Funds News

US regulator FINRA's enforcement chief steps down

* Susan Merrill leaving after less than three years

* Was hired by Schapiro, now SEC chief

NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - Susan Merrill, the head of enforcement at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which polices the U.S. brokerage industry, is stepping down after less than three years in the job.

Merrill, 53, informed her staff of her decision earlier Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the regulator, known as FINRA, said.

It was not immediately clear what Merrill’s future plans are, or when she plans to leave FINRA. Merrill could not immediately be reached for comment.

The departure comes after FINRA, like other regulators, faced criticism in 2008 and 2009 for not having policed Wall Street closely enough and for missing some frauds including Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Merrill was installed in her job by Mary Schapiro, who led FINRA at the time. The regulator’s current chief executive is Richard Ketchum.

Schapiro now chairs the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That regulator has in recent months taken steps to upgrade its enforcement operations, led by former prosecutor Robert Khuzami, including through greater use of subpoenas.

Merrill had been chief of enforcement at the New York Stock Exchange for three years when she joined FINRA in 2007, the year it was created through the merger of NYSE Member Regulation and the National Association of Securities Dealers.

Previously, Merrill had been a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

According to its website, FINRA brought 1,158 enforcement actions in 2009, up from 1,073 a year earlier but down from 1,399 in 2005.

The number of firms it oversees has dropped to 4,703 as of February 2010 from 5,111 in 2005, with declines in every calendar year, the website shows. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Gary Hill)