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SEC Chair Mary Jo White stepping down at end of Obama administration

President-elect Trump will choose new head of SEC

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President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are currently working to fill the roughly 4,000 jobs that will become available when the Trump administration takes over in January, but there’s now one more government job that unexpectedly became available Monday – chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mary Jo White, the current chair of the SEC, who has served in that role since 2013, announced Monday that she plans to leave the SEC at the end of the Obama administration.

White’s departure creates a huge hole at the head of the country’s largest financial regulator, one that Trump will now get to fill with a person of his choosing.

As Bloomberg notes, White’s tenure at the SEC has been “highlighted by high-profile enforcement cases and plagued by internal battles that stalled controversial policies.”

But now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, President-elect Trump should be able to move quickly to install a new leader at the SEC.

Trump’s transition team already released plans to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, and Trump spoke often during his campaign of a desire to roll back regulations, so installing an SEC chair that shares those same beliefs could be in the plans.

But as Politico notes, Trump also spoke often of cracking down on Wall Street, so his choice as SEC chair will provide some insight on which direction he plans to take when it comes to Wall Street.

As for White, the timing of her departure is interesting, considering that her term at the SEC wasn’t due to expire until 2019.

According to information provided by the SEC, during White’s tenure, the agency enacted several significant changes to the financial markets, including:

  • Major enhancements to transparency and risk management for asset-backed securities, which were a significant contributor to the financial crisis
  • Extensive reforms to the regulation of credit rating agencies and how they address conflicts of interest that can harm investors
  • Extensive new safeguards for the financial system and for investors in the more than $7 trillion security-based swap market

White’s tenure was also marked by the rise of the SEC’s whistleblower program, which provides financial rewards to individuals who come forward and provide information to the SEC that leads to disciplinary actions.

According to the SEC, the agency handed out more than $100 million to whistleblowers as part of the program, with nearly all of that money being handed out during White’s time at the SEC.

As chair of the SEC, White also serves as a member of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the International Organization of Securities Commissions, the Financial Stability Board, the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation Monitoring Board, the Financial and Banking Information Infrastructure Committee, and the Federal Housing Finance Oversight Board.

Of her departure, White said that she is proud of the work the agency has done in her time there.

“It has been a tremendous honor to work alongside the incredibly talented and dedicated SEC staff members who do so much every day to protect investors and our markets,” White said. 

“I am very proud of our three consecutive years of record enforcement actions, dozens of fundamental reforms through our rulemakings that have strengthened investor protections and market stability, and that the job satisfaction of our phenomenal staff has climbed in each of the last three years,” White continued.

“I also want to express my appreciation for the engagement and dedication of my fellow Commissioners and my financial regulator colleagues, past and present,” White said.

“My duty has been to ensure that the Commission implemented strong investor and market protections, and to establish an enduring foundation for future progress in the most critical areas — asset management regulation, equity market structure and disclosure effectiveness,” White added. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the SEC’s staff, we have accomplished both.”

As Bloomberg noted, White’s tenure wasn’t without its stumbles along the way.

Just one month ago, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for President Obama to replace White due to White’s “refusal” to develop a political spending disclosure rule and her efforts to permit publically traded companies to disclose less to investors and the public.

And last year, Warren called White’s time at the SEC “extremely disappointing.”

But now, White’s tenure is rapidly nearing its end.

In announcing her departure, White made a plea for the SEC to remain “truly independent” to allow the agency to fulfill its duties.

“It has been and will always be critical for this agency and the public that the SEC remain truly independent,” White said. “That independence is crucial to our ability to protect investors, safeguard our markets and facilitate the capital formation that fosters innovation and the growth that is essential to our national economy.”

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