Questions and Answers with Robert Khuzami

After the news conference announcing the Rearrangement of its Enforcement Program, the Securities and Exchange Commission offered a group of bloggers the chance to ask questions to Robert Khuzami, the Director of Enforcement. (It must have felt like Obi-Wan stepping into the cantina full of low-life scoundrels.)

The blogging participants:

Mr. Khuzami let us know that the specialized units and cooperation initiatives came out of the self-assessment they conducted last year. Now that the heads of the new units have been made, those heads will start filling out their ranks.

Bruce started off questions by asking for more information on the new Office of Market Intelligence. This unit is combining two existing units, Market Surveillance and Internet Enforcement. It sounds like this will be a big source of information flow for the SEC with lots of complaints and charges coming in one place, getting filtered and sent to the right people for the appropriate action.

I asked about the creation of the new specialized units which are great for expertise, but may push information into silos. Mr. Khuzami pointed out that one of the current problems is that information is currently too diffuse across the SEC. There is a going to be hybrid approach. Not everything is going to end up in these units. He thinks expertise is very important. These units are going to be national in scope, so the people will spread out across the regional offices.

Laura Richman wanted to know if the SEC Commissioners are going to be comfortable with the new cooperation protocols. The enforcement division can only make a recommendation. It’s up to the Commission to decide whether to prosecute or settle. (This is unlikely to give the warm fuzzies to someone who is thinking about acting as a whistleblower or a company cooperating with an issue.)

Todd Sullivan was surprised that the cooperation initiatives were not already available to the SEC. Mr. Khuzami pointed out that criminal prosecutions have used cooperation strategies for a long time. It’s a new concept to civil proceedings.

Cate wanted to know if the SEC could develop the experience or tools to differentiate between proprietary trading versus market making. The SEC wants better information.

Francine wanted to know if the SEC will step up its enforcement actions against the accounting firms. Timeliness is key. If there is a long time between the misconduct and the prosecution, then there is a lost opportunity to stop others by setting an example.

Mr. Khuzami pointed out the SEC has been through a tough year but his group wants to use their professional skills and do good work. He thinks the Division is coming together and moving forward in a positive direction.

I want to thank Mark Story, the SEC’s Director of New Media, for inviting me to the press conference and Rob (I think I can call him that now) for taking the time to talk with us.