Busy Days Ahead for SEC Leadership, Chair Gary Gensler

Among the more telling chapters in Gensler’s biography is his work helping to draft the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as a senior adviser to former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes in the wake of the Enron scandal. 

The incoming Biden-Harris administration will nominate Gary Gensler as the next chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Pending confirmation in the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, Gensler will take over leadership of the SEC from Elad Roisman, who recently assumed the role of acting chair following the departure of Jay Clayton.

Gensler is perhaps best known for being a senior adviser to U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes during the drafting of the influential Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which, among many other provisions, established that top management of publicly owned companies must individually certify the accuracy of financial information. In addition, penalties for fraudulent financial activity were made much more severe by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Other relevant details in Gensler’s background include his service as under secretary of the Treasury for domestic finance from 1999 to 2001 and assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial markets from 1997 to 1999. Furthermore, Gensler was chairman of the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission from 2017 to 2019, and he served on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) from 2009 to 2014, leading the Obama-Biden administration’s reform of the swaps market.

As sources have told PLANADVISER, the Biden-Harris administration’s choices of economic nominees and appointees are sending a clear message. Overall, rather than removing barriers to capital markets, their focus will be on ensuring compliance by market participants.

For many in the retirement plan adviser audience, all eyes will be on the question of whether the Biden-led SEC will reconsider the recent finalization and implementation of the Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) rulemaking package, or the SEC’s related restatement of the fiduciary duty imposed by the Investment Advisers Act. The past few years have also seen significant collaboration between the SEC and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), leading to the creation of a new model framework for annuity transaction suitability that has now been embraced by multiple states.

Though it is too soon so say what his focus might be in leading the SEC, Gensler’s more recent work might hold some clues. Currently, Gensler is a professor of the practice of global economics and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management. He is also active in the research areas of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology, having won the Sloan Outstanding Teacher Award based on student nominations for the 2018 to 2019 academic year.