Chairman’s Address at SEC Speaks 2014
Chair Mary Jo White
Feb. 21, 2014
Good morning. I am very honored to be giving the welcoming remarks and to offer a few perspectives from my first 10 months as Chair. Looking back at remarks made by former Chairs at this event, the expectation seems to be for me to talk about the “State of the SEC.” I will happily oblige on behalf of this great and critical agency.
In 1972, 42 years ago at the very first SEC Speaks, there were approximately 1,500 SEC employees charged with regulating the activities of 5,000 broker-dealers, 3,500 investment advisers, and 1,500 investment companies.
Today the markets have grown and changed dramatically, and the SEC has significantly expanded responsibilities. There are now about 4,200 employees – not nearly enough to stretch across a landscape that requires us to regulate more than 25,000 market participants, including broker-dealers, investment advisers, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, municipal advisors, clearing agents, transfer agents, and 18 exchanges. We also oversee the important functions of self-regulatory organizations and boards such as FASB, FINRA, MSRB, PCAOB, and SIPC. Only SIPC and FINRA’s predecessor, the NASD, even existed back in 1972.
Today the agency also faces an unprecedented rulemaking agenda. Between the Dodd-Frank and JOBS Acts, the SEC was given nearly 100 new rulemaking mandates ranging from rules that govern the previously unregulated derivatives markets, impose proprietary trading restrictions on many financial institutions, increase transparency for hedge funds and private equity funds, give investors a say-on-executive pay, establish a new whistleblower program, lift the ban on general solicitation, reform and more intensely oversee credit rating agencies, and so many others. These rulemakings, coupled with the implementation and oversight effort that each one brings, have added significantly to our already extensive responsibilities and challenge our limited resources. These mandates also present the risk that they will crowd out or delay other pressing priorities. But we must not let that happen.
All of this is upon us at a time when our funding falls significantly short of the level we need to fulfill our mission to investors, companies, and the markets. As Chair, I owe a duty to Congress, the staff, and to the American people to use the funds we are appropriated prudently and effectively. But it also is incumbent upon me to raise my voice when the SEC is not being provided with sufficient resources. The SEC is deficit neutral. Our appropriations are offset by modest transaction fees we collect from SROs. What does that mean? It means that if Congress provides us with increased funding, it will not increase the budget deficit or take resources from other programs or agencies, but it would go directly to protecting investors and strengthening our markets. Given the critical role we play for investors and our expanded responsibilities, obtaining adequate funding for the SEC is and must be a top priority.
Fortunately, what has remained a constant over the years at the SEC is its magnificent and dedicated staff. Indeed, it was the commitment, expertise, and moral, apolitical compass of the staff that led me here. The SEC staff is a deep reservoir of extraordinary talent and expertise with a strong and enduring commitment to public service and independence. And that is what has sustained the excellence of this agency since its founding.
Exercising my prerogative as Chair, I would now like to ask each SEC employee in the audience to stand and be recognized. Please remain standing while I ask that everyone here today who once worked at the SEC to please also stand to be recognized. In our most challenging moments, I urge all of us to think about the colleagues we just recognized, marvel at their public service and say thank you.
Back to the state of the SEC in 2014.
When I arrived at the SEC last April, I initially set three primary priorities: implementing the mandatory Congressional rulemakings of the Dodd-Frank and the JOBS Acts; intensifying the agency’s efforts to ensure that the U.S. equity markets are structured and operating to optimally serve the interests of all investors; and further strengthening our already robust enforcement program. Ten months later, I am pleased with what we have accomplished.
When I arrived, it was imperative to set an aggressive rulemaking agenda. Congress had seen to that and our own core mission demanded it. And, through the tireless work of the staff and my fellow Commissioners, we made significant progress.
On the day I was sworn in as Chair, we adopted identity theft rules requiring broker-dealers, mutual funds, investment advisers, and others regulated by us to adopt programs to detect red flags and prevent identity theft.
A month later, we proposed rules to govern cross-border swap transactions in the multi-trillion dollar global over-the-counter derivatives markets.
A month after that, we proposed rules to reform and strengthen the structure of money market funds. 
Last summer and fall, we made significant progress in implementing the reforms to the private offering market mandated by Congress in the JOBS Act. We lifted the ban on general solicitation and we proposed rules that would provide new investor protections and important data about this new market. We also proposed new rules that would permit securities-based crowdfunding and update and expand Regulation A.
We adopted a Dodd-Frank Act rule disqualifying bad actors from certain private offerings.
We adopted some of the most significant changes in years to the financial responsibility rules for broker-dealers.
We adopted rules governing the registration and regulation of municipal advisors.
We adopted rules removing references to credit agency ratings in certain broker-dealer and investment company regulations.
In December, together with the banking regulators and the CFTC, we adopted regulations implementing the Volcker Rule.
And, just last week we announced the selection of Rick Fleming, the deputy general counsel at the North American Securities Administrators Association, as the first Investor Advocate, a position established by Dodd-Frank.
As even this partial list shows, we have made significant progress on our rulemakings, although more remains to be done. But we must always keep the bigger picture in focus and not let the sheer number nor the sometimes controversial nature of the Congressional mandates distract us from other important rulemakings and initiatives that further our core mission as we set and carry out our priorities for the year ahead.
Other Critical Initiatives
To be more specific, in 2014, in addition to continuing to complete important rulemakings, we also will intensify our consideration of the question of the role and duties of investment advisers and broker dealers, with the goal of enhancing investor protection. We will increase our focus on the fixed income markets and make further progress on credit rating agency reform. We will also increase our oversight of broker-dealers with initiatives that will strengthen and enhance their capital and liquidity, as well as providing more robust protections and safeguards for customer assets.
We also will continue to engage with other domestic and international regulators to ensure that the systemic risks to our interconnected financial systems are identified and addressed – but addressed in a way that takes into account the differences between prudential risks and those that are not. We want to avoid a rigidly uniform regulatory approach solely defined by the safety and soundness standard that may be more appropriate for banking institutions.
In 2014, we also will prioritize our review of equity market structure, focusing closely on how it impacts investors and companies of every size. One near-term project that I will be pushing forward is the development and implementation of a tick-size pilot, along carefully defined parameters, that would widen the quoting and trading increments and test, among other things, whether a change like this improves liquidity and market quality.
In 2013, our Trading and Markets Division continued to develop the necessary empirical evidence to accurately assess our current equity market structure and to consider a range of possible changes. Today we have better sources of data to inform our decisions. For example, something we call MIDAS collects, nearly instantaneously, one billion trading data records every day from across the markets. We have developed key metrics about the markets using MIDAS and placed them on our website last October so the public, academics, and all market participants could share, analyze, and react to the information that allows us to better test the various hypotheses about our markets to inform regulatory changes.
The SEC, the SROs, and other market participants are also proceeding to implement the Consolidated Audit Trail Rule, which when operational will further enhance the ability of regulators to monitor and analyze the equity markets on a more timely basis. Indeed, it should result in a sea change in the data currently available, collecting in one place every order, cancellation, modification, and trade execution for all exchange-listed equities and equity options across all U.S. markets. It is a difficult and complex undertaking, which must be accorded the highest priority by all to complete.
We also are very focused on ensuring the resilience of the systems used by the exchanges and other market participants. It is critically important that the technology that connects market participants be deployed and used responsibly to reduce the risk of disruptions that can harm investors and undermine confidence in our markets. A number of measures have already been taken and, in 2014, we will be focused on ensuring that more is done to address these vulnerabilities. One significant vulnerability that must be comprehensively addressed across both the public and private sectors is the risk of cyber attacks. To encourage a discussion and sharing of information and best practices, the SEC will be holding a cybersecurity roundtable in March.
Let me turn to enforcement at the SEC in 2014 because vigorous and comprehensive enforcement of our securities laws must always be a very high priority at the SEC. And it is.
When I arrived in April, I found what I expected to find – a very strong enforcement program. Through extraordinary hard work and dedication, the Commission’s Enforcement Division achieved an unparalleled record of successful cases arising out of the financial crisis. To date, we have charged 169 individuals or entities with wrongdoing stemming from the financial crisis – 70 of whom were CEOs, CFOs, or other senior executives. At the same time, the Commission also brought landmark insider trading cases and created specialized units that pursued complex cases against investment advisers, broker dealers and exchanges, as well as cases involving FCPA violations, municipal bonds and state pension funds. In 2013 alone, Enforcement’s labors yielded orders to return $3.4 billion in disgorgement and civil penalties, the highest amount in the agency’s history. But there is always more to do.
Last year, we modified the SEC’s longstanding no admit/no deny settlement protocol to require admissions in a broader range of cases. As I have said before, admissions are important because they achieve a greater measure of public accountability, which, in turn, can bolster the public’s confidence in the strength and credibility of law enforcement, and the safety of our markets.
When we first announced this change, we said that we would consider requiring admissions in certain types of cases, including those involving particularly egregious conduct, where a large numbers of investors were harmed, where the markets or investors were placed at significant risk, where the conduct undermines or obstructs our investigative processes, where an admission can send a particularly important message to the markets or where the wrongdoer poses a particular future threat to investors or the markets. And now that we have resolved a number of cases with admissions, you have specific examples of where we think it is appropriate to require admissions as a condition of settlement. My expectation is that there will be more such cases in 2014 as the new protocol continues to evolve and be applied.
Financial Fraud Task Force
Last year, the Enforcement Division also increased its focus on accounting fraud through the creation of a new task force. The Division formed the Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force to look at trends or patterns of conduct that are risk indicators for financial fraud, including in areas like revenue recognition, asset valuations, and management estimates. The task force draws on resources across the agency, including accountants in the Division of Corporation Finance and the Office of the Chief Accountant and our very talented economists in the Division of Economic Risk and Analysis (DERA). The task force is focused on more quickly identifying potential material misstatements in financial statements and disclosures. The program has already generated several significant investigations and more are expected to follow.
In addition to the new admissions protocol and the Financial Fraud Task Force, the Enforcement Division also has other exciting new initiatives including a new Microcap Task Force and a renewed focus on those who serve as gatekeepers in our financial system, just to name a few.
* * *
We have talked about our rulemaking agenda, some of our ongoing market structure initiatives, and a bit about what is new and developing in Enforcement. But what else lies ahead?
Corporation Finance: JOBS Act and Disclosure Reform
As we move to complete our rulemakings in the private offering arena, it is important for the SEC to keep focused on the public markets as well. Our JOBS Act related-rulemaking will provide companies with a number of different alternatives to raise capital in the private markets. Some have even suggested that if the private markets develop sufficient liquidity, there may not be any reason for a company to go public or become a public company in the way we think of it now. That would not be the best result for all investors.
While the JOBS Act provides additional avenues for raising capital in the private markets and may allow companies to stay private longer, the public markets in the United States also continue to offer very attractive opportunities for capital. They offer the transparency and liquidity that investors need and, at the same time, provide access to the breadth of sources of capital necessary to support significant growth and innovation. For our part, we must consider how the SEC’s rules governing public offerings and public company reporting and disclosure may negatively impact liquidity in our markets and how they can be improved and streamlined, while maintaining strong investor protections.
Last year, I spoke about disclosure reform and in December the staff issued a report that contains the staff’s preliminary conclusions and recommendations as to how to update our disclosure rules.
What is next?
This year, the Corp Fin staff will focus on making specific recommendations for updating the rules that govern public company disclosure. As part of this effort, Corp Fin will be broadly seeking input from companies and investors about how we can make our disclosure rules work better, and, specifically, investors will be asked what type of information they want, when do they want it and how companies can most meaningfully present that information.
Investment Management: Enhanced Asset Manager Risk Monitoring
The SEC of 2014 is an agency that increasingly relies on technology and specialized expertise. This is particularly evident in the SEC’s new risk monitoring and data analytics activities. One important example is the SEC’s new focus on risk monitoring of asset managers and funds.
Last year featured a very concrete success from these risk monitoring efforts when the SEC brought an enforcement case against a money market fund firm charging that it failed to comply with the risk limiting conditions of our rules.
In the past year, the SEC has established a dedicated group of professionals to monitor large-firm asset managers. These professionals who include former portfolio managers, investment analysts, and examiners track investment trends, review emerging market developments, and identify outlier funds.
The tools they use include analytics of data we receive, high-level engagement with asset manager executives and mutual fund boards, data-driven, risk-focused examinations, and with respect to money market funds certain stress testing results.
What is next?
I asked the IM staff for an “action plan” to enhance our asset manager risk management oversight program. Among the initiatives under near-term consideration are expanded stress testing, more robust data reporting, and increased oversight of the largest asset management firms. To be an effective 21st century regulator, the SEC is using 21st century tools to address the range of 21st century risks.
OCIE: Innovation in Exam Planning
We also are using powerful new data analytics and technology tools in our National Exam Program to conduct more effective and efficient risk-based examinations of our registrants.
OCIE’s Office of Risk Assessment and Surveillance aggregates and analyzes a broad band of data to identify potentially problematic behavior. In addition to scouring the data that we collect directly from registrants, we look at data from outside the Commission, including information from public records, data collected by other regulators, SROs and exchanges, and information that our registrants provide to data vendors. This expanded data collection and analysis not only enhances OCIE’s ability to identify risks more efficiently, but it also helps our examiners better understand the contours of a firm’s business activities prior to conducting an examination.
What is next?
The Office of Risk Assessment and Surveillance is developing exciting new technologies – text analytics, visualization, search, and predictive analytics – to cull additional red flags from internal and external data and information sources. These tools will help our examiners be even more efficient and effective in analyzing massive amounts of data to more quickly and accurately hone in on areas that pose the greatest risks and warrant further investigation. In an era of limited resources and expanding responsibilities, it is essential to identify and target these risks more systematically. And we are doing that.
Let me stop here. Hopefully, I have at least given you a window into the strong, busy, and proactive state of the SEC in 2014. More importantly, throughout the next two days, you will hear directly from our staff about the many ways we are meeting the current challenges that we all face in our complex and rapidly changing markets and how we are preparing for tomorrow’s challenges.
This year as in every year, we look forward to hearing your ideas and input on our rulemakings and other initiatives. Your views are very important to us and assist us to implement regulations that are true to our mission, effective, and workable.