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April 12, 2013

SEC Watch Alert: New SEC Chair Hiring an HFT Trader for a Senior Position?

No one can argue that the SEC needs to hire private sector professionals with as much market experience as they can get.  However, all such hires raise very serious questions about the revolving door and about who they will really be working for in their always-temporary public service position.

These are some of the most serious issues facing the new SEC Chairman, Mary Jo White, who has been in office all of two days now.  

In what appears to be a calculated leak/trial balloon, Bloomberg is reporting that she is considering hiring “high speed trader” and EVP/partner in HFT mega-shop Virtu Chris Concannon to be the head of the SEC’s Markets and Trading Division.  On the one hand, high speed trading (or, more accurately, high speed quoting b/c so few of the quotes actually become trades) is one of the most important issues facing our markets today and the SEC desperately needs expertise in this area and it needs to make it a priority.  This report would suggest that Mary Jo White gets that, which is excellent news.

However, there are many issues raised by Mr. Concannon’s private sector business activities and actions that must be thoroughly vetted and publicly addressed before he is appointed to such a critically important high level position.  For example, he is on a CFTC HFT advisory committee and there are strong indications that he was decidedly unhelpful in fashioning recommendations that were in the public interest or, indeed, subordinated the public interest to business-as-usual dark markets where predatory, if not illegal, activities seem to be flourishing.  Yes, he was an industry representative on the committee (as almost everyone is, as is sadly typical on such “advisory” committees), so maybe that doesn’t tell us much about what he would do in a very senior position at the SEC.  However, it and his many other activities should be reviewed very carefully so that we can be sure that this isn’t just another fox in the henhouse spinning through the revolving door.

If he’s willing to fully answer all the questions and genuinely put his knowledge, experience and talents to service for the public — without fear or favor — then bravo.  But, if the SEC has any hope of restoring public confidence in it, then this has to be done openly and publicly before he is appointed.  Then, of course, the proof will be in what the SEC actually does after the appointment.  

We’ll be watching.



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