The North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc. (“NASAA”) is proposing to revise the instructions in the NASAA Franchise Registration and Disclosure Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) that outline policies and procedures regarding the preparation of a franchise disclosure document (“FDD”). Specifically, NASAA has set forth a proposal for public comment that replaces the “State Cover Page” to the FDD with three separate pages titled “How to Use this Franchise Disclosure Document”, “What You Need to Know About Franchising, Generally”, and “Special Risks to Consider about This Franchise.”
Currently, the Guidelines require that the State Cover Page include certain standard “risk factors” about the franchised business being offered under the FDD, including dispute resolution procedures, governing law, and personal guaranty requirements. Additionally, registration state examiners may, in their discretion, mandate that additional information be included as additional risk factors, such as the franchisor’s financial condition and operating history. In putting this information on the second page of the FDD, NASAA and the state examiners hope to put prospective franchisees on alert of certain factors that are likely important in their decision-making process.
The first new page, “How to Use this Franchise Disclosure Document”, would require a franchisor to disclose, in table format, certain questions a prospect might have and the corresponding Item in the FDD where that information is contained. Similarly to Item 17 of the FDD that provides a summary of certain provisions in the Franchise Agreement, this page would provide prospects with a roadmap to the FDD. NASAA has noted that many prospects find the FDD overwhelming and this page would hopefully alleviate some of these concerns. However, we are concerned that some of the questions seem to put preconceived notions in a prospect’s head about disclosures contained in the FDD.
The second new page, “What You Need to Know About Franchising, Generally”, outlines certain “general” risks a prospect should be aware before entering into a franchise relationship. These additional risks include discussions on personal liability, additional investment requirements, operating and supplier restrictions, and renewal procedures. A franchisor would need to make these disclosures even if a particular factor was inapplicable to the underlying franchise offering. This seems to be counterintuitive and may only cause additional confusion for prospects and the franchisors that have to answer these questions.
The final new page, “Special Risks to Consider about This Franchise”, replaces the current “State Cover Page” and would, again, allow state examiners to require that certain additional risk factors applicable to the specific franchised business be included in the FDD.
Overall, while we believe the NASAA’s intentions are in the right place, these three pages could very well create more confusion due to the use of leading questions on the first page and disclosure of generalized risks without context on the second page. If approved in its current form, franchisors should be prepared to answer many questions about the information on these first two pages. Public comments on this proposal are due on July 13, 2018, so it is important to propose revisions if you have concerns, as we do! We will continue to watch and report on this development with interest.