Today in Washington, DC, a day when the town has predictably already lost its mind over an imminent snowfall of "historic" proportions, and when virtually every other activity of any kind through the entire weekend has been preemptively canceled, the annual "SEC Speaks" conference is still going on. Speaking today to an audience of people who may well be about to spend the weekend (or more) snowbound in DC, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro gave an interesting speech entitled, "Looking Ahead and Moving Forward" that roughly marks her one year anniversary as Chairman.

Schapiro noted that when she spoke at last year's SEC Speaks, she had been Chairman for a full 10 days, the markets were just emerging from an economic crisis that threatened our financial system, and someone named Bernard Madoff was fast becoming a household name. The spotlight was squarely upon the SEC, she said, and Americans weren't sure the SEC was up to the job.

She says the SEC "got to work"—bringing in new leaders across the agency, streamlining procedures, and revamping systems. As a result, Schapiro believes that a year later, the SEC has "turned a corner" but still has quite a long distance to go.

Looking back on the last year, Schapiro highighted several achievements, including:

  • Removing a layer of middle management and redeploying "dozens of superbly qualified attorneys back to the front lines."

  • Creating specialized units to concentrate expertise and better connect the dots.

  • Encouraging corporate insiders to come forward with evidence of wrongdoing.

  • Seeking more than twice as many temporary restraining orders and asset freezes (restraining orders: 79 compared to 36 - a 119 percent increase) (asset freezes: 89 compared to 42 - a 112 percent increase).

  • Issuing well over two times as many formal orders of investigation (558 compared to 245 - a 128 percent increase).

  • Obtaining about $540 million more in disgorgement orders and more than twice as much in penalty orders (disgorgement orders: about $1.73 billion compared to about $1.19 billion - a 45 percent increase) (penalty orders: about $410 million compared to about $193 million - a 112 percent increase).

  • Filing nearly 10 percent more actions overall, including nearly twice as many involving Ponzi-like schemes. (Overall actions: 725 compared to 665 - a 9 percent increase)  (Ponzi-specific: about 60 compared to about 35 - a 71 percent increase).


Schapiro noted that the SEC has begun revamping its technology and focusing on the way it handles the massive number of tips and complaints we receive. This is also the subject of my upcoming monthly column, which includes a interview with Tom Sporkin, the new head of the Office of Market Intelligence, and which will be out next week on ComplianceWeek.com