The Investor’s Advocate:
How the SEC Protects Investors, Maintains Market Integrity, and Facilitates Capital Formation
The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.
As more and more first-time investors turn to the markets to help secure their futures, pay for homes, and send children to college, our investor protection mission is more compelling than ever.
As our nation’s securities exchanges mature into global for-profit competitors, there is even greater need for sound market regulation.
And the common interest of all Americans in a growing economy that produces jobs, improves our standard of living, and protects the value of our savings means that all of the SEC’s actions must be taken with an eye toward promoting the capital formation that is necessary to sustain economic growth.
The world of investing is fascinating and complex, and it can be very fruitful. But unlike the banking world, where deposits are guaranteed by the federal government, stocks, bonds and other securities can lose value. There are no guarantees. That’s why investing is not a spectator sport. By far the best way for investors to protect the money they put into the securities markets is to do research and ask questions.
The laws and rules that govern the securities industry in the United States derive from a simple and straightforward concept: all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to certain basic facts about an investment prior to buying it, and so long as they hold it. To achieve this, the SEC requires public companies to disclose meaningful financial and other information to the public. This provides a common pool of knowledge for all investors to use to judge for themselves whether to buy, sell, or hold a particular security. Only through the steady flow of timely, comprehensive, and accurate information can people make sound investment decisions.
The result of this information flow is a far more active, efficient, and transparent capital market that facilitates the capital formation so important to our nation’s economy. To insure that this objective is always being met, the SEC continually works with all major market participants, including especially the investors in our securities markets, to listen to their concerns and to learn from their experience.
The SEC oversees the key participants in the securities world, including securities exchanges, securities brokers and dealers, investment advisors, and mutual funds. Here the SEC is concerned primarily with promoting the disclosure of important market-related information, maintaining fair dealing, and protecting against fraud.
Crucial to the SEC’s effectiveness in each of these areas is its enforcement authority. Each year the SEC brings hundreds of civil enforcement actions against individuals and companies for violation of the securities laws. Typical infractions include insider trading, accounting fraud, and providing false or misleading information about securities and the companies that issue them.
One of the major sources of information on which the SEC relies to bring enforcement action is investors themselves – another reason that educated and careful investors are so critical to the functioning of efficient markets. To help support investor education, the SEC offers the public a wealth of educational information on this Internet website, which also includes the EDGAR database of disclosure documents that public companies are required to file with the Commission.
Though it is the primary overseer and regulator of the U.S. securities markets, the SEC works closely with many other institutions, including Congress, other federal departments and agencies, the self-regulatory organizations (e.g. the stock exchanges), state securities regulators, and various private sector organizations. In particular, the Chairman of the SEC, together with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, serves as a member of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets.