On December 10, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Stephanie Avakian, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, will conclude her tenure by the end of 2020. During Avakian’s four-year tenure, first as Co-Director and then Director, the SEC Whistleblower Program played an increasingly critical role in the agency’s enforcement efforts.
According to the SEC’s press release, Avakian “placed a particular focus on centralizing the Division’s efforts to distribute funds to harmed investors and streamlining the processes to award whistleblowers.” Since December 2016, when Avakian took on the role of Acting Director, the SEC has issued approximately $595 million in whistleblower awards. Furthermore, in the 2020 fiscal year, the SEC awarded $175 million to 39 whistleblowers, both the highest dollar amount and the highest number of individuals awarded in a single fiscal year. Under Avakian’s leadership, the SEC also issued the six largest awards in program history – including the record-setting $114 million award issued in October.
In September 2020, Avakian gave a speech in which she touched on the success of the SEC Whistleblower Program: “We are also very proud of the improvements we have made to the Whistleblower Program. This program is critically important to the SEC and to the Enforcement Division. It is important to reward whistleblowers and to do it timely. Since the enactment of the program in 2011, whistleblower tips have resulted in numerous high-quality enforcement actions.”
In the press release announcing the end of her tenure, Avakian extended numerous thanks: “I am grateful to Chairman Clayton for giving me the opportunity to lead the Division, and the freedom and support to run an aggressive enforcement program. To everyone in the Enforcement Division, thank you. Thank you for your passion for our mission and your hard work on behalf of investors, particularly in the face of unprecedented challenges. Thank you, as well, for your good humor, and for the kindness you showed daily, to me and to each other. You made this an incredibly rewarding job, and I will miss working alongside you.”
According to the SEC, during Avakian’s tenure, “the Division of Enforcement recommended and the Commission brought more than 3,000 enforcement actions, obtained more than $17 billion in financial remedies, returned approximately $3.6 billion to harmed investors, and paid awards of approximately $595 million to whistleblowers.”
“I am incredibly proud of what the women and men of the Division of Enforcement have accomplished under Stephanie’s leadership. Her focus on the vigorous pursuit of quality cases, using the resources of the Division to maximum effect, has resulted in a program that is tough on violators, enhances the integrity of our markets, and puts the interests of our Main Street investors first,” said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton.
On November 16, the SEC announced that Chairman Clayton will also be stepping down from his role by the end of the year. Clayton and Avakian’s replacements have not been announced.