Tackling the California Disclosure Law With David J. Austin, Esq.
“I believe the law can be complied with in a technical sense based on how the statute is written,” said David J. Austin, Esq. of Austin LLP, “however, it opens up a funder to a number of attacks when they’re trying to enforce the funding.”
Austin, an attorney well-read on California’s new commercial financing disclosure law, has created a compliance guide specifically for merchant cash advance funders. Now that the law is in effect, he’s noticed a sudden urgency from small business finance companies to quickly wrap their heads around what they need to be doing.
“There’s nothing ambiguous about certain things in the statutes,” he said. “And it’s very specific, you have to use this font, you can’t use bold or italics, and I discussed that a little bit in [the guide]. It’s very specific about what you need to do.”
Austin imparted some helpful wisdom based upon the risks he sees. First, that funders need not just worry about the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) auditing one’s compliance, but also about what attorneys on the opposite side of the table might attempt to attack if these contracts ever end up in litigation, which they inevitably will. There should be concern, he said, about surrendering some control of the disclosure process to brokers, especially for this reason.
“In my view, the biggest liability in this statute is the broker screwing you up,” Austin said. “I can’t begin to say how important I think it is to—just for that one disclosure, take the broker out of the equation…”
Austin suggested that as far as California is concerned, funders should have direct communication with the merchant early on in the process so that when it comes time to make offers, the funder is able to send the required disclosures to the merchant themselves, and that the broker can simply be included in those communications. This workflow system might depart from one where a broker is accustomed to retaining all control of merchant communications, but Austin is looking at the risks through the lens of a funder.
“I think you just have to say, ‘look, it’s the law and we’re not going to do it any other way,'” he said.
While a much more complete scope of what’s required is all part of the guide he’s offering, he hinted that the “reasonably anticipated true-up” requirement of the disclosure was mostly centered around the knowable seasonality of a business and that he likes the Historical Method of predicting a business’s future sales versus the state’s other allowable option, the Underwriting Method. The Historical Method requires that a funding company examine at least 4 months of a business’s previous history, so if any brokers have been left wondering why a funder has recently started asking for 4 months bank statements instead of 3, this is probably the reason. Austin believes that the Underwriting method, by contrast, creates a lot of extra work, like state audits and additional litigation risk.
“The statute [on the Underwriting Method] is long,” he said. “And like I said, it requires auditing. So the first thing that’s going to happen in any litigation is you’re going to be asked to provide those auditing details.”
Any mca funder curious about compliance, including for access to the full guide, should contact David Austin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the law has gone into effect, deBanked has determined that some funders are complying with the law already and are continuing to operate in the state like normal while others are taking a wait-and-see approach. Any funder thinking they can fly under the radar of the DFPI and ignore the regulations should consider that a compliance failure could likely be exposed in litigation.
“We know what the defense counsel is going to do,” said Austin, speaking on merchants’ lawyers using the disclosure requirements as a weapon. “They’re gonna push, push, push, push, push.”Last modified: March 28, 2023
Sean Murray is the President and Chief Editor of deBanked and the founder of the Broker Fair Conference. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on twitter. You can view all future deBanked events here.