It’s no wonder the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued new rules asserting its right to limit large whistleblower awards, because the agency handed them out in fiscal year 2020 at an unprecedented pace.
On Wednesday, the agency announced whistleblower awards of $22 million and $7 million to two tipsters. The whistleblower who earned $22 million was the first to alert the SEC to the wrongdoing and led the agency to open an investigation, then provided “substantial, ongoing assistance” to investigators, the SEC said in a press release. The second tipster provided “additional, valuable information” on the same wrongdoing, the SEC said. Four smaller whistleblower awards worth almost $5 million were also later announced Wednesday.
In fiscal year 2020, the SEC handed out $175 million in awards to 39 different whistleblowers, the agency touted in its press release regarding the smaller awards.
“Today marks the end of a record-setting year for the whistleblower program. We’ve made significant strides to further streamline and accelerate the evaluation of claims under the rules, substantially increasing the rate at which whistleblower claims are evaluated and awards are issued,” said Stephanie Avakian, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in the press release.
The kind of tips were varied, the SEC said, and included “company outsiders who provided independent analysis, international whistleblowers who shone a light on hard to detect overseas conduct, and company insiders who provided critical information.”
The $175 million total was nearly triple the $60 million the SEC handed out to whistleblowers in fiscal year 2019, according to the program’s most recent annual report.
Wednesday’s awards were announced on the last day of the federal fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
The $22 million award represents the third time this year the SEC has issued a payout that ranked in the all-time top 10 since the whistleblower program’s first award in 2012. It is also the fifth payout this year worth more than $10 million. Earlier this month, the SEC announced a $10 million award, and in June it handed out its biggest payday ever at nearly $50 million.
“The information and assistance provided by today’s whistleblowers helped the agency return tens of millions of dollars to harmed retail investors,” said Jane Norberg, chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower. “We hope that awards like the ones issued by the Commission today will continue to incentivize individuals to come forward and report high-quality tips to the SEC.”
The SEC has awarded approximately $562 million to 106 individuals since 2012. All payments are made out of an investor protection fund established by Congress that is financed entirely through monetary sanctions paid to the SEC by securities law violators.
Whistleblowers may be eligible for an award when they voluntarily provide the SEC with original, timely, and credible information that leads to a successful enforcement action. Whistleblower awards can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected when the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million.
The SEC neither identifies whistleblowers, nor discloses information that could reveal a whistleblower’s identity.