Who We Help
Retail investors – sometimes referred to as individual investors or Main Street investors – are persons who buy and sell securities for themselves, and not for an institution or organization. The Ombudsman helps retail investors who are unsure about how to handle their concerns, feel they have exhausted all other SEC resources, or want to discuss their matter confidentially. The Ombudsman also assists individuals with issues relating to the self-regulatory organizations (SROs) the SEC oversees and with questions about compliance with the securities laws.
Those we have helped include investors seeking information about Fair Fund distributions to investment fraud victims, individuals having difficulty accessing public company data, and investors with questions and concerns about the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration process.
How We Help
The Ombudsman will listen to your inquiries, complaints, and issues, review the information you provide, and help identify procedures, options, and resources. The Ombudsman is also available to clarify certain SEC decisions, policies, and practices, and serve as an alternate channel of communication between retail investors and the SEC.
Where an established SEC resolution channel or process exists to address your issue or concern, the Ombudsman will direct you to the appropriate SEC staff or resources and may monitor the outcome, if needed. The Ombudsman may also help you identify resources outside of the SEC to help resolve your matters and concerns.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who may contact the Ombudsman?
Retail investors may contact the Ombudsman if they have a specific concern about the SEC or a self-regulatory organization (SRO) the SEC oversees. Retail investors and other interested persons may also contact the Ombudsman to present questions or issues to the Investor Advocate relating to securities law and policy, or if they wish to present their concerns, questions, or issues in a confidential forum.
What if I am not a retail investor or my concerns are not about the SEC or an SRO?
Will the Ombudsman act as my advocate?
No. The Ombudsman does not represent or act as an advocate for any person or entity, and does not take sides on any issues. The Ombudsman maintains an impartial, neutral position when resolving problems, complaints, and concerns.
What law established the Ombudsman role at the SEC?
Section 4(g)(8) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 requires the Investor Advocate to appoint an Ombudsman to:
- act as a liaison between the Commission and any retail investor in resolving problems that retail investors may have with the Commission or with a self-regulatory organization (SRO);
- review policies and procedures and make recommendations to encourage people to present questions to the Investor Advocate regarding compliance with the securities laws; and
- establish safeguards to maintain the confidentiality of communications between these persons and the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman cannot:
- act as your advocate or recover money for you
- impose, interfere with, or modify statutes, regulations, or laws – including any related policies, practices, or procedures – followed or enforced by the SEC
- make decisions or legal determinations for the SEC
- serve as a formal office of legal notice for the SEC
- make binding decisions or mandate policies
- participate in formal investigations or play a role in a formal resolution process
- address matters already in litigation or under formal investigation
- overturn any decisions of existing dispute resolution or appellate bodies
- provide any financial, legal, or investment advice
- serve in any role that compromises the Ombudsman’s impartiality
Ombudsman Standards of Practice
The Ombudsman is guided by three core standards of practice:
The Ombudsman generally treats matters as confidential, and takes reasonable steps to maintain the confidentiality of communications. However, the Ombudsman may need to contact other SEC divisions or offices, SROs, entities, and/or individuals and share information without permission under certain circumstances including, but not limited to: a threat of imminent risk or serious harm; assertions, complaints, or information relating to violations of the securities laws; allegations of government fraud, waste, or abuse; or if otherwise required by law.
The Ombudsman does not act as an advocate for any party and does not take sides on any issues. The Ombudsman maintains a neutral position and works to resolve matters by clarifying issues and procedures, facilitating discussions, and identifying options and resources.
By statute, the Ombudsman reports directly to the Investor Advocate, who reports directly to the Chairman of the SEC. However, the Office of the
Investor Advocate and the Ombudsman are designed to remain somewhat independent from the rest of the SEC. Through the Congressional reports filed every six months by the Investor Advocate, the Ombudsman reports directly to Congress without any prior review or comment by the Commission or other Commission staff.