Career Regulator Mary Schapiro – a "Strong Investor Advocate" – is Reportedly Obama's Choice for SEC Chief

By William Patalon III
Executive Editor
Money Morning/The Money Map Report

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name Mary L. Schapiro – a strong proponent of protections for individual investors – to head the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission when his administration takes office next month, according to news media reports that began circulating last night (Wednesday).

President-elect Obama is expected to make Schapiro’s appointment official today (Thursday).

Schapiro, 52, is currently the chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States, reported. FINRA was created in July 2007 through the merger of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) and the member-regulation, enforcement and arbitration functions of the New York Stock Exchange.

Schapiro is also a former head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and former member of the SEC. She has been appointed to top finance-related government posts by two Republicans presidents and one Democratic chief executive.

If confirmed by the Senate, Schapiro would take over as head of an agency that has been roundly criticized for failing to detect signs of trouble on Wall Street, where enormous derivatives losses have led to the collapse of the investment banking sector, caused a near collapse of many top commercial banks, and forced the U.S. government to engage in a bailout effort that will end up costing taxpayers trillions of dollars.

Schapiro has plenty of experience. Before FINRA was formed, she had most recently served as chairman and chief executive officer of the NASD, an appointment that took effect in December 2006. Before her appointment as chairman and CEO, Schapiro had spent five years serving as the vice chairman of the NASD and president of its regulatory and oversight division. She’d been with the NASD since 1996.

According to some reports, because the NASD was an industry group, there were often accusations that it overlooked instances in which broker/dealer abuses trampled individual investor rights. Given the more-retail-oriented focus many markets have taken in recent years – with a majority of U.S. workers actually owning stocks via mutual funds or through their employer retirement plans – many industry insiders felt that a new organization was needed, especially one that would view protection of the public as paramount. The creation of FINRA was one offshoot of this push for increased indvidual-investor protection.

In a speech in June, Schapiro talked about the growing complexity of the financial markets and warned that highly sophisticated new products will only make matters even more challenging for individual investors. The upshot: bankruptcies and home foreclosures could jump, and many investors could find themselves facing a future in which they have little in the way of a financial cushion.

Mary L. Schapiro“In tough financial times, many investors feel pinched for cash – and some may search for different, often-risky ways to make ends meet, or to maintain a certain lifestyle,” Schapiro told listeners at a “Women in Housing and Finance” conference in Washington. “Troubling trends include investors leveraging or prematurely depleting their retirement savings, trading in their insurance policies in transactions known as ‘life settlements,’ and tapping their home equity through reverse mortgages. We are concerned that some investors may be risking their most valuable assets in an effort to raise cash—including those in or near retirement, who may not have time to recover their losses.”

And the other unfortunate part of that problem, Schapiro said, was that “some unscrupulous financial professionals—many of them unregistered—feed into this investor anxiety, pushing strategies and products that promise to provide balance and safety, but that often end up haunting an investor for a lifetime.”

Schapiro will bring skills – as well as experience – to her new post as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In late 2006, at the time of her appointment as NASD chairman, Richard F. Brueckner, the presiding governor of the NASD’s Board of Governors, described Shapiro as a “highly respected and effective regulator who has proven herself time and again to be a strong investor advocate.”

"She is a proven leader and is uniquely qualified to take over as the head of NASD as it continues to execute its vital mission of protecting investors and ensuring market integrity,” said Brueckner, who was also the CEO of financial-technology provider Pershing LLC.  “I am confident the securities industry will work closely with Mary and support NASD's efforts to make regulation both more efficient and effective.”

Schapiro joined the NASD in 1996 as president of NASD regulation and was named vice chairman in 2002.  As head of NASD's Regulatory Policy and Oversight Division, she served as the primary regulator of 5,100 securities brokerage firms and the nearly 700,000 registered brokers who were doing business with the public.

The division was responsible for writing rules that governed the conduct of virtually all aspects of the securities industry, including sales practices and financial and operational integrity; examining firms for compliance with those rules; and enforcement of NASD rules as well as those of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board and federal securities laws.

At that time, the NASD also had regulatory responsibility for The NASDAQ Stock Market, the American Stock Exchange and the International Stock Exchange.

Before joining the NASD, Schapiro was the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), a post to which President Bill Clinton had appointed her in 1994.  The CFTC is the federal agency responsible for regulation of the U.S. futures markets, including the financial, agricultural and energy markets.

As chairman, Schapiro participated in the President's Working Group on Financial

Markets with the U.S. treasury secretary and the chairmen of both the U.S. Federal Reserve and the SEC.

Prior to her time with the CFTC, Schapiro served for six years as an SEC commissioner. She was appointed in 1988 by President Ronald W. Reagan, reappointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, and was named acting chairman by President Clinton in 1993.

At one point, Schapiro was an active member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and was elected Chairman of the IOSCO Consultative Committee in 2002 and 2004.

Schapiro currently serves as the “lead director” of Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT), and has been a board member since last year. She’s also a director of Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), a post she’s held since 1999.

Schapiro is a trustee of Franklin and Marshall College.

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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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