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New SEC Chair: Bad News For Opponents of SRO

New SEC Chair: Bad News For Opponents of SRO

After months of speculation, Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, announced she would step down from her role Dec. 14. Her replacement, commissioner Elisse Walter, is already raising concerns among some industry watchers given her outspoken support for a self-regulatory organization.

“I think that advisors would have been better off with Obama naming any other commissioner as chairman aside from Walter,” said Brian Hamburger, managing director of MarketCounsel, a regulatory consulting service in Englewood, N.J. for RIAs.

While Schapiro recused herself from expressing an opinion about an SRO in SEC talks, Walter (who we highlighted in our 2010 "Ten to Watch" list) has been a strong proponent. The Obama appointed commissioner outlined the benefits and efficiencies of the SRO option in a statement following the SEC Staff Study on Enhancing Investment Adviser Examinations, completed in January 2011. She also criticizes the study for not looking at the benefits of the SRO, but instead focuses on concerns surrounding it.  

“The study does not lay out the variety of viewpoints regarding the SRO option, instead emphasizing those of the investment management industry and others who have concerns about the SRO option,” Walter said. “Over the long-run, in my view, the benefits of the SRO option will outweigh its costs.”  

“So if you don’t like an SRO, it’s certainly bad news to have her at the helm,” said Duane Thompson, senior policy analyst for fi360.

And of course, FINRA has been the front-runner in discussions of a possible SRO. Like Schapiro, Walter has a history working for FINRA. Prior to her appointment as commissioner, she served as senior executive vice president of regulatory policy and programs for FINRA. She held the same position at NASD before its 2007 merger with NYSE.

She has emphasized that even if the SEC had more resources, it wouldn’t be able to fulfill its mandate to examine investment advisors in keeping pace with FINRA, Hamburger said.  

“She jumped right to the conclusion that the SEC is not adequately funded or has insufficient resources upon which to exam investment advisors,” Hamburger said.

Walter’s appointment as chair is not an interim one, but unless she is reconfirmed, she’s out the door in December 2013, the end of her term. Hamburger expects the White House to nominate someone for a full term in the near future. And whether that’s Walter or not, the person in that role will likely have a big impact on the industry.

Even though the SRO issue is one that’s being fought out in Congress, the views of the SEC chair could be very influential, said Neil Simon, vice president for government relations for the Investment Adviser Association.

For now, that’s Walter.

“If the president’s goal here was to maintain the agenda that Chairman Schapiro had set out to initiate over the past five years, I think mission accomplished,” Hamburger said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of the same, if not some type of acceleration because really the administration’s vote of confidence that they somehow think that Ms. Schapiro was headed in the right direction.”

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