WASHINGTON -- As the SEC scrambles to work through a litany of regulatory issues stemming from the Dodd-Frank and JOBS acts, two issues advisors have been closely watching are near the top of that to-do list; namely, efforts to expand oversight of RIAs and enacting stabilizing reforms for money market funds.
At the Investment Company Institute's General Membership Meeting on Thursday, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White gave a regulatory update on the commission's activities, reiterating her appeal for greater funding to bolster oversight of advisors. Last year, the commission examined just 9% of RIAs.
"Obviously, that is not sufficient to do the job that we need to do," White said. "No question that that issue is a real priority for us. We don't have the resources to do the kind of coverage we need to do."
On money market funds, White said that the commission's staff is "intensively focused" on finalizing a rulemaking, which could entail allowing funds' net asset values to float, or implementing liquidation fees and redemption restrictions in times of market stress.
When might a final rule materialize?
"Very near term," White said, declining to offer a more precise time table. "I won't say what the very near term is, but it's front and center."
White acknowledged that she is trying to strike a balance on money market fund reform, aiming to "accomplish what we think we need to accomplish by way of structural reform, but, in as maximum a way as possible, preserving this very important product."
"Those are not easy issues," she said. "There are as many opinions on what should be done as there are people."
White's comments come as the SEC has been seeking a budget increase from congressional appropriators, funding that would be used in part to add staff to the commission's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. Late last month, White made her case to a House committee, warning that SEC examiners have been unable to keep pace with the growth in the advisor segment, which now counts more than 11,000 registrants at the federal level.
The issue of advisor exams has been very much in the conversation in Washington this week. On Tuesday, SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher suggested that the commission could push through rules that would compel advisors to submit to examinations by a third party, such as an auditor or exchange.
Efforts have faltered in Congress to address the lack of oversight in the advisor sector. One proposal would have allowed the commission to collect user fees from advisors that would be used to increase examinations. Another bill would have directed the SEC to name at least one self-regulatory organization to assist with the task. Neither measure was voted out of committee.
Instead of going through Congress, Gallagher's proposal would have the SEC act under its own rulemaking authority to require advisors to engage with a third party for reviews of their practice, without forcing them to become full-fledged members, as brokers are with FINRA.
White expressed interest in Gallagher's idea as a vehicle to increase examinations, though she said that it would require careful study, particularly on the part of the SEC's legal staff to determine whether, in fact, the commission is authorized to act on its own.
"I think his suggestion is a creative one," she told reporters as she was leaving the ICI conference. "There are a number of issues that have to be carefully looked at, including authority issues. But the priority is, for us .is to increase that coverage so that we're really carrying out our investor protection functions as we've been assigned to do."
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