Tell me about regulatory enforcement careers
November 3, 2011 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about careers in financial-sector regulation. What kind of advanced education would help me get work with the U.S. Department of Justice, the FDIC, the SEC, or a state regulator? Is it better to focus on states (which ones?) or the federal government for this kind of stuff? Do some universities graduate more people into this kind of work than others? What kind of dues paying is required before the work gets interesting? What should I consider as I weigh either pursuing legal or finance training?

After more than a decade as a business journalist, I still (mostly) love my job, but I'd like to start positioning myself for something different. The constant layoffs, shrinking budgets, and declining relevance as our audience evaporates are getting to me.

There are a lot of second career options that interest me, and I'm still not sure what I'll do next, but right now regulation holds my fascination for several reasons:
* I love covering banking and finance, and have an above-average understanding of balance sheets and the nuances of reading between the lines to understand the soundness of small and midsize regional banks. Need to learn a lot more to do it well professionally, but I think I'd enjoy that.
* I like holding individuals and organizations accountable through my work, and I believe I have a good balance of compassion at human failings and moral outrage when those failings have serious consequences.
* I want to feel as though I'm contributing to the common good and the well being of my community and my country.
* I perceive a need for better enforcement, and would love to be a part of the solution.

As background, I'm taking the LSAT in December. I've taken two practice tests, scoring 161 (before studying logic puzzles) and 171 (with a little study, but not much), and hope to get toward the high end of that range or higher. If I don't, I probably have to rule out law school, as my undergrad GPA was around 2.5. (I was a 40-hour-a-week college newspaper editor who occasionally went to class; my priorities are different and I'm sure I'd do much better now.) Law is just one way to get at this regulatory stuff, though, and I'm not sure it's the best approach.

I've read the "careers" pages for the FDIC, SEC and DOJ, plus this place. Except for the entry-level "honors attorneys" at Justice, however, these websites tend to include a paragraph-long job description, with minimal information about the training and experience required to get these jobs.

I'd love any insight that mefifolks can provide. Thanks.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need to read between the lines of the paragraph-long job descriptions. In order to perform the functions indicated, they are expecting your resume to include actually performing those functions in some manner.

Perform a range of complex, sensitive work necessary to effectively administer the Bank Secrecy Act, including development and implementation of policy, outreach, issuance of regulations and guidance and recommending appropriate agency actions to RP management. Conduct projects or studies of initiatives associated with BSA regulation and oversight of regulated industries to identify solutions to problems; develop legislative or regulatory proposals; resolve regulatory policy matters; and prepare guidance and interpretative materials related to policy and regulatory issues. Liaise with regulatory partners, industry and law enforcement and officials of other organizations to discuss regulations or regulatory policy, problem resolution, BSA requirements.

"complex sentitive work" - do you have security clearance? could you get security clearance?

Have you implemented policy, enforced policies? Are you an expert in the Bank Secrecy Act?

Have you conducted studies and analysis? Written regulatory proposals?

Can you/have you interacted with the types of organizations and high level officials of organizations?

Many people have gone into the regulatory world from the business lately, since they understand the operations and functions being performed that need regulation. (While the media and other seem to find this "bad" because these people are somehow infultrating the regulators to make things easier for the businesses, from my friends that ahve made the switch, the opposite is typically true).

I really think from a business journalist transitioning, you are looking at an entry level or the next level up from that. The writing and analysis should help you out, but I'm not sure what specific qualifications they look for. I've seen all types in the different agencies (FINRA, the various FED branches, etc). I don't think you need a law degree, especially for the policy enforcement and review functions.

I'd probably dial-back on the "perceive a need for better enforcement" angle, as they may peg you as someone with a political agenda.

But it's going to be fitting your resume to highlight how what you've done easily translates into what they are looking for. highlighting investigative and analytical pieces you've done, as well as your interactions with higher level officials at organizations (interviews) would probably be a good path.

Education-wise, getting some accredited licenses (there are some you can study and attain without sponsorship) would be useful, as well.
posted by rich at 8:15 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's much, much more to financial regulation than busting the bad guys Obviously there is some of that, but you might find lots of other stuff of interest too. For example, there's policy making, and licensing of operators. rich makes some good points on this. If you're a financial journalist, don't forget that regulators need corporate communicators too. You might like to browse the CV's here to get some idea of the variety of backgrounds of the senior staff of one regulator.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:26 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: No, rich, I don't have any of this experience and I recognize that I'll probably be pretty close to entry level. But do these places even have entry level jobs, or does "entry level" mean working at a bank for a few years before transitioning in? Is a license and accreditation enough, or do I need a master's degree? Looks like you're saying accreditation is a fine start.

And yes, I'm aware that applying for a job is a process that requires diplomacy. But this post is not my application, it's my statement of motives.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:27 AM on November 3, 2011

There's a HUGE need for public interest/government professionals with a deep understanding of the financial system ... or at the very least, a basic ability to read balance sheets! The imbalance is extreme, because, naturally, the people who really understand the system go to Wall Street to make $$$, instead of getting a GS-11 entry-level job with the SEC, or an even lower paying job with a nonprofit. Even if they subsequently do switch sides and become a regulator, the ex-Wall Street folk never truly leave Wall Street behind. (Cf, Rich's comment that you shouldn't dare to suggest that you "perceive need for better enforcement"!!)

As a business journalist, I think you might be well positioned now to look for a job doing communications or policy writing for a nonprofit dealing with financial issues. It might take a while, though, and you'd almost certainly have to move to DC.

I don't think that there are any feasible entry-level government jobs for you right now.

A JD is also another feasible route for either govt of public interest work, assuming that you don't take on too much debt. Even leaving the debt aside, though, a JD is a huge undertaking -- three years, lots of stress, and starting out at the bottom again when you get out. You would also have to be focused like a laser beam on your goal in law school -- taking all the finance classes you can, schmoozing with profs so you can co-author an article, writing your own articles, and getting great grades. The other REALLY important thing would be to line up relevant internships (ideally, 5 or 6-- one each summer and one each semester of your 2L and 3L years). For a public interest person, that's really the whole point of law school -- to make connections with as many different organizations you can. Accordingly, you'd probably have to go to law school in DC or NYC, where these organizations exist. If I were creating my fantasy law school intership plan, I'd say: 1L summer intern on Capitol Hill; 2L year intern for a legal services org and a policy org; 2L summer intern for a policy org; 3L year intern for a federal judge and a regulatory agency.

Feel free to memail me for a list of public interest organizations that might interest you.
posted by yarly at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what I've heard, getting a job as a lawyer at DOJ and SEC is EXTREMELY competitive. Best way to get a job is to 1) get into a top-tier law school. 2) Do well and get a job at a soul-sucking, high-pressure BigLaw firm. 3) Work 80+ hours a week in an area related to financial regulation for 5 years or so. 4) Apply to work for the government.

I believe an easier spot to score might be as a bank examiner, such as at the Fed. The Fed is also a little more like the private sector in their hiring practices - less bureaucratic - so it might be worth talking to their HR departments. (I believe each Fed bank hires their own examiners, so it's also more geographically flexible.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:52 AM on November 3, 2011

The OCC lays out its requirements for Entry-Level Bank Examiner pretty clearly here. The OCC perhaps doesn't have the public awareness that the Fed and the FDIC have, but I think the OCC examiners are the true "boots on the ground," so to speak.
posted by mullacc at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2011

Don't forget the self-regulating bodies. FINRA, MSRB.

Its not impossible to get a job at SEC. Right now, there are very few hires at DOJ due to lack of funds. I happen to be best friends with some way-up types there and they are barely going out and hiring right now.

But you are talking about 3 years down the road.

The way in the door at the SEC is the Student Observer Program. I did a semester in the Enforcement Division, Litigation section. Worked my ass off--remember the first day, everyone did the meet 'n greet, but the two of us shook a few hands and were immediately thrown into drafting motions. I got a lot of great experience writing there. It was fun!

its currently way harder to get into BigLaw than it is the government.

I like Mr.Know-it-some's idea of applying for a Bank Examiner job.

What you need is a knowledge of accounting, more than anything. That's hard stuff.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:01 AM on November 3, 2011

Ironmouth and Mr. Know-it-some picked up on where I was trying to go.. places like the Fed, Finra, MSRB, OCC, and the like are quasi-government. Also, the OFR (Office of Financial Reporting) was created through the Frank-Dodd act and they're going to need to staff up fairly quickly through the next year.

Logophiliac had a good point, as well - you could get into the PR/relations side of things a bit easier with your background.

SEC, FDIC and CFTC (and the like) are places that would be a bit harder to crack into.
posted by rich at 9:09 AM on November 3, 2011

There's also the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been doing lots of spurts of hiring over the last year or so and seems to be looking for folks from a range of backgrounds - might be worth keeping tabs on their postings.
posted by yarrow at 10:10 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: This is all very helpful. Thanks. I know that PR would be a logical step, but I have a pathological aversion to public relations work.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:23 PM on November 3, 2011

Is there a way you can email me your resume? I might be able to help out. I could post an email address here, but would prefer to somehow handle it through my MeFi there an email system on here to do that?
posted by zipadee at 4:30 PM on November 3, 2011

Realize you might not want to break anonymity by doing that...will say that the job or jobs I could get you are not super high paying compared to actually being a regulator, although they might beat journalism.

Speaking of which: is it really that bad being a business journalist? If you want to effect change journalism really can be a good place to do that. Although I realize things are really bad economically in the field, there do seem to be a number of good business outlets that do a lot of good work.
posted by zipadee at 4:33 PM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Zipadee - I'll MeMail you within a few hours -- look at the image of the envelope on the top right of your screen, messages show up there. Thanks!
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:55 PM on November 3, 2011

Another path you might want to consider is a Public Policy degree. I am getting one right now and it is supposed to be a mix of policy focused economics, various technical skills (accounting, etc) and in depth knowledge of, say, international security policy or economic and political development. The government is a pretty common placement from my program (but so are NGOs, consultancies, rating agencies and multilateral organizations).

Feel free to memail if you want gory, nerdy, policy details.
posted by shothotbot at 7:59 PM on November 3, 2011

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