The Spotlight On: Mary Schapiro, chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission

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The Independent Online

The world's most powerful female regulator?

The very same. The SEC is one of the main US agencies sorting out the lessons of the credit crisis and making sure that it cannot happen again, and that makes Ms Schapiro, who turned 57 this week, the nation's top securities industry cop.

This is the cop who missed the giant frauds of Bernard Madoff, Allen Stanford, and on and on?

It's true that the SEC has a chequered history, but Ms Schapiro has been at the helm only since 2009 and she has brought a toughness to enforcement that belies her soft-spoken manner. She was once dismissed as a "blond 5ft 2in girl" by a head of the Chicago Board of Trade; no one says that sort of thing these days.

She is quite the veteran now, right?

Ronald Reagan appointed her the youngest SEC commissioner all the way back in 1988 and she has been a regulator for most of her career. She got interested in regulation after seeing Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother try to corner the silver market in the Seventies.

What's her background?

She trained as a lawyer rather than a banker; in fact, she startled folk by admitting to being so bad at maths she couldn't help her 12-year-old daughter with her homework.

I'm startled

She made the point that maths is not the important thing, it's understanding the structure of markets and of regulation.


And that's why she is so exercised at the moment about trying to reform the money market fund industry, in the teeth of huge pushback from Wall Street lobbyists. Money market funds are dressed up to look like bank accounts but they are susceptible to runs, like one that happened in 2008, she told a Congressional hearing yesterday. This might be one of the toughest battles of her career, and it is just getting started.