Clayton slims down SEC agenda, looks for more wins

In a speech on the SEC's priorities for 2019, Clayton also signaled cybersecurity will remain at the top of the agenda, promising that examiners will press advisors and brokers on areas such as risk governance, access controls and data protection.

The SEC is on track to finalize its standards of conduct for investment advisors and brokers next year, Chairman Jay Clayton indicated on Wednesday, calling those rules "a very important and long overdue initiative."

Clayton is also warning advisors and other financial professionals to brace for market turbulence that could emerge from the U.K.’s exit from the European Union and the upcoming abandonment of the Libor benchmark that underlies many of the popular funds advisors rely on as a staple of their portfolio construction.

In a speech on the SEC's priorities for 2019, Clayton also signaled cybersecurity will remain at the top of the agenda, promising that examiners will press advisors and brokers on areas such as risk governance, access controls and data protection.

Clayton called the advisor and broker regulations "a key priority," touting the seven town-hall meetings commissioners and staffers held to gather input from the everyday investors the rules are intended to protect.

QuoteTaking a step back from the SEC's regulatory agenda, Clayton is also cautioning advisors to keep in mind three macro risks to the market that he expects to dominate the years ahead: cybersecurity, Brexit and Libor.

"It is clear, based on these discussions, that we have the right perspective, namely, that the core obligations of investment professionals — and mandatory plain language disclosures —should match reasonable investor expectations," Clayton said in prepared remarks.

Under Mary Jo White, his immediate predecessor, Clayton said that the commission's regulatory agenda had become too "aspirational." In 2016, 32 rules appeared on the agenda, but fewer than a third were ultimately adopted. Many of those initiatives stemmed from legislative directives included in the Dodd-Frank bill, Clayton acknowledged. But he is staking out an approach marked by fewer novel rulemakings. And those initiatives that do appear on the commission's docket, he aims to complete. In the coming year, Clayton says that he is hoping to conclude 80% of the items presently on the regulatory agenda.

Some of the sharpest criticism of the SEC's investment advice proposal has come from consumer advocates who see the provisions relating to brokers continuing to permit conduct that they say is harmful to investors. So instead of applying an advisor-like fiduciary duty to broker-dealers, the proposed Regulation Best Interest would do little to enhance the existing suitability standard that governs the brokerage sector. An advisory panel to the commission has recommended that it revise the regulation to encompass more of the spirit — if not the letter — of the fiduciary standard. MORE