Mary Jo White. (Photo: AP)President Barack Obama on Thursday named Mary Jo White as the new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing Elisse Walter as the temporary chairwoman.

White (left), called a tough prosecutor, who served as U.S. attorney in Manhattan before joining Debevoise & Plimpton as a partner in New York, must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the role as SEC chief.

The Senate Banking Committee is in a position to move “relatively quickly”—weeks not months—once they receive the nomination, says David Tittsworth, executive director of the Investment Adviser Association (IAA) in Washington.

A formal and complete background check will be required (as well as a review of potential conflicts by the White House ethics office) before White’s official nomination will be submitted to the Senate Banking Committee, Tittsworth added.  

While “it’s difficult to predict with certainty, the official nomination may not come until sometime in March,” Tittsworth says. “If that timeframe proves to be accurate, White would not be expected to formally join the Commission until sometime in April.”

Walter, an SEC commissioner, succeeded SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro after she departed on Dec. 14. Walter, though, was only expected to serve as the SEC’s head until the end of this year.

“Many of us wish that the exceptionally capable Elisse Walter had been given more time to serve as chairman,” Steve Crimmins, a partner with K&L Gates in Washington, who served for eight years as the SEC’s Deputy Chief Litigation Counsel, told AdvisorOne on Thursday. “But without question Mary Jo White is a good choice. White has the ability, high profile and credibility needed to lead the SEC in these challenging times for the agency.”

Obama announced White as his choice at the White House, and also named Richard Cordray for another term as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Cordray has been serving as a recess appointment for the last year.

Financial Services Institute CEO Dale Brown issued a written statement congratulating White on her nomination, saying that FSI looks forward “to working with her to preserve money market mutual funds and create an effective and efficient fiduciary standard.”

Thomas Gorman, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey Whitney who writes the SEC Actions Blog, says the selection of White “can only be seen as a clear message to Wall Street and Main Street that there is a new, tough sheriff in town.” White, he says, ”differs significantly from her immediate predecessors who were career securities regulators,” and selecting her is a ”message to the markets that the SEC is going to be increasingly aggressive in its approach to bringing and resolving enforcement actions.” 

The challenge for White, however, ”will be to balance the fact that the SEC is first and foremost a regulatory agency with her prosecutorial background to achieve the right posture and tone going forward for an agency which has moved past its prior difficulties and is moving forward in a positive direction,” Gorman says.

White’s husband, John White, retired from his post as director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance at the end of 2008. He is now a partner with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York.


Check out Elisse Walter’s recent statements, SEC’s New Chief: Dodd-Frank, JOBS Act Top SEC’s Priority List, at AdvisorOne.