White is scheduled to step down when Trump takes office Friday.
Trump has nominated Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to replace White at the top of the SEC. The pick immediately drew criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill and progressive groups, who noted his history of representing some of the biggest names on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs, and helping them weather regulatory scrutiny. (Clayton's confirmation hearing has not been scheduled, but he is expected to be approved.)
Asked about Clayton after her speech, White said Clayton is "very smart, very thoughtful, very knowledgable of the markets and the securities laws and I think a terrific person.”
Clayton has said little about his plans for the agency, but industry analysts widely expect him to follow through with Trump's plans to dismantle parts of 2010’s financial reform legislation, known as the Dodd-Frank Act.
The SEC has played a key role in implementing Dodd-Frank rules, which require large banks to better prepared for financial turmoil and hold onto more capital. Putting Clayton in charge of the agency, critics have said, would give Wall Street too much influence over necessary industry reform.
The task of implementing the financial reform called for under Dodd-Frank helped reshape the SEC, White said before the Economic Club of New York. The agency is stronger and much better equipped to meet the challenges of the complex financial markets, she said.
While not naming Clayton or Trump, White also warned of the dangers of the SEC losing its independence. For example, she said, the House adopted legislation last week requiring regulators such as the SEC to more rigorously assess how much their rules cost the financial industry. The measure would "impose conflicting, burdensome, and needlessly detailed requirements ... that would provide no benefit to investors," she said.
"The choices ahead for the agency... will not be easy," White said. "Continuing to build an effective post-crisis market regulator will mean imposing measures that sometimes draw sharp outcry from interest groups."
White acknowledged that under her leadership the SEC was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. "We have been accused of both gutting regulation and suffocating the market with too much of it," she said. "A few have attacked us for letting the crooks off with a slap on the wrist, while others say we are too tough or have targeted others simply to pump up our numbers."
White's departure is just the beginning of a sweeping transformation of the way Wall Street is regulated during the Trump administration. Trump will be able to fill two openings on the five-member SEC commission. Also, Thomas Curry, the head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, another important Wall Street regulator, has less than six months on his term and Timothy Massad, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has announced he will step down. Together, the openings give Trump an opportunity to remake the regulatory landscape.