SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins, '83, urges conservative approach to regulation

Paul Atkins

SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins spoke at the law school in October.

Securities and Exchange Commissioner Paul Atkins approaches securities regulation with the same perspective as a good physician. First and foremost, he believes regulations should do no harm.

Atkins, who earned his J.D. at Vanderbilt in 1983, was appointed to the SEC by President George W. Bush in 2002. As an SEC Commissioner, Atkins has established himself as a conservative in the traditional sense. "The SEC, in the course of its seven decades, has too often fallen prey to the 'regulatory impulse' - jumping to respond with rule-based solutions to any and every problem without checking first to see whether the market might have a better way to solve the problem," he said during a talk at Vanderbilt Law School on October 20 sponsored by the Law & Business Society.

Atkins urges that all proposed regulations be subject to a careful cost/benefit analysis before they are implemented to determine whether the benefits afforded public investors justify the cost companies will pay to comply with them. "Direct intervention by government always requires careful consideration to examine the economic ramifications of its rules," he said.

Throughout his 22-year career, Atkins has focused on the financial services industry and securities regulation. Before his appointment as commissioner, he assisted financial services firms in improving their compliance with SEC regulations and worked with law enforcement agencies to investigate and rectify situations where investors had been harmed. The largest of these investigations involved the Bennett Funding Group, Inc., a $1 billion leasing company that perpetrated the largest "Ponzi" fraud in U.S. history, in which more than 20,000 investors lost much of their investment. Assisting the company's court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, he served as crisis president of Bennett's sole surviving subsidiary. By stabilizing its finances and operations and rebuilding and expanding its business, Commissioner Atkins improved its share value for the remaining investors by almost 2000%.

From 1990-94, Commissioner Atkins served on the staff of two former chairmen of the SEC, Richard C. Breeden and Arthur Levitt, ultimately as executive assistant and counselor, respectively. He began his career as a lawyer in New York City, focusing on a wide range of corporate transactions for U.S. and foreign clients, including public and private securities offerings and mergers and acquisitions.