The Bernard Madoff scandal is the last straw for the existing leadership of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.
That the SEC was warned repeatedly about Madoff, and even conducted several inquiries into his firm, but did not uncover the massive fraud proves that the important agency needs a major overhaul.
SEC chairman Christopher Cox has proved to be an ineffective leader, to say the least. Most famously, Cox assured investors nine months ago that Bear Stearns was fine. It collapsed three days later.
It gets worse. According to a story by Stephen Labaton in today’s New York Times, the SEC has been plagued by some pretty shady behavior, including botched investigations and “accusations that several SEC employees have engaged in illegal insider trading and falsified financial disclosure forms.”
This is unbelievably appalling! The agency tasked with enforcing securities laws is allegedly breaking those very laws! Check out this link to the reports of the SEC’s inspector general.
Many people don’t realize this but the SEC was created as a result of the 1929 stock market crash and related financial shenanigans. The main reason for the creation of the SEC in 1934 was to regulate the stock market and prevent corporate abuses relating to the offering and sale of securities and corporate reporting. Sounds relevant today, no?
In fact, a strong regulator overseeing financial markets is more important than ever in today’s complex, fluid and interconnected global economy.
So who would be an ideal leader to overhaul the agency and take it into the future?
I am not sure. But I think we need someone with same gravitas and experience like past SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, who ran the SEC from 1993 to 2001 and was widely credited with upgrading the agency and serving as a strong advocate and protector of investors.
Although chairman Cox is a smart guy with law and business degrees from Harvard, I think experience has shown that he did not have a full understanding of today’s financial markets. So whoever gets the job needs to have a lot more experience working on or with Wall Street.
I am throwing out a few ideas here just to get the conversation started:
John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch
Warren Buffett, investing legend
Joel Seligman, leading scholar of SEC and president of University of Rochester
Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the SEC
Laura Unger, former SEC Commissioner and Acting Chairperson of the SEC