College of Business Communications Feature
  One of an occasional series of feature stories on the web

  

College home
Communications
Features

October 2003

SEC Staff Accountant Part of Enforcement Team

Donald Ryba is part detective, part accountant, part legal eagle. As a senior staff accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ryba has been known to spend time -- lots of time -- in some exotic as well as some rather mundane places. For example, he had the opportunity to visit a warehouse and pore through boxes of financial and legal documents from a defunct company, a company that defrauded investors and crumbled under the weight of its duplicity. When he knows he helped put perpetrators in jail, Ryba considers his work especially satisfying, and he is pleased that the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has given him and other persons in the employ of the SEC a host of new enforcement tools.

Donald Ryba recently visited the Urbana-Champaign campus to speak with accountancy students and faculty as part of the Department of Accountancy Lyceum. During his visit, he brought a regulatory perspective on public company audits and made salient the label given to the SEC by early chairman William O. Douglas- "the investor's advocate."

Ryba began his talk with an overview of the education and the experiences of current SEC chairman, William Donaldson, who brings decades of experience in public service, the military, and academe to his position. The four SEC commissioners -- Paul Atkins, Roel Campos, Cynthia Glassman, and Harvey Goldschmid -- have varied backgrounds with several having earned a legal degree.

Ryba, who works for the enforcement division in the SEC's Chicago office, commented on several significant trends at the SEC, including:

  • better coordination with criminal authorities and with other federal regulators
  • more emphasis on personal accountability when filing cases
  • more rapid investigations by SEC staff
  • greater accountability for non-cooperation by companies
  • considering pro forma financial reporting "fair game"
  • compliance with generally accepted accounting principles being insufficient to avoid prosecution
  • creating a liability for a company that facilitates a violation
  • securities laws may require documentation even if such documentation is not specified as part of the generally accepted accounting principles
  • auditor independence remaining a critical element of sound financial reporting

The SEC filed 163 cases in the 2002 fiscal year, an increase from 2001 when 112 cases were filed and a dramatic increase from 1998 when the staff filed only 79 cases. Staff had a 69% increase in new investigations in 2002 from the previous year. The SEC's current caseload - approximately 500 new cases annually - has grown significantly during the last decade because of what Ryba termed a "changing landscape." An emphasis on short-term performance, greater use of incentive compensation plans, transformation of public accounting as well as the financial services industry, and what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan called the "irrational exuberance" of the 90s all contributed to increased pressures on CEOs and CFOs to impact quickly and positively the bottom line of their companies. In turn, investors were hurt and the SEC stepped in.

A list of recent actions taken by the SEC include some familiar names of companies and individuals: WorldCom, Adelphia Communication, Microsoft, Xerox, and Enron's Michael Kopper.

Donald Ryba

Donald Ryba is a senior staff accountant in the Midwest Regional Office of the SEC, based in Chicago. He specializes in financial fraud and financial statement and accounting analysis. He began working for the SEC in 1994 reviewing stock and bond registration statements of public companies. Ryba is a licensed CPA and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Illinois CPA Society. He graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago with a BS in business administration.

About the SEC

The SEC website offers this summary of the commission's mission:

The primary mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is to protect investors and maintain the integrity of the securities markets. As more and more first-time investors turn to the markets to help secure their futures, pay for homes, and send children to college, these goals are more compelling than ever.

The world of investing is fascinating, complex, and can be very fruitful. But unlike the banking world, where deposits are guaranteed by the federal government, stocks, bonds and other securities can lose value. There are no guarantees. That's why investing should not be a spectator sport; indeed, the principal way for investors to protect the money they put into the securities markets is to do research and ask questions.

The laws and rules that govern the securities industry in the United States derive from a simple and straightforward concept: all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to certain basic facts about an investment prior to buying it. To achieve this, the SEC requires public companies to disclose meaningful financial and other information to the public, which provides a common pool of knowledge for all investors to use to judge for themselves if a company's securities are a good investment. Only through the steady flow of timely, comprehensive and accurate information can people make sound investment decisions.

The SEC also oversees other key participants in the securities world, including stock exchanges, broker-dealers, investment advisors, mutual funds, and public utility holding companies. Here again, the SEC is concerned primarily with promoting disclosure of important information, enforcing the securities laws, and protecting investors who interact with these various organizations and individuals.

Fall 2003 Lyceum Speaker Series

The Department of Accountancy annually hosts a professional lyceum speaker series that serves as an integrative capstone to the core undergraduate and masters accountancy curricula The series features collaborative presentations by distinguished speakers - from large public accounting firms, major corporations, regulatory agencies, and standards-setting organizations - who visit the campus to speak and visit with the students. Speakers for fall 2003 include:

Sept 11: Matthew Paull, Executive Vice President & CFO, McDonald's Corporation
Oct 9: Art Wyatt, UIUC
Oct 23: Donald Ryba, SEC Enforcement Division
Nov 6: Greg Garrison, Partner PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Nov 13: Stuart Campbell, Global Managing Partner, Assurance & Advisory, KPMG LLP

The lyceum provides students with a rich opportunity to learn about issues the speakers face and about how they leverage the types of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are embedded in the accountancy core curriculum, which is comprised of courses that focus on measurement, decision-making, institutions and regulation, control, and assurance.