How to get the SEC to pay you $14 million

Mary Jo White is hosting her version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”
Mary Jo White is hosting her version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”
Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Yesterday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would give an unnamed whistleblower $14 million for helping it pin down a case against a firm or individuals. The details are hazy—partly because the whistleblower didn’t want to be identified—but the message is clear: If you report securities violations to the SEC and help them win a case, you could win big.

It’s part of a new policy introduced by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act and the third such payout in SEC history, following smaller awards in August 2012 and August through September of this year. The SEC is trying to do a lot with few resources; Mary Jo White, the chair of the SEC, has said bluntly that the organization needs more cash to keep pace with Wall Street. Luckily for the agency, these cash awards—which represent 10% to 30% of the money collected in a case—don’t come from the SEC’s budget; they come from the SEC’s Investor Protection Fund, which got a boatload of cash from the Treasury (paywall) in 2010.

But if you have dirt to dish and see a big payout in your future, be warned: there are a handful of hoops to jump through to qualify for a cash award:

  • You have to beat the SEC and Congress to the punch with any new information. As soon as either of these bodies asks for information from you or your lawyers, you’re out of luck.
  • While the SEC can offer the anonymity, you still risk being found out by your firm.
  • You have to contact the SEC within 120 days of reporting an issue within your firm to your compliance department.
  • Information can apply to ongoing cases, but it can’t be just anything. The dish has to be juicy enough to result in an enforcement action.
  • Smaller cases—under $1 million—don’t hold much sway with the SEC. They’re mainly interested in bringing in the big bucks.
  • Prepare to receive a discounted reward for reporting on cases to the SEC that you were involved in.