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Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Arthur Levitt served as the 25th and longest serving Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. During his tenure there, he battled with some of the most powerful executives in corporate America in an attempt to reform the way in which they presented their financial data to Wall Street and, ultimately, the stock–market investing public.
Working his way up in a cut-throat high-stakes market to become president of the brokerage firm Carter, Berlind & Weill, Mr. Levitt became increasingly uncomfortable with what he viewed as the deteriorating ethical state of the financial industry or in his words “practices and attitudes that were misleading and sometimes deceptive.” He left the firm to take over the failing American Stock Exchange (AMEX), and during his eleven-year tenure turned it around in part by modernizing its operations and trading floor.
In 1993 Levitt accepted the post of SEC chairman from President Bill Clinton, and quickly went to work putting through reforms that helped the average investor better understand the market. He forced mutual–fund companies to issue prospectuses in plain English, for example, and instituted new rules for the municipal bond market. He also went after the National Association of Securities Dealers, and forced it to institute new rules in response to charges of price–fixing on its NASDAQ trading floor. Levitt pursued several more reforms that would have made it harder for corporations to commit accounting or auditing fraud, but his proposals were blocked by members of Congress, who were recipients of donations from firms that would have been affected by Levitt’s reforms.
Eight months after closing his history-making 8-year-tenure at the SEC, the failure of ENRON and its accounting/auditor scandal made headlines. This brought heightened relevance to Levitt’s book Take on the Street which came out a few months later and addressed the political-corporate corruption that was enabling such fraud in corporate America.
Levitt has gone on to advise several corporations. A speaker and consultant whose opinion is frequently featured in media outlets like Fortune. Forbes, and Bloomberg, he continues to push financial literacy and transparency within the financial services industry.
Coming from a background of 28 years on Wall Street as a broker and chairman of the American Stock Exchange, Arthur Levitt joined the SEC as the bull market of the 1990s was getting underway and would remain through the bust of the technology stock bubble, leaving the agency shortly before the accounting scandals of Enron, WorldCom, et al exploded into the public eye – just the sort of accounting deception he had fought to prevent during his years at the SEC.
During his career as head of the SEC, investor protection was Chairman Levitt’s top priority. Throughout his tenure at the Commission, he worked to educate, empower, and protect America’s investors.
Early in his tenure, Chairman Levitt created the Office of Investor Education and Assistance and established a website which allows the public free and easy access to corporate filings and investor education materials. In the past seven years Chairman Levitt has conducted more than forty investor town meetings throughout the country to listen to the concerns of investors and to give them tips on safe and wise participation in the securities markets.
Other hallmarks of Chairman Levitt’s tenure include improving the quality of the financial reporting process, maintaining the independence of auditors, saving investors billions of dollars by reducing spreads in the Nasdaq market, promoting the use of plain English, requiring that important information be released to all investors simultaneously, fighting Internet fraud, and cleaning up the municipal bond market.
Before joining the Commission, Arthur Levitt owned Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill. From 1989 to 1993, he served as the chairperson of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and from 1978 to 1989 he was the chairperson of the American Stock Exchange (Amex). Prior to joining the Amex, Arthur Levitt worked for 16 years on Wall Street. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College in 1952 before serving for two years in the Air Force.
After leaving the SEC, Arthur Levitt accepted a position as senior advisor to The Carlyle Group. He is on the board of Bloomberg LLP as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Arthur Levitt’s book, Take on the Street, was released in October 2002 and quickly appeared on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week’s bestseller lists. Take on the Street is a memoir of Arthur Levitt’s years at the SEC and an argument for his philosophy of investor-friendly regulation, as well as a how-to guide for small investors.
Former SEC Chairman, Arthur Levitt defends the Department of Labor’s proposed “fiduciary rule,” explaining that it is in the best interest of average workers with a modest income. Though some claim “a fiduciary standard” falls under the SEC’s responsibilities and powers, Mr. Levitt remarks that the SEC is currently too divided by politics, does not even consider a fiduciary standard one of its top priorities, and would ultimately probably bury any proposal.
For this and other reasons he advocates moving forward with the DOL’s plan which aims to ensure that professionals in the financial services industry act solely in the client’s interest when giving advice regarding people’s retirement savings. Emphasizing that people with modest incomes, fewer resources, and low financial literacy will benefit from this rule the most, he states, “The individual handling the transaction – whether you call him or her or broker or advisor is irrelevant. That person has a position of trust and that trust is most important with people who don’t have financial literacy. That’s where you’ll see the abuses occur.”
For decades Arthur Levitt fought to make the financial industry a friendlier and more transparent environment that would benefit the average individual who wished to invest. The former SEC Chairman, head of a stock exchange, and brokerage house offers unrivaled knowledge and insights on the inner workings of the stock market, navigating government regulations, repairing pension programs, and making Wall Street work for you. Arthur Levitt provides clear and smart strategies for corporations and layman investors looking to come up on the winning side in midst of recessions and changing policies.
The Subprime Primer
Drawing on his four decades of experience as head of a stock exchange, brokerage house, and the SEC, Arthur Levitt explains in clear, understandable language how the subprime mess happened and what the resulting credit crunch means to businesses and investors of all sizes and what impact it will have on new, dynamic areas of our markets such as private equity and hedge funds. He brings deep insight into what Washington is likely to do to respond, and what it should do, and how any new regulatory moves will affect the US and global economy.
The Future of Corporate Governance
Perhaps nothing′s more important – and more difficult – than navigating the compliance and regulatory issues governing today’s market. For corporations to survive and thrive, a clear coherent understanding of Sarbanes-Oxley regulation, along with current and potential regulation is not only important, but necessary. Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt provides audiences with innumerable strategies to continue being compliant – and avoid penalties and investigations.
Take On The Street
Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt’s sympathies have always been with the everyday investor: from establishing a website that allows free and easy access to corporate filings and investor education materials to holding numerous investor town meetings throughout the country to hear investors’ concerns, Levitt has always made their needs a priority. In this presentation, based on his best-selling book of the same name, Levitt reveals the tactics of wise investment in plain language, then spells out how to intelligently invest in mutual funds and the stock market. His advice, aimed not only at individual investors but also at brokerages and investment houses, shows audiences how to interpret annual reports, understand press releases and draw from more from reliable sources.
Pensions – The Coming Crisis
The pension crisis for U.S. businesses and employees is once again making headlines, threatening to engulf U.S. automakers as it did with steel companies and the airline industry. For three decades, the current pension structure has allowed a “shell-game” system of pension accounting to develop that misleads taxpayers and investors about the true fiscal health of their cities and companies, while allowing management to make promises to workers that saddle future generations with huge costs. Solutions are underway: proposals to shore up the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) are making their way through Congress. However, the problem will only get worse unless immediate action is taken to bring accuracy, transparency and accountability to pension accounting.
Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, provides an all-too-salient discussion of the current pension problems faced by today’s economy, along with recommendations about repairing them – for both the short and long term.
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