After several weeks of anticipation, the SEC's Division of Enforcement announced July 2 three new special initiatives: a Microcap Fraud Task Force, a Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force, and a Center for Risk and Quantitative Analytics. These new groups are in addition to the five Specialized Units announced in 2010, shortly after the last leadership change at the top of the Division. Those units – Market Abuse, Structured and New Products, Asset Management, Municipal Securities, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – have been something of a mixed bag, dividing personnel between offices and creating strange reporting lines. The existence of specialty units has also put pressure on the SEC staff to bring a higher volume of cases, and more matters, in those areas (with mixed results).
This time around should be a little easier.
Finding microcap fraud is like shooting fish in a barrel. The question really will be whether the staff will actually start targeting the recidivists who prey on investors in this area. Maybe those "obey-the-law" injunctions will finally get put to some use and we will even see some contempt cases. That would be something really new!
Getting people to work together – between Enforcement, Corp Fin, and the various Chief Accountants' Offices – could very well improve the SEC's monitoring of disclosures and offer Enforcement a look into "the next big thing" in financial reporting, which often happens in the Corp Fin comment process.
Finally, it is not a surprise that the Deputy from Market Intelligence is heading up the Center for Risk and Quantitative Analytics (or CRQA – finally, an unpronounceable acronym – we can look forward to what that becomes). The Market Intelligence and the Market Abuse Unit have been singularly successful at actually using technology, which the agency needs to harness and develop in order to actually identify threats to investors and the markets. The Enforcement Division has been talking about risk-based approaches for years, with varying degrees of commitment. Maybe this time it will stick.