SEC Backs Down on Proposal—For Now

Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said Wednesday the commission called off a vote to reform the structure of money market funds.

The proposed regulations were intended to reduce the susceptibility of money market funds to runs by investors in troubled times. Three of the five SEC commissioners stated they would not support the changes, so the issue can no longer be put to a vote at a public commission meeting.

Schapiro expressed disappointment with the outcome. “I consider the structural reform of money markets one of the pieces of unfinished business from the financial crisis,” she said.

Financial advisers and asset management trade organizations, which had weighed in against the proposed regulation with strong comment letters to the SEC, were pleased with the decision. (See “Trade Groups Object to SEC Money Fund Regulations.”)

The proposed regulations would have greatly impaired the ability of 401(k) plans to use money market funds, according to some of the organizations. “I think if there are concerns about money market funds moving forward, [regulators] need to accommodate the unique needs of 401(k) plans,” Brian Graff, executive director and chief executive of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries, told PLANADVISER.

The Financial Services Institute (FSI) called the proposal a move by the SEC to protect investors and strengthen the U.S. regulatory system.


“Imposing a floating NAV [net asset value] on money market funds is simply not in the best interests of American investors or businesses,” said Dale Brown, president and chief executive of FSI. “This measure could unnecessarily undermine one of the key instruments that Main Street investors count on for stability and liquidity, while depriving businesses and governments of a crucial source of financing.”

According to Schapiro’s statement, some of the commissioners suggested a concept release, which is used to solicit the public’s views on securities issues so that that they can evaluate the need for future rulemaking.

The SEC has been wrangling with the issue of structural reform of money market funds for more than two years, and a concept release would not advance the discussion, Schapiro said. “The public needs concrete proposals to react to,” Schapiro said.

Schapiro’s statement contained hints that the issue is far from over, and that she would look for other regulators and agencies to jump into the fray. “Other policymakers now have clarity that the SEC will not act to issue a money market fund reform proposal,” she said.

Money market funds operate without a net, she contended. Pointing to the financial crisis of 2008-09, Schapiro stated that one of the downturn’s most critical lessons is the need to identify potential systemic risk, or a possible industry bailout, and act on it.

Financial regulators from both parties have spoken out in support of structural reform of money market funds, according to Schapiro, as have independent observers, such as academics and the financial press. “The issue is too important to investors, to our economy and to taxpayers to put our head in the sand and wish it away,” she said. “Money market funds’ susceptibility to runs needs to be addressed.”