The Securities and Exchange Commission is creating a website that will contain “a searchable database of individuals” who have been barred or suspended as a result of federal securities law violations, the agency’s chairman, Jay Clayton, said Wednesday.
“This resource is intended to make the prior actions of repeat offenders and fraudsters more visible to investors,” Clayton said at the Practising Law Institute’s 49th Annual Institute on Securities Regulation conference in New York.
“Clearly, there are fraudsters in our marketplace who are seemingly unafraid of, or undeterred by, the risk of being caught. The SEC can target the underlying conduct of those fraudsters – and we do – but we also can and should arm investors with information that makes it more difficult for them to be defrauded.”
The searchable website, Clayton continued, “will be particularly valuable when bad actors have shifted from the registered space for investment advisors and broker-dealers to the unregistered space.”
Clayton stated in late September that the agency was planning to compile data on people who are not registered as advisors or brokers in order to catch more incidences of fraud.
During his Wednesday comments, Clayton said that the securities regulator reminds investors “repeatedly that they should conduct a background check before investing with a financial professional, and we are showing them how to do just that” with the upcoming website and with FINRA’s BrokerCheck.
Clayton told audience members that the SEC should continually be asking: “Are there opportunities to deter, mitigate or eliminate wrongdoing before an enforcement action becomes necessary?”
Looking back at enforcement actions brought by the agency, he continued, “a common theme emerges – where opacity exists, bad behavior tends to follow.”
The agency’s enforcement division, he said, “will continue to be active in pursuing cases where hidden or inappropriate fees are at issue, but we also are exploring whether more can be done to clarify fee disclosures made to retail investors and, thereby, deter and reduce the opportunities for misbehavior.”
As an example, he cited firms that invest clients’ money in a mutual fund share class that charges a 12b-1 fee when a lower-cost share class of the same fund is available, “or advisors may improperly choose to use fund assets to pay expenses that should be paid by the firm.”
Customers, he added, “may be deceived if brokers charge fees that are designed to cover the costs of services provided, while also marking up the prices of securities to earn a profit that is not disclosed.”