The Securities and Exchange Commission may be “too close” to larger investment firms that they give them preferential treatment in SEC Actions, says a Harvard Law School study. One “tentative” explanation cited by the study is that SEC officials look to the larger broker-dealers-especially those located in New York-for future employment opportunities. The study also noted that the SEC was more likely to order smaller broker-dealers (than larger firms) to court, rather than merely slapping the firm with an administrative proceedings.
The Harvard study took a look at patterns the SEC exhibited when it enforced actions against investment firms in 1998, 2005, 2006, and Jan – April in 2007. Findings included:
• When large investment firms and smaller firms faced the same SEC violations for similar levels of harm, there was a 75% smaller chance that a big broker-dealer would have to go to court than one of its smaller counterparts.
• There was a 44% chance that employees from large broker-dealers would have to go to court to fight an SEC action, compared to a 73% possibility for employees of smaller broker-dealers.
• When facing SEC administrative proceedings, bigger firms were less likely to be banned from the industry. 25% of small firms defendants in such actions received permanent industry bans, compared to just 5% of large firm defendants.
• There did not appear to be a justifiable reason for why there was a disparity between the outcomes of SEC actions involving larger broker-dealers and smaller ones.
• However, both large and small firms were slapped with equivalent fines.
The study did not look at SEC enforcement actions in 1999 and 1920 because of worries the findings might be affected by the burst of the “dot.com bubble,” as well as the outcomes of SEC actions from 2008 that may have been impacted by the financial crisis.