Timeline to Receive an SEC Whistleblower Award
The amount of time it takes to receive an SEC whistleblower award varies significantly from one case to another. Recently we obtained an award for a client just seven months after applying for an award, but we have also handled matters in which the award application process took 3 years.
In general, after a whistleblower submits a Form TCR to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower, the timeline to receive an award can be broken down into the following stages:
- SEC Enforcement Action: The SEC must use the whistleblower’s information to bring a successful enforcement action that results in total monetary sanctions in excess of $1 million.
- Application for an Award: After the SEC brings a successful enforcement action in excess of $1 million, a whistleblower has 90 calendar days to apply for an award once the SEC posts the action on its Notices of Covered Action page.
- Claims Review Process: If a whistleblower submits a timely application for an award, the staff designated by the Director of the Division of Enforcement (“Claims Review Staff”) will assess the application to determine whether the whistleblower is eligible for an award and, if so, the amount of the award of between 10 and 30 percent of the total monetary sanctions collected in the enforcement action.
- Appeals: A whistleblower may appeal the SEC’s award determination. The SEC will not pay an award until the completion of the appeals process for all whistleblower award claims related to the successful enforcement action.
The timeline of each stage is explored in further detail below. In some of the matters in which we obtained awards for our clients, the SEC took an enforcement action within one year of our firm filing a TCR, and in other matters, the SEC’s investigation lasted a few years. And where our clients’ disclosures have led to criminal prosecutions, the process can take several years, especially if there is an appeal or retrial.
If you have original information about securities law violations that may qualify for an award, contact the Director of our SEC Whistleblower Practice at [email protected] or call our leading SEC whistleblower lawyers at (202) 930-5901 or (202) 262-8959. All inquiries are confidential.
In conjunction with our courageous clients, our SEC whistleblower lawyers have helped the SEC halt multi-million dollar investment schemes, expose violations at large publicly traded companies, and return funds to defrauded investors.
Factors Affecting Timing
A recent annual report of the SEC Whistleblower Program identifies factors that affect the timing of an SEC whistleblower award: “Several factors may affect the length of time it takes for OWB to review an award claim and for the Commission to issue a Final Order, including the number of claimants, both meritorious and non-meritorious, applying for an award in connection with a Covered Action, the presence of novel or complex issues, or the need to supplement the record with additional information from the claimant. Such issues may lengthen the time it takes to process a claim.
There may be a delay when there is a claim for an award in connection with a related action, requiring OWB to coordinate with or receive assistance from another regulator to understand what contribution the whistleblower may have made in the related action. Additionally, there may be delays associated with requests for the record and for reconsideration.”
Timing of an SEC Enforcement Action
The amount of time it takes for the SEC to investigate a tip and pursue an enforcement action varies widely from one case to another. In some cases, the fraud is unequivocal and the wrongdoer may choose to settle the matter rather than contest it through litigation. In other matters, the SEC could litigate a case for years before ultimately taking an enforcement action. And even when a case is settled prior to litigation, it can take years for the SEC to perform a thorough investigation, especially in complex accounting fraud cases or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FPCA) cases.
According to the SEC’s FY 2020 Division of Enforcement Report, the median time for the SEC to open an investigation and file was 21.6 months (and the average was 24.1 months, second-fastest in the last five years, behind only 2019). However, for complex financial fraud and issuer disclosure cases in FY 2020, the average amount of time to complete an investigation and file was 34 months. The SEC noted that although it is “taking steps to accelerate the pace of these investigations and has reported some successes, there is still room for continued improvement.”
For more information about the SEC’s investigation process, see the SEC’s investor bulletin on SEC investigations.
Filing an Application for an Award
After the SEC brings a successful enforcement action in excess of $1 million, the Commission posts the action on its Notices of Covered Action page. Once posted, whistleblowers have 90 calendar days to apply for an award. It is critical that whistleblowers file the application within 90 days or they risk being ineligible to receive an award under the program’s rules. For more information, see the SEC Office of the Whistleblower’s Guidance for Whistleblower Award Determinations.
Claims Review Process
After whistleblowers submit a timely application for an award, the Claims Review Staff will assess all timely applications to determine: (1) whether a whistleblower is eligible for an award; and (2) the amount of the award. Currently, the claims review process takes approximately 2 years to complete. A Wall Street Journal article titled SEC Whistleblower Payouts Slow Amid Deluge of Reward Seekers reports that there is a substantial backlog of award applications. Recently, however, the SEC has taken steps to increase efficiencies so that whistleblowers are compensated in a timely and efficient manner. Based on the number of awards issued in 2019-2020, the SEC’s efforts appear to be paying off.
For more information about the claim review process, see the SEC Office of the Whistleblower’s Approach to Processing Whistleblower Award Claims.
Appealing an SEC Whistleblower Award Determination
Whistleblowers may appeal the Claims Review Staff’s preliminary determination to deny an award or, in the event the preliminary determination recommends the granting of an award, the amount of the award. Whistleblowers must appeal the determination within 60 calendar days of the later of: (i) the date of the preliminary award determination, or (ii) the date when the SEC Whistleblower Office made materials available for review. If whistleblowers disagree with the SEC’s final determination, within 30 days of the final decision they may appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, or to the circuit where the aggrieved person resides or has his principal place of business.
Payment of a whistleblower award for a monetary sanction collected in an SEC action will be made following the later of: (1) the date on which the monetary sanction is collected; or (2) the completion of the appeals process for all whistleblower award claims arising from the action or a related action.
For more information about the appeals process, see our article “What happens after I apply for an SEC whistleblower award?”
The time between the submission of a whistleblower tip and when an individual may receive payment of an award can be several years, particularly where the underlying investigation is especially complex, litigation is lengthy, there are multiple, competing award claims, or there are claims for related actions.
How to Speed Up the Process
Considering the volume of tips and the SEC’s limited resources, your tip must grab the SEC’s attention to ensure that it is acted upon timely (if at all). Once the SEC opens an investigation, it can take at least a year before the SEC is able to take enforcement action or file a complaint.
An experienced SEC whistleblower law firm can help you frame the information in a way that will increase the likelihood that the SEC will deploy scarce resources to investigate the violation and take enforcement action. You can help this process by providing your lawyer with specific and credible information that will serve as a clear roadmap of the securities-law violation(s). Moreover, a whistleblower may submit a tip anonymously to the SEC if represented by counsel.
Prior to submitting an SEC whistleblower claim, it is helpful to consult with an experienced attorney to determine how best to present the TCR to the SEC and what information is necessary to prove a violation. For more information about whistleblower rewards and bounties, contact the SEC whistleblower lawyers at Zuckerman Law.
SEC Whistleblower Program
Recently the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners published a profile of SEC whistleblower lawyer Matt Stock’s success fighting fraud:
Click below to hear SEC whistleblower lawyer Matt Stock’s tips for SEC whistleblowers:
To learn more about the SEC Whistleblower Program, download Zuckerman Law’s eBook: SEC Whistleblower Program: Tips from SEC Whistleblower Attorneys to Maximize an SEC Whistleblower Award:
See our column in Forbes: One Billion Reasons Why The SEC Whistleblower-Reward Program Is Effective.
Process to Obtain SEC Whistleblower Lawyers
SEC Whistleblower Bounties
It’s very difficult to estimate when the SEC is going to act on a particular whistleblower’s tip. The SEC whistleblower office receives thousands of tips each year and has limited resources. As such, it’s more important for whistleblowers to determine how they can grab the SEC attention out of all those submissions. As a practical matter, whistleblowers are more likely to get their information acted upon if they have a lawyer advocating for them. Furthermore, experienced SEC whistleblower attorneys can frame the information in a way that’s more likely to grab the SEC’s attention.