Speech by SEC Chairman:
Address to the Senior Investor Protection Symposium
Chairman Christopher Cox
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
May 18, 2007
Good morning. It's a great pleasure to be in Chicago for today's Senior Symposium. I'd like to thank the University of Illinois Law School and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for co-sponsoring today's program with the SEC -- and a special thanks to the Fed for allowing us to use this wonderful space. And I'd like to welcome all of you and thank you for coming. We have an exciting program this morning, and I look forward to a lively discussion.
Protecting senior investors is one of the most important issues of our time -- and I've made it one of my highest priorities since becoming Chairman of the SEC. Some census numbers released just yesterday give us a sense of the magnitude of this issue. In 2006, there were more than 37 million Americans age 65 and older, accounting for 12% of the total population. There were five million people age 85 and older, and nearly two million in their nineties. Believe it or not, there are now more than 73,000 Americans age 100 or older. Longevity is now the norm in our country, and for that we can all be grateful -- but it also means we need to be prepared. Every year, as medical miracles allow us to enjoy a larger population of senior citizens, the task of protecting retirement nest eggs grows in importance.
The SEC is the investors' advocate -- and when it comes to senior investors, we have a special responsibility. We need to do everything we can to ensure that seniors are well-educated about the important choices they make, and that they are treated fairly and appropriately by brokers and others in the securities industry. And we need to see to it that anyone who takes advantage of seniors thru investment scams is brought to justice swiftly and effectively.
Since I became Chairman, we've been working hard on all of these fronts. We've strengthened our investor education initiatives for seniors, and partnered with other regulators and consumer organizations, including AARP, to sponsor over 40 events to educate senior investors. In total, more than 50,000 have attended. We've also added information for senior investors to the SEC's Web site -- and we've had over 89,000 hits to the Seniors Guide and other senior related topics. Many more educational events for seniors are planned for 2007, including our second Seniors Summit. I'm happy to announce publicly this morning that the officially scheduled date for the next annual Seniors Summit is September 10, in Washington, DC.
One of the ways we at the SEC are tackling the problem of fraud against senior citizens is to use our examination staff to conduct targeted sweeps in areas where we suspect there may be misconduct. Last year, the SEC's examination staff, joined with state securities regulators in Florida, California, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, as well as with the NASD and NYSE in a sweep of firms that sponsor "free lunch" sales seminars. To date, we've initiated more than 100 exams like this, and the preliminary results are very revealing. We've found that materials provided to seniors are sometimes misleading or exaggerated, and that firms aren't always complying with the suitability requirements that the securities laws impose on brokers. For example, in some cases, we've seen senior customers with conservative investment objectives and risk tolerances who've been advised to invest a significant percentage of their assets in illiquid securities that involve a high degree of risk. The results of the sweep are still preliminary, and we're expecting a final report later this year. I'm very encouraged by the work that's been done so far - this sweep is a terrific example of what can be achieved when the SEC partners with the SROs and state securities regulators across the country.
On the law enforcement side, we've recently brought 25 enforcement actions involving fraud on seniors. We've found that there are several types of frauds that often target seniors, including fraudulent unregistered offerings. In addition, in keeping with the exam sweep findings, we've seen cases where legitimate securities products have been improperly sold to senior investors for whom they are not suitable, with inadequate disclosure about their suitability and risk. We have many active ongoing investigations, and I can assure you we'll pursue them vigorously.
I'm especially interested in hearing your thoughts on what more we can do at the SEC to protect seniors, and how we can work more effectively with others, both in and out of government, who are grappling with these important issues. I'm very pleased this morning to be chairing such a distinguished panel. So let me right away introduce the panelists, and then we'll hear briefly some opening remarks from each of them. Then we'll open it up to a more free-flowing discussion, and have an opportunity to take your questions.
Our first panelist is my colleague on the Commission, the Honorable Paul Atkins. Commissioner Atkins was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2002. His entire 22-year career has focused on the financial service industry and securities regulation. Before his appointment as Commissioner, he assisted financial services firms in improving their compliance with SEC regulations and worked with law enforcement agencies to investigate situations where investors had been harmed.
Commissioner Atkins also previously served on the staff of two former Chairman of the SEC. Under Chairman Breeden, he worked on improving regulations regarding corporate governance, and on enhancing SH communications. Under Chairman Levitt, he organized the SEC's individual investor program, including establishing first investor town hall meetings. He is a tireless advocate for investor education and it's a special treat to have him here in Chicago for this Senior Symposium.
Our next panelist, Elisse Walter, is Senior Executive Vice President for Regulatory Policy & Programs at the NASD. She's respected for coordinating policy issues across the NASD, and she oversees, among other things, the Department of Corporate Finance and the Department of Investment Company Regulation. She also leads the NASD's investor education efforts. Prior to joining the NASD, Ms. Walter served as the General Counsel of the CFTC and was the Deputy Director of the Division of Corporation Finance at the SEC.
Professor Richard Kaplan is the Peer and Sarah Pedersen Professor of Law at the University of Illinois. He's a specialist in the areas of federal income taxation and elder law. He's also the author of a number of books and articles on taxation, and the co-author of Elder Law in a Nutshell. He's written many articles on various elder law topics, including Social Security, long-term care financing, and retirement funding. Professor Kaplan also serves as the faculty advisor to The Elder Law Journal, at the University of Illinois.
Patty Struck is the Administrator of the Division of Securities of Wisconsin's Department of Financial Institutions. And she is the immediate past President of NASAA, the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection. Under her leadership, the working partnership with the SEC and NASAA was made stronger than ever before. Before serving as NASAA's president, she chaired its Investment Adviser section for three years. In addition, she's been a visiting Lecturer in Securities Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and has chaired the Business Law section of State Bar of Wisconsin.
Louise Renne heads the public interest litigation and elder abuse practice at the law firm of Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai. She is well-known nationally and often testifies before federal, state, and other governmental bodies. She's directed national and state class actions and individual lawsuits involving elder financial abuse including suits on behalf of senior citizens versus insurance companies, banks, and other entities for the sale of inappropriate annuity products to seniors.
So that is our outstanding panel -- and now it's time to hear from each of them.