Most Americans understand the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission to involve the protection of investors and bringing inside traders and other financial malefactors to heel.
That is certainly the core of what the SEC does. But for nearly 30 years, it has also operated an Office of International Affairs, the branch charged with dealing with foreign nations on a variety of issues related to the lawful regulation of markets.
Staffed by approximately 45 people, the office has a broad-ranging and challenging portfolio of responsibilities, which were outlined during a talk given at the Columbus School of Law on Feb. 19 by Geoffrey Aronow, chief counsel and senior policy advisor in the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
After an introduction from CUA Law Professor David Lipton, director of Catholic University’s Securities Law Program, Aronow explained that his office has five chief duties in relation to other countries: enforcement, supervisory cooperation, technical assistance, regulatory policy, and comparative law.
It sounds clear on paper, but executing the mission is complicated in real life. “We’re dealing with issues for which there isn’t much of a rule book,” Aronow observed.
The regulation of financial markets by governmental supervisory bodies is a complex undertaking everywhere, not only in the United States. The SEC’s international affairs office routinely works with at least six international regulatory entities, three major financial institutions, and a long list of G20 officials in other countries.
“You have a cacophony of voices often talking about the same issues,” said Aronow.
The complexity is magnified by the fact that European financial regulation usually means regulating banks. In the U.S., it more often involves securities regulation, a somewhat different animal. Best practices for financial regulation of securities markets, such as disclosure, might not be as effective for financial regulation of banks.
The substantial recession of the past several years in the United States has added additional weight to the already heavy burden of the office’s relatively small workforce.
As the SEC’s policing tactics have adapted to keep track with the times, the agency has worked to ensure that the kinds of financial practices that contributed to America’s recession are not exported – by design or accident - to put the market systems of other nations at risk.
Aronow, whose own career mixes extensive private practice and public sector experience, said that the role of his office is a unique and fulfilling one, even as his colleagues deal with many competing and different agendas as they work with their peers overseas.
The presentation was sponsored by the Columbus School of Law Securities Law Program in cooperation with the Comparative and International Law Program.