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Remarks at Office of the Investor Advocate’s Evidence Summit

Commissioner Kara M. Stein

March 10, 2017

First, I want to thank Rick Fleming and the Office of the Investor Advocate for hosting this inaugural evidence summit.

I also want to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of Dr. Brian Scholl.  Brian has been single-mindedly focused on bringing new research and ideas to the Commission’s work.

As a Commissioner, I often speak about the importance of investor confidence in our markets.  An investor must not only believe the markets are reliable and efficient, but also that they are fair.  Investors also need to have confidence in themselves. 

Some view one investor as interchangeable with another suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach.  The Commission’s rules have sometimes articulated one set of standardized disclosures that are supposed to serve the informational needs of all investors.

But, we all know the American investor is most importantly an individual.  An individual saving to make ends meet;  an individual  investing for retirement; an individual investing for the purchase of a car; a first home; or for a first child to attend college.   The American investor is focused on a building a better tomorrow.

Today’s investors have a multitude of choices when making investment decisions.  Some investors turn to brokers and investment advisors; some investors use innovative tools such as “robo-advisors”; while some others go-it-alone. 

This morning we heard a thought provoking panel regarding what is behind an investor’s choices and action.  And, Professor [George] Lowenstein has been researching various aspects of information and beliefs, which will help us as we think about both investor behavior and education.  As he stressed, for disclosure to be effective, it needs to be designed by the people using those disclosures or their advocates. 

We also now live in an age of data and technology that allows us to explore our world in a manner that is truly unprecedented.   And, this summit, helps us to explore ways to use those new tools to benefit and empower the modern American investor.

It’s an exciting time, and POSITER is an exciting initiative rooted in data and analysis.  This initiative will help inform the Commission, academics, researchers, and the public about investor behavior.

I am a big fan of public-private partnerships.  Working with researchers and market participants will help us learn how to better enhance the investor experience in the Digital Age. 

Throughout its history, the Commission has continually strived to improve the information that investors receive. For example, in 1993, the Commission pushed for companies, broker-dealers, investment advisors, and mutual funds to communicate with their customers in Plain English.  Instead of legal jargon, the Commission asked those drafting disclosure documents to use terms that everyone could understand. 

However, the Plain English initiative provided little guidance on what investors would find most useful or best understand.  Today’s initiative seeks to delve into different aspects of the investment-decision making process.  With data and analysis, the Commission and others can potentially design new tools and new methods of making the most out of the information provided to investors, whether through data, visualization, or narratives. Whether that's using tech to deliver 'just in time' investor education or to allow comparison shopping across fund groups, the promise is significant.  I hope to see insights and recommendations grow out of this initiative that represent not mere tweaks around the edges but a full re-imagining of the possibilities for disclosure.

I know a lot of work has gone into today’s summit, but it’s only the beginning of exploring how we can  use data and analysis to better carry out our mission of protecting investors, maintaining fair and orderly markets, and facilitating capital formation.

I look forward to working with all of you going forward to make this initiative a success.