- Associated Press - Monday, November 26, 2012

The leadership of the Securities and Exchange Commission will change next month. Its approach to regulation probably won’t.

Mary L. Schapiro announced Monday she was stepping down as chairwoman after a tumultuous tenure in which she helped lead the government’s regulatory response to the 2008 global financial crisis.

President Obama’s choice to replace her, also announced Monday, is Elisse B. Walter, one of five SEC commissioners, whose career path has tracked Ms. Schapiro’s for nearly three decades.

Ms. Walter has served under Ms. Schapiro at both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the securities industry’s self-policing organization. Both women worked at the SEC in the 1980s. Ms. Walter was also general counsel of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission when Ms. Schapiro led that agency in the mid-1990s.

Ms. Walter will take over at a critical time for the SEC, which is seeking stricter rules for money-market mutual funds and must get into shape the so-called “Volcker Rule,” which would bar banks from making certain trades for their own profit. The agency is also pursuing enforcement actions against banks over their sales of risky mortgage securities before the housing bust.

Mr. Obama can fill the SEC chairman’s job without Senate approval because Ms. Walter has already been confirmed through 2013.

The president will need to nominate a permanent successor before Ms. Walter’s term ends in December 2013.

Ms. Schapiro’s challenges have probably been the most difficult any SEC chairman has faced, John Coffee, a professor of securities law at Columbia University, said. She took office after the financial crisis and the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme had eroded public and congressional confidence in the SEC. Since then, the agency has struggled with budgetary shortfalls.

In a statement Monday, Mr. Obama said the watchdog agency “is stronger and our financial system is safer and better able to serve the American people — thanks in large part to Mary’s hard work.”

But critics argued that Ms. Schapiro, 57, failed to act aggressively to charge leading bankers who may have contributed to the crisis. And consumer advocates questioned her appointment because she had led FINRA.