SEC Chair says to step down before term ends

SEC Chair Mary Jo White, pictured in June 2016, becomes the first major political appointee to head for the exit when President Barack Obama leaves office (AFP Photo/Mark Wilson)

Washington (AFP) - The chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, will step down in January, three years before the end of her term, the SEC announced Monday.

White becomes the first major political appointee to head for the exit when President Barack Obama leaves office, following Donald Trump's upset victory last week in the race for the White House.

Trump has signaled a coming shift in the enforcement of securities and financial regulations.

The SEC statement did not address the reasons for White's early departure. She said that during her reign the agency succeeded in protecting investors as well improving oversight in areas such as asset management and corporate disclosures.

"I am very proud of our three consecutive years of record enforcement actions, dozens of fundamental reforms through our rulemakings that have strengthened investor protections and market stability," White said.

A former federal prosecutor, White took over leadership of the SEC in April 2013 after a lengthy career as a powerful white-collar criminal defense attorney, having represented major corporations that went on to face SEC scrutiny under her leadership of the agency.

She took charge of the regulator as the dust was still settling from the 2008 global financial crisis and with ire among lawmakers at perceived government leniency toward large financial institutions near its zenith.

White's connections, including the fact her husband is a corporate attorney, required her to recuse herself from multiple matters that came before the SEC, according to media reports. They also attracted the suspicions of reform-minded critics, who saw White as too close to the industry she was meant to hold to account.

Firebrand Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has campaigned for greater accountability on Wall Street, last month called for White's resignation and accused her of undermining the Obama administration's priorities for corporate accountability.

In a statement late Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew praised White as a champion of fair and secure markets.

"Under Mary Jo's stewardship, the SEC has reduced risks to our financial stability and recognized that it must adapt to new trends in markets to provide effective oversight," said Lew.

However Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, said White had failed the public by styming regulation, reducing corporate transparency and "slow-walking" the rulemaking process under the landmark 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

"Mary Jo White was a disappointing chair," the group said in a statement.