US Markets

Jay Clayton says he will step down early as head of the SEC at the end of 2020

Key Points
  • Jay Clayton said Monday he will step down as SEC chair at the end of the year, ahead of the expiration of his term in June.
  • Though he was occasionally criticized as being too soft on Wall Street, the commission saw a record $4.68 billion in various fines and agreements in 2020.
  • SEC chairs traditionally step down when the presidency changes hands.
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SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to step down at end of year

Jay Clayton, who has led the Securities and Exchange Commission for the past 3½ years that included a number of major changes in financial markets, said Monday he will step down at the end of the year.

"Working alongside the incredibly talented and driven women and men of the SEC has been the highlight of my career," Clayton said in a statement. His term would have expired in June 2021.

His tenure as chairman ends following a period in which the SEC extracted some $14 billion in various fines and agreements with violators of regulatory standards. That included $4.68 billion in fiscal 2020, a record.

With markets getting increasingly complex and automated, the SEC has been looked to stand as a referee and prevent some of the glitches that became commonplace earlier in the decade.

"The U.S. capital markets ecosystem is the strongest and most nimble in the world, and thanks to the hard work of the diverse and inclusive SEC team, we have improved investor protections, promoted capital formation for small and larger businesses, and enabled our markets to function more transparently and efficiently," Clayton said.

SEC chairs traditionally step down when an administration ends, and Clayton's resignation comes two months before Joe Biden will take over as president. Potential successors at the agency include former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Clayton has said he wants to return to New York. Senior Democratic SEC Commissioner Allison Lee likely will be named to serve as acting chair, Reuters reported.

President Donald Trump named Clayton to head the SEC and has since said he intended to nominate him to serve as U.S. attorney in Manhattan. Political fallout after Clayton was blamed for helping oust Geoffrey Berman from the job scuttled the move.

Though some critics said Clayton was too easy on corporate America, his tenure featured a high level of enforcement actions. Perhaps his biggest target was Tesla founder Elon Musk, who was forced to step down as chairman and pay a $20 million fine as a result of tweets he sent regarding the company.