White Urges CEOs and Boards to Bolster SEC’s Compliance Efforts

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is calling on corporate executives and boards to strengthen internal compliance programs as funding constraints limit the agency’s reach, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White said.

“We rely on you because as much as we strive to be everywhere we can be, our resources are limited and always stretched,” White said today in a speech at a National Society of Compliance Professionals conference in Washington.

SEC officials are meeting with chief executive officers, senior business managers, heads of compliance, and chairmen of audit and risk committees to assess whether the “tone at the top” of companies discourages wrongdoing, she said in prepared remarks. Agency officials evaluate whether compliance personnel have the standing, authority and resources to do their jobs.

White’s remarks come about a month after the SEC leveled a $200 million penalty against JPMorgan & Chase Co. (JPM) to resolve claims the New York-based bank had inadequate internal controls related to the London Whale trading that led to $6.2 billion in losses last year. The penalty was the biggest the agency has imposed related to internal controls.

The SEC issued guidance to compliance officials last month to allay concerns that they could be subject to enforcement action for giving legal advice on how to deal with misconduct internally at their companies.

“We do not want you to be concerned that by engaging, you will somehow be arbitrarily construed to be a supervisor, and expose yourselves to potential supervisory liability,” she said.

Inspectors who conduct routine examinations of investment advisers are working more closely with the SEC enforcement unit, White said. Together, they are bringing cases against firms that fail to implement guidelines to ensure employees comply with the rules, she said. White noted a recent case against a portfolio manager who allegedly obstructed a compliance officer’s work.

“We want your firms to know, at every level, how important your work is to investors and to us,” White said. “And we will be looking for more cases to bring to drive that message home.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Gallu in Washington at jgallu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at mreynolds34@bloomberg.net

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