What Do You Get For Cooperation with the SEC?

Rebecca Files

  • More likely to get sanctioned.
  • Reduction of $30.3 million in penalties when you initiate your own investigation.
  • Reduction of $609,000 in company penalties for each week earlier the statement is announced the public.
  • Reduction of $112,000 in personal penalties for each week earlier the statement is announced the public.

We in the compliance field have often heard from federal regulators that cooperation will get you benefits. Although when asked how much, it’s merely a “trust us” reply. Back in the beginning of 2010, the SEC launched a new enforcement cooperation initiative. The SEC’s 2001 Seaboard Report lists several criteria that SEC staff evaluate before making enforcement decisions, including whether ―the company cooperated completely with the appropriate regulatory and law enforcement bodies‖ and whether ―the company promptly, completely, and effectively disclosed the existence of the misconduct to the public [and] to regulators

I figured some academic would spend the time to sit down and see how much benefit really accrues when you cooperate. Rebecca Files of the University of Texas at Dallas did just that.

Dr. Files dove into a set of the 2443 press releases announcing an earnings restatements compiled by the General Accounting Office (GAO 2003, 2006a,b) during the 1997-2005 time period. She ended up culling the list down to 1,249 for a variety of reasons. Of those, 127 received a formal sanction by the SEC.

Individuals were sanctioned in 115 of the 127 cases, paying an average of $3.9 million in fines. Companies were sanctioned in 109 of the cases with an average fine of $35.5 million.

When the company had independently investigated their restatements, they paid an average of $30.3 million less in penalties than those that did not.

Dr. Files concludes that the end result is mixed. “[C]ompany-initiated investigations significantly increase the likelihood of an SEC enforcement action, but decrease firm-level penalties associated with a sanction. … Regarding forthright disclosures, I find somewhat mixed results. Headline disclosure of a restatement increases the likelihood of an SEC sanction, suggesting that SEC staff is influenced by the visibility of press release disclosures when choosing its enforcement targets. However, individuals pay significantly smaller fines when the restatement is disclosed prominently in a press release or on a Form 8-K or amended filing. Placing restatement information in a Form 8-K or amended filing also significantly reduces the likelihood of an SEC sanction, but only in the post-2001 period. Consistent with the Seaboard Report, timely disclosure of a restatement reduces the likelihood of being sanctioned and results in lower individual and firm penalties.”