SEC Chair Clayton Confirms Plan to Step Down at Year’s End

Jay Clayton’s stint at the helm of the Securities and Exchange Commission included oversight of the Regulation Best Interest finalization and implementation process, among other important projects.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) confirmed on Monday that Chairman Jay Clayton will depart from the market regulator at the end of the year.

For the retirement plan adviser audience, several projects overseen by Clayton during his three-and-a-half year tenure stand out, most notably the finalization and implementation of the Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) rulemaking package and 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.

As is normally the case during a presidential transition, Clayton’s departure will clear the way for President-elect Joe Biden to name his own leader at the SEC, raising—but by no means ensuring—the possibility that the SEC could reverse course on these matters. At this early juncture, it stands to reason that Biden’s choice of nominee may be significantly impacted by the makeup of the U.S. Senate, which will not be known until early next year.

Also notable is Clayton’s oversight of actions that have significantly altered the proxy voting and advisory process—a move that generated significant ire from many parties in the financial services industry. On the other hand, many industry stakeholders have praised the SEC’s moves to modernize the rules and requirements applying to digital advertising by regulated entities.

During Clayton’s tenure, according to an SEC statement, the regulator obtained orders for more than $14 billion in monetary remedies, including a record $4.68 billion in fiscal year 2020, and it returned approximately $3.5 billion to harmed investors. In addition, during Clayton’s tenure, the SEC paid approximately $565 million to whistleblowers, including the largest single award in the program’s history, totaling $114 million.

“Working alongside the incredibly talented and driven women and men of the SEC has been the highlight of my career,” Clayton said in the statement confirming his departure. “I am proud of our collective efforts to advance each part of the SEC’s tripartite mission, always with an eye on the interests of our Main Street investors. The U.S. capital markets ecosystem is the strongest and most nimble in the world, and thanks to the hard work of the diverse and inclusive SEC team, we have improved investor protections, promoted capital formation for small and larger businesses, and enabled our markets to function more transparently and efficiently.”