Tag Archives: Convertible Notes

Issuance of Convertible Notes in India

The definition of a ‘convertible note’ first came in through a notification dated 29 June 2016 that amended the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014 (the “Rules”). A convertible note is defined under the Rules as an instrument evidencing receipt of money initially as a debt, which is repayable at the option of the holder, or which is convertible into such number of equity shares of the start-up company upon occurrence of specified events and as per the other terms and conditions agreed to and indicated in the instrument (Convertible Note”). The notification dated 29 June 2016 effectively excluded any amount of 25 lakh rupees or more received by a start-up company, by way of a convertible note (convertible into equity shares or repayable within a period not exceeding five years from the date of issue) in a single tranche, from a person[1], from the ambit of ‘deposit’. However, the Rules define start-up as a private company incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 or the Companies Act, 2013 (the “Act”) and recognised as a start-up under the notification on start-ups issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (“DPIIT”).

Read as such, post this 2016 amendment, a DPIIT recognised start-up company is allowed to accept money from investors by issuing Convertible Notes and without having to comply with the stringent provisions of the Rules.

Prior to this amendment, if a start-up (whether recognised by DPIIT or not) wanted to raise funds by way of any compulsorily or optionally convertible capital instruments, the start-up had to go through valuation of its shares (at least for the floor value). Valuation at early stages is always difficult, irrespective of the method of valuation adopted.

Only equity shares; fully, compulsorily & mandatorily convertible preference shares; and fully, compulsorily & mandatorily convertible debentures are treated as ‘capital’ under the existing Foreign Direct Investment Policy. Therefore, subject to certain specific exemptions under the FDI Policy, investments from foreign investors by way of any other instrument or optional conversion or repayment like a loan, fall under the ambit of External Commercial Borrowings regulated under the Foreign Exchange Management (Borrowing and Lending in Foreign Exchange Regulations), 2000 (“ECB Regulations”).

With the objective of simplifying the process of foreign investments into Indian recognised start-ups and in consonance with the 2016 notification discussed above, the Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) issued a notification on 10 January 2017 amending the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident outside India) Regulations, 2016 (“RBI Regulation”). By virtue of this, recognised start-ups are now allowed to issue Convertible Notes to foreign investors without having to arrive at valuations.

Conditions to be fulfilled for issuance of Convertible Notes to non-resident or foreign investors:

  • A person who is resident outside India (other than an individual who is a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh or an entity which is registered/ incorporated in Pakistan or Bangladesh), can purchase Convertible Notes issued by a recognised start-up company.
  • The minimum amount to be invested for subscription to Convertible Notes is INR 25 lakhs in a single tranche.
  • If the start-up is engaged in a sector which requires government approval for foreign investment, Convertible Notes shall be issued only with prior approval of the government. Also, the issue of shares against such Convertible Notes has to be in accordance with Schedule 1 of the RBI Regulation.
  • The start-up issuing the Convertible Notes shall receive the consideration amount by inward remittance or by debit to the NRE/FCNR (B)/ escrow account maintained by the investor in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016. In the event an escrow account is maintained for the above purposes, it shall be closed immediately after the requirements are completed or within a period of 6 months, whichever is earlier. However, in no case, continuance of such escrow account shall be permitted beyond a period of 6 months.
  • NRIs may acquire Convertible Notes on non-repatriation basis in accordance with Schedule 4 of the RBI Regulation.
  • A person resident outside India can acquire or transfer, by way of sale, Convertible Notes, from or to, a person resident in or outside India, provided the transfer takes place in accordance with the pricing guidelines as prescribed by RBI. Prior approval from the Government shall be obtained for such transfers in case the start-up company is engaged in a sector which requires Government approval.
  • Compliance with the reporting requirements prescribed by the RBI is also required.

Critical Analysis:

Recognition of Convertible Notes as a capital investment instrument is definitely a positive move to make the process of investments into Indian companies’ swifter, easier and less expensive.

However, it is pertinent to note that the advantage is available only for recognised start-ups, which means that non-recognised start-ups are still not allowed to issue Convertible Notes as a capital instrument under the RBI Regulation or as a non-deposit under the Rules.

Further, a Convertible Note has to be repaid or converted into equity shares of a start-up company within 5 years from the date of issuance of the Convertible Note upon occurrence of specified events and as per the other terms and conditions agreed to and indicated in the instrument. In case of conversion, the instrument would be converted into equity shares as per Section 62(3) of the Act.

Also, there is a minimum requirement to invest atleast Rs. 25 lakhs. It might be better if there is no threshold as such.

Another important aspect to be considered is with respect to the terms of conversion of the Convertible Notes. If the Convertible Notes are being converted into equity shares at the time of a subsequent investment, the conversion will be based on a valuation arrived at the time of such conversion. Whether such conversion will be at a discount to the shares being issued to the new investors and other terms will have to be carefully evaluated, so that the same is in compliance with the applicable laws, including the pricing guidelines, in case the Convertible Notes are held by non-resident investors.

Authors: Paul Albert and Ashwin Bhat

[1] Rule 2 (1) (xvii) of the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014.

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Anti-dilution protection in shareholders agreement – Implementation under Indian laws

Anti-dilution protection is one term which is present in almost every investment transaction. From the perspective of the founders, especially in case of a start-up or an early stage company, it is very important to understand the implications of having such a provision in the shareholders agreement (SHA). Founders generally tend to agree to so-called “standard” terms in the SHA, when in dire need of the investment. An anti-dilution provision has to be reviewed closely in order to ensure it is not too harsh on the founders and also since the transaction documents set precedents for the subsequent round of investments. This article discusses some of the main methods of anti-dilution protection usually seen in transactions in India and some of the difficulties associated with actual implementation of such anti-dilution provisions.

What is Anti-Dilution Protection?

Before moving to anti-dilution, we need to understand the concept of dilution. Dilution is the decrease in the shareholding percentage of a shareholder in a company due to increase in the number of outstanding shares. For example, when a company receives subsequent round of investment, the shareholding percentage of the existing investors gets diluted. It is good to have the value of a company increase in subsequent rounds of funding. However, there might be situations when a company may not perform or grow as expected due to which the value of the share decreases. In such a scenario, anti-dilution protection is triggered by the existing investors to maintain their shareholding percentage in the company to a certain extent (which is explained below).

Essentially, anti-dilution protection is such protection given to the existing investors of the company when new shares are issued in a subsequent round at a price per share which is lower than the price paid by the existing investors. It is pertinent to note that anti-dilution protection is applicable only when shares are issued at a price per share which is lower than the price paid by the existing investors and not for every subsequent issue of shares. The reason being that, if shares are being offered to subsequent investors at a price per share which is higher than the price per share paid by the existing investors, even though their percentage shareholding in the company reduces, the value of the shares held by them increases.

Anti-Dilution Protection and its Variants

In India, the two commonly used forms of anti-dilution protection are: (a) Full Ratchet and (b) Broad Based Weighted Average.

Full Ratchet: Under this method, if shares are issued at a subsequent round of investment at a price per share that is lower than the price per share paid by the existing investors of the company, then the price of the shares/ conversion price of the existing investors will be revised to the price at which the new shares being issued. In such scenario, either additional shares will be issued to the existing investors for the surplus consideration after such price adjustment without the existing investors making any further payments or conversion price would be revised to the price of such shares being issued. Thus, the full-ratchet method does not consider the number of shares held by the existing investors or the number of shares being issued in the subsequent investment round, but only considers the price at which the new shares are being issued and the new price will be applied to all the shares held by the existing shareholders. Thus, the full ratchet method of anti-dilution protection is very harsh on the Company and the Founders as compared to the broad based weighted average method. Also, the shareholding percentage of the founders may get diluted to a very large extent if a full ratchet provision is implemented.

Broad Based Weighted Average: As compared to full ratchet mechanism, broad based weighted average method uses a formula which considers the number of shares issued in a subsequent round of investment and the number of shares held by the existing investors. Therefore, the broad based weighted average method is fair to the founders as well as to the investors and is adopted more frequently in investment transactions. The weighted average formula used in the transaction documents describe how the weighted average price is determined by taking into the consideration the existing price or the conversion price of the shares, number of outstanding shares prior to the new issuance, the number of shares to be issued and the purchase consideration to be received by the company with respect to such issuance.

Implications of Anti-Dilution Provision 

Pricing Guidelines under Indian Laws:

Any further issuance of shares by a Company registered in India shall adhere to various provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 (the “Act”), Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 including rules and regulations notified thereunder, regulations prescribed by Securities Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) (if applicable) and Income Tax Act, 1961 (the “IT Act”).

In India, implementation of anti-dilution protection is complex considering the existing laws. For instance, shares issued to foreign investors need to be in compliance with the pricing guidelines as provided in Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2017 (“FDI Regulations”). As per the pricing guidelines, capital instruments which are issued or transferred to a foreign resident has to be priced as per any internationally accepted pricing methodology for valuation on an arm’s length basis duly certified by a chartered accountant or a SEBI registered merchant banker or a practicing cost accountant in case of an unlisted company.

Convertible Instruments: Additionally, in case of convertible instruments, the price/ conversion formula of the instrument should be determined upfront at the time of issue of the instrument and the price at the time of conversion should not in any case be lower than the fair value worked out, at the time of issuance of such instruments, in accordance with the FDI Regulations. Therefore, even adjusting the conversion ratio of a convertible instrument can pose complexities.

Considering aforementioned guidelines, enforcement of anti-dilution provisions and issue of shares pursuant to the same, especially to non-residents will be very difficult. Also, implementation of anti-dilution which results in issuance of new shares for no consideration, would not be allowed under the Act (which is applicable for both resident and non-resident investors).

Tax: Further, there is a complication which has to be examined under tax laws. As per section 56 (2) (x) (c) of the IT Act, when any person receives shares for a consideration which is less than the aggregate fair market value (FMV) by an amount exceeding fifty thousand rupees, the aggregate FMV of such property as exceeds such consideration is taxable as ‘income from other sources’ in the hands of the person receiving such shares.

Our thoughts:

Considering the nuances associated with the issuance of shares at a price below FMV or for no consideration, the actual implementation of anti-dilution provisions poses a lot of difficulties. Unless certain exceptions are brought in the existing laws, actual implementation could be a challenge in India, especially with respect to foreign investors.

Authors:  Mr. Paul Albert and Mr. Ashwin Bhat

Amendments to Companies Act and some relief to Permitted Startups

With the ability to modify the guidelines quick and fast, Companies Act has become dynamic. On 19 July 2016, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs notified the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Third Amendment Rules 2016 (Amendment) to amend certain provisions of the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules 2014 (Rules). These Rules contain the procedures for issuance of shares and debentures and disclosures to be made.
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Notes of the Amendments made:

1. Relaxation of preferential allotment process:
Earlier to these amendments, any securities issued through the ‘private placement’ process had to be fully paid up at the time of allotment. This infact was an anomaly, because, if the company chose a ‘right issue’ process, then it was possible to issue partly paid shares. The amendment now seeks to set this anomaly right and made it possible to issue partly-paid shares even through private placement process.

2. Determination of conversion price:
Earlier to these amendments, a company issuing convertible securities had to determine the conversion price at the time of issuance. This is true for any foreign direct investment as well. Now, companies may either determine the conversion price (a) upfront at the time of offering the convertible securities, or (b) not later than 30 days prior to the date the holder of convertible securities becomes entitled to convert such convertible securities, based on a valuation report of a registered valuer issued not later than 60 days prior to such date. The change in the foreign direct investment guidelines is still the same and it has to be notified to RBI at the time of issuance.

3. Issue of secured debentures:
Earlier to these amendments, a company could provide only its own assets and properties as a security for issuance of secured debentures. Now, the companies can issue secured debentures by creating a charge on the assets and properties of its subsidiaries, holding company or associate companies. The amendment expressly permits companies intending to redeem their debentures prematurely to transfer such amounts in excess of the limits specified under the Rules as may be necessary to the Debenture Redemption Reserve.

4. Issue of equity shares with differential rights:
Earlier, companies could not issue equity shares with differential rights if they defaulted in (a) the payment of dividends on preference shares, (b) the repayment of a term loan (or interest thereon) from specified institutions, (c) the payment of statutory dues relating to employees, or (d) crediting prescribed amounts in the Investor Education and Protection Fund. Now, such defaulting companies to issue equity shares with differential rights after 5 years from the end of the financial year in which they make good the default. It would have been nice, that a company could issue such shares immediately upon compliance.

5. Sweat equity shares by Permitted Start-ups:
Start-ups (as defined in notification number GSR 180(E) dated 17 February 2016 issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India – “Permitted Startups”) are now permitted to issue sweat equity shares up to 50% of their paid-up capital for the first 5 years from the date of their incorporation. For other companies, this limit continues to be 25%.

6. Stock options to promoters and shareholder-directors of the Permitted Start-ups:
Permitted Start-ups can issue stock options to their promoters and to directors who hold more than 10% of the start-up’s equity shares for the first 5 years from the date of their incorporation. The restriction on issuing stock options to promoters and such directors continues for all other companies, who are not Permitted Startups.

7. Form SH-7 by companies not having share capital:
The Amendment requires that Form SH-7, for intimating any alteration of a company’s authorised share capital, be filed by companies that do not have share capital in case of an increase in the number of members.

Author: Venkatesh Vempati, works as an Associate with the Compliance Team