Mary Schapiro, who overhauled the Securities and Exchange Commission after the financial crisis, announced Monday that she is stepping down as chairwoman of the agency.
Schapiro, 57, will leave Dec. 14, becoming the first major departure from the Obama administration’s team of financial regulators.
The White House said Monday that President Barack Obama was naming Elisse Walter, an SEC commissioner, as the new chairwoman. Walter will not be an interim chairwoman and could have the top job for the foreseeable future, but eventually, a person briefed on the matter said, the White House is expected to nominate another agency chief.
In 2008, Obama nominated Schapiro, a political independent, to head the SEC at a time when economic turmoil had shaken investor confidence.
The agency was faulted for its lax oversight of brokerage firms like Lehman Brothers, which failed in 2008 and contributed to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Just weeks before Schapiro started as chairwoman, Wall Street investor Bernard Madoff was accused of running a large Ponzi scheme, further damaging the credibility of regulators like the SEC, which missed crucial warning signs about the fraud.
Schapiro, a lifelong regulator who previously ran the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, gained a reputation as a consensus builder. Schapiro overhauled the agency’s management ranks, revived the enforcement unit and secured more money and technology at a time when other agencies were asked to cut back. She also helped craft new rules for Wall Street oversight, as part of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul.
“The SEC came back from the brink,” said Harvey L. Pitt, a former SEC chairman. “I give her enormous credit for that.”
Consumer advocates and other critics, however, say she failed to grab the bully pulpit at a time the country needed a vocal critic of Wall Street. Since the financial crisis, the agency brought few enforcement cases against the Wall Street executives at the center of the crisis.
The SEC notes it has brought a record number of cases over the past two years. While no top banking executives have been charged, the agency has filed actions against 129 people and firms in the crisis.