GAO Tells the SEC Its FINRA Oversight is B-A-D

A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) last week concluded that the SEC can improve its oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), a self-regulatory organization charged with policing securities broker-dealers. The GAO’s criticism of the SEC is a politically hot issue because Congress is currently considering whether to shift authority for overseeing investment advisors from the SEC to FINRA—the subordinate organization the SEC is purportedly doing a poor job of overseeing.

The GAO report was a product of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which required the GAO to study the SEC’s oversight of FINRA. In particular, the report examined (1) how the SEC has conducted its oversight of FINRA in the past; including FINRA rule proposals and the effectiveness of its rules; and (2) how the SEC plans to enhance its oversight of FINRA.

The report concluded that that while the SEC routinely inspects many of FINRA’s programs, it does not conduct any retrospective review, i.e., it does not review whether FINRA’s rules are actually effective.  In fact, the report concluded that the SEC does not even have a process for retrospective review.

Significantly, the GAO report also concluded that the SEC had conducted virtually no review of FINRA operations aimed at executive compensation and corporate governance issues. The SEC claimed it had purposefully overlooked compensation and governance operations because of competing priorities and resource constraints, and instead had focused its resources on FINRA’s regulatory departments, which the SEC perceived as programs with the greatest impact on investors.

Given these and other conclusions, the GAO recommended that the SEC “encourage FINRA to conduct retrospective reviews of its rules” as well as establish its own process for examining FINRA reviews. It further recommended that the SEC utilize a risk-management framework in developing its future oversight plans.

And the Whistle Blows…

The SEC came under scrutiny, including from U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, following an April 25, 2012 front page article in the Wall Street Journal which reported that the Agency had inadvertently revealed the identity of a whistleblower during an inquiry into his former employer.

The investigation involved Pipeline Trading Systems LLC, which runs stock trading platforms under its new name, Aritas Securities LLC.  According to the article, an SEC Staff Attorney showed a notebook belonging to the whistleblower to a Pipeline executive during an interview.  The executive recognized the handwriting regarding trades, meetings, and phone calls.  Pipeline settled with the SEC on October 24, 2011.  Read More