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Ombudsmen primarily work to help people resolve problems. For SEC Ombudsman Tracey McNeil, the mandate is even more specific: help retail investors resolve problems they have with the SEC or a self-regulatory organization regulated by the SEC. Ms. McNeil, now with more than four years in that role, sat down to answer questions about it. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Tracey McNeil

What qualities does an ombudsman need?

“You definitely have to have a level of patience. I think my longest single phone call with an investor probably lasted close to two hours … You have to be a very good listener, an active listener. That really, really helps.”

 

Tell us about your approach to the work.

“I’m inherently curious. I’m that person who always wants to hear a little bit more about what you have to say…. My favorite question is: why? And then my next favorite is: what are your thoughts? And these are some of the same questions that I ask of retail investors.”

 

Can you describe a typical day on the job?

“There is no typical day and that’s what I like about it … That keeps me on my toes…There was one afternoon when I got about 500 phone calls …That was a record-breaking day.”

 

What are some of the challenges you face?

“Oftentimes, investors are very angry or upset when they contact me … I’ve had investors cry when they talk to me … emotionally, it can be a bit tough talking with someone who is afraid of losing their life savings or who feels they made a terrible investment decision.” 

 
Tracey McNeil

photo of SEC Ombudsman Tracey McNeil speaking at a party

Can you give us a sense of the volume of queries you get?

While the office handles about 1,500 contacts each year, “the numbers are not my driving motivation…the results are better captured in the quality of the service we provide and the individual interactions with retail investors.”

 

What do you want investors to know about you?

“I take each and every one of their concerns seriously. I am vested in doing this job to the best of my ability…That’s what gets me going every day, the possibility of helping someone.”

 

What do you want investors to know about the ombudsman process?

“The investors don’t always walk away with what they initially thought they would…but at least at the end of our interactions they have a better understanding of how the SEC works to protect investors.”

 

Any final thoughts?

“An ombudsman has to have a heart for the work that they do ... For me, interacting with investors one on one is a public service I am honored to provide.”

Find more information about the Ombudsman here.