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The SEC on a Roll

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January 30, 2014 | Jennifer Namazi

The SEC on a Roll

It's been a while since we've had major regulatory updates that impact stock compensation. Knowing that, I sometimes find myself scanning the horizon, looking for the next "thing" that's going to have us examining our practices, changing procedures or implementing something new. This week my radar went into action when I heard that SEC Chair Mary Jo White had laid out quite a list of upcoming initiatives in a recent address.

Technology on the Brain

In spite of some significant cutbacks in technology dollars available to the SEC for long term initiatives, the SEC seems to still have advancement in this area on the brain. Chair White announced that the SEC has deployed a new analytical tool called "NEAT" (National Exam Analytics Tool) to help identify possible insider trading or other misconduct. This tool can identify red flags in a fraction of the time it took to do so in the past. I'm guessing this means that the wave of insider trading investigations and scrutiny is not over.

In the spring of 2013, the SEC issued guidance permitting issuers to use social media sites to communicate company announcements (see the NASPP Blog, May 16, 2013). White has now indicated that the SEC is broadly rethinking disclosure requirements for public companies and the role of technology in sharing information with investors. Last month the SEC recommended to Congress in a report (which was mandated by the JOBS Act) that the disclosure rules undergo comprehensive reexamination and reform. White shared some insight into the SEC's thinking: "I believe we should rethink not only the type of information we ask companies to disclose, but also how that information is presented, where and how that information is disclosed, and how we can take advantage of technology to facilitate investors' access to information and make it more meaningful to them." Saying it and issuing a report doesn't mean new rules are imminent, but it is perhaps a hint of things to come. It seems within the realm of possibility that this type of reform may be fairly significant if and when it happens.

New Investigation Focus

White says that as the SEC wraps up investigations stemming from the financial crisis, attention is now shifting to other areas of enforcement - namely financial reporting fraud and accounting irregularities amongst others. This is a good time to make sure our controls, checks and balances are operating full force. While we can't control other areas of financial reporting beyond stock administration, we can ensure that the areas under our realm can stand up to the possibility of an intense audit or investigation. This seems particularly wise, since Chair White also said that "The coming year promises to be an incredibly active year in enforcement, as we continue to vigorously pursue wrongdoers and bring enforcement actions across the entire industry spectrum."

It looks like the SEC continues on their roll of assertive enforcement actions and attempt to progress into more modern times. Let's see what the horizon holds in that regard.


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