Being an SEC reporting manager in the time of Gensler

Reporting managers always had to be detail-oriented, now they're being tugged in more directions.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photos: US Securities and Exchange Commission

· 4 min read

Since Gary Gensler was appointed chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2021, the agency has filed the first-ever charges against a crypto insider-trading scheme, released a long-awaited—and highly commented-upon—ESG proposal, and pushed for further human-capital disclosures for public companies. As the agency has begun to tackle today’s most pressing financial questions, SEC reporting managers at public companies are facing considerable change.

SEC reporting managers are responsible for publicly listed companies’ quarterly and annual filings to the SEC. The role is vital to the accounting organization, especially post-SOX.

“[It’s not] just the volume of things that the SEC is looking at, but the speed,” Steve Soter, senior industry principal at Workiva and executive advisor for the SEC Professionals Group, told CFO Brew. “When you’re [the SEC] proposing very, very complicated, very different, new emerging rules on the spaces like crypto or ESG, that’s not really something that accountants typically have spent a lot of time [on].”

Soter told CFO Brew that while “accountants can do hard things too,” it’s both challenging and frustrating for reporting managers when “it’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve got a 30-day comment period and then we’re gonna cram this thing down your throat here in the next six months or nine months.’”

Retail > corporate. Gensler has developed a reputation as being an ally for the retail investors—supporting tougher rules for the public companies and holding those, even in the newest of industries, to strict standards. One side effect is that SEC reporting managers have been given more to do.

“It’s incredibly disruptive to these long-established sorts of methodical processes that the SEC reporting manager runs,” Soter said.

CFOs and CEOs sign off on 10-K and 10-Q forms, stating that the filing is accurate, verified, and independently audited. Reporting errors have led to CFO resignations, given the extremity of the grievance.

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The SEC declined to comment for this article.

SEC reporting manager profile: Typically, SEC reporting managers are former auditors looking to transition out of public accounting into a singular company. “The reporting manager is going to work really, really closely with the auditors,” Soter said, explaining that the SEC reporting manager can’t file until the auditors have signed off, so having an understanding of auditors and outside accounting firms is useful.

One of the most critical parts of the role that is often left out of the job description, Soter says, is project management—“When I was running a quarterly 10-Q process, at a couple different companies, we had about 350–400 steps that had to happen within a five-week period.” And, as it turns out, SEC reporting managers generally don’t want to be the ones to tell the CFO the company cannot file on time.

Current SEC reporting managers have leaned on each other for guidance over the past year.

This job rules. Many chief accounting officers carved out their path in the SEC reporting role, Soter told CFO Brew, due to the high stakes and detailed nature of the profession. “I started [my career], like all good finance people do, from an accounting perspective,” Heather Dixon, Everside Health CFO, told CFO Brew.

However, where she really cut her teeth was in reporting, Dixon said, and it helped her understand organizational growth and finance in depth. She said when companies grow, finance executives often ask, “Why do I need a controller in every single country if we all have a slice of business? Well, there are taxing, legislative rules.”

Also, Soter said, despite the profile of a CFO changing, “a CFO would tell you, “Hey, if I had experience with SEC reporting, that would make all this stuff a hell of a lot easier, because I understand the rules.’”—KT

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CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.