SEC’s Jackson sees tech solving problems in capital markets, eventually

SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson

According to U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission commissioner Robert Jackson, technology can help solve lingering problems in the capital markets, such as high fees that are a result of low competition. “I think a lot of the issues that plague our capital markets today can be solved and will be solved by technology,” he said at a fintech conference in New York City today. “The question is when.”

Jackson, a former investment banker with Bear Stearns who pitched IPOs in the late 1990s, said the firm at the time typically was charging 7% of a company’s value to take it public. “I didn’t have an iPhone — I had a pager — when I would go pitch IPOs,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Technology is going to solve this problem’.”

While communications devices have vastly improved, Jackson said he expected the 7% fee to come down as a result of more competition from better technology. However, firms still are paying 7%, which he blamed largely on “entrenched power” in the financial space.

“Everything in America has gotten cheaper,” Jackson said. “Technology has advanced on every possible front, except for going public. That’s proof to me that we still have a long way to go in the ways technology can help us.”

Changing the competitive landscape will take time, but technology eventually will give companies an easier route to going public and raising capital. “I don’t think it’s credible to tell American investors that IPOs should cost the same amount today and that we should use the same process for going public today that we did in 1998,” Jackson said.

As a result, the SEC is doing more to spur competition and push back against high fees in the capital markets in general. In particular, Jackson touted the agency’s decision last year to start demanding that stock exchanges show that competition, rather than market power, was leading to increased prices.

Jackson also referenced the agency’s data-driven transaction fee pilot program, which is designed to provide a wholesale review of how exchanges charge customers. The two-year pilot was approved by the SEC in December, but the program was slowed by a court challenge from the New York Stock Exchange, among others. He said he expects the pilot to move forward “soon.”