any untrue statement of material fact or is otherwise false or misleading.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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