Introductory Remarks at the National Faith Leaders Conference “Protecting Investors Protects You”
Chair Mary Jo White
Oct. 2, 2015
Thank you for inviting me to participate in the National Faith Leaders Conference at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church here in Irvine, California. I am very happy to join you, and I always welcome the opportunity to travel from Washington to visit the communities the SEC serves throughout the country.
Faith communities, such as yours, play an integral and critical role in the daily lives of so many Americans. There are actually four generations of Methodist ministers in my family, so I know the positive impact faith communities can have. You come here not only to worship, but for fellowship and support. And today you have come, in part, to learn about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC), what we do at the SEC, how our work impacts you, and what resources we have that may be useful to your congregations and communities.
It is my privilege to serve as the 33rd Chairman of the SEC and as the agency’s representative speaking to you today. So let us get right to it. What does the Securities and Exchange Commission do and why does it matter to you? (For any college football or basketball fans in the audience, it is not the Southeastern Conference.)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is a federal government agency headquartered in Washington, DC with 11 regional offices around the country, including two here in California—in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The SEC is headed by five commissioners appointed by the President of the United States, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. I am the one of the five who was appointed by the President to be the Chairman of the Commission. We have about 4,000 employees and have responsibilities over the stock exchanges, brokers, investment advisers, and a whole lot of other things that affect investors.
The SEC has a three-part mission: to protect investors like you; ensure that the securities markets operate in a fair and orderly manner; and to help businesses raise capital. Today, I want to focus on protecting investors, which is at the forefront of our mission. Just to be clear, investors or potential investors are everyone who wants to be able to grow their money to save for retirement, or pay for college or buy a home. You are an investor for whom the SEC has responsibility if you own a mutual fund, a stock, a bond, or participate in a retirement investment plan like a 401(k).
While investments in the stock markets, of course, carry risk, we want to make those markets as safe and fair for you as we possibly can. A critical part of our mission at the SEC is to build investor confidence by making sure that market players like stock brokers or investment advisers are following the rules and treating investors fairly.
We work to make sure that all Americans who are investing their money in the markets are provided with the information they need to make informed investment decisions. I am joined today by Lori Schock, the Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. In addition to participating in outreach events like this one, Lori’s office hosts the SEC’s Investor.gov website and distributes alerts and bulletins that educate investors on all kinds of investment-related matters. Lori and her team have brought some of our educational materials with them today. They are joined by Irene Mejia and Christine Connolly from our Los Angeles Regional Office. I hope that all of you stop by to talk to them and pick up and read the materials. They are very helpful.
In this past year alone, Lori and her team have helped people find answers to more than 21,000 questions and complaints about investing. You can also find immediate answers to basic investing questions on our main website, SEC.gov. Be sure to also check out the SEC’s Investor.gov website, which has all kinds of information about investing, what kinds of questions to ask before you invest, and what to watch out for.
What else do we do to protect investors at the SEC beyond providing important information, answering questions, and addressing complaints? We investigate and bring legal actions against individuals and companies that flout the law by doing such things as trading with inside information the rest of us do not have, by committing accounting fraud so that investors think that a company they may want to invest in is doing better than it really is, or by giving other misleading information to investors like guaranteeing a profit on their investment or saying that a company has a great financial track record when it does not at all.
You have all probably heard horror stories about investment scams that have robbed people of their life savings—we work hard to put an end to scams and hold wrongdoers accountable. All of that is designed to make the markets safer for everyone, including you.
By the way, my job as Chair of the SEC is not the first time in my career that I have worked at going after wrongdoing. From 1993 to 2002, I was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In that role as a federal prosecutor, I worked on many terrorism cases as well as cases involving white collar crime (including securities fraud), violent gangs, civil rights violations, drug cartels, and public corruption.
Our U.S. Attorney’s Office was the one that prosecuted the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and indicted Osama bin Laden for bombing our embassies in East Africa in 1998, and helped investigate the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It was also the office that indicted and convicted banks and other financial institutions to bring them to account for securities and bank fraud. No institution or individual is above the law and we must always strive to bring to justice anyone who would defraud or otherwise harm any of us, no matter how big, how high up, or how powerful the wrongdoer might be. Indeed, in many ways, it is most important to be sure that high-flyers do not escape the law enforcement net.
And that is our objective at the SEC—to bring all wrongdoers to justice and return money to harmed investors. In the wake of the financial crisis, the SEC charged 181 companies and individuals, including 73 CEOs, CFOs and other senior corporate officers, obtaining more than $3.7 billion in monetary relief. While we do not have the power to put people in jail at the SEC like I did when I was U.S. Attorney, the essence of the job is the same – to do what is best for the public good.
It is something I strive for everyday and the reason I am here today. The more I can share with you about what the SEC does and how we can be helpful, the better informed you will be about making investment decisions. And that applies to “Generation Z” would-be investors, as well as my aging Baby Boomer generation, and every generation in between.
Thank you for having me and special thanks to Pastor Mark Whitlock and to Reverend Charles Dorsey for all of the work they did to allow me to join you today. Reverend Dorsey, I understand you have a few questions for me. I am ready if you are.