When Tom Sporkin joined the CFP Board as managing director of enforcement in January 2021, he was met with his fair share of challenges. Sporkin and his team are constantly trying to improve and implement the significant resources dedicated to their detection efforts, but at the end of the day, “we’re aware that we can’t find everything,” he says. “The thing that keeps me up at night is whether we’re doing absolutely everything within reason to grab relevant data and persuade people to report observations to us, because everything we do starts with detection.” Sporkin spoke to us about the lessons he’s learned, the toughest challenges he’s had to face, and why he can’t force himself to watch Showtime’s Billions.
What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your career?
To have compassion. Having served as both a defense attorney and prosecutor, I’ve had to interact on a regular basis with people at the center of investigations. The decisions that prosecutors make can destroy people’s lives, and the defense attorney is in the unenviable position of having to break the bad news to the client. People who are early in their law enforcement careers tend to see things in black and white, but over time, you learn to see shades of gray, and this gives you the flexibility to not only be fair, but also compassionate.
What was the toughest business decision you made in the last year?
While we have a large department and the resources to support our work, there are trade-offs as far as what can be done. Since I arrived at CFP Board, we’ve devoted substantial resources to our ordinary course investigation caseload, but we’re also in the midst of a multiyear restructuring and process improvement exercise. So, I always joke to my staff that they have a day job that involves detection, investigation, and prosecution, and a night job that involves rethinking and redrafting our policies and procedures. Fortunately, the performance of the enforcement department staff has been outstanding and has exceeded my expectations on both fronts.
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What motivated you to get into financial planning/enforcement and regulatory compliance?
My father was the director of enforcement at the SEC back in the ’70s and ’80s. At that time he was also a judge, and he later became a defense attorney. So, like the plumber or electrician who goes into the family business, I decided to follow my father’s path.
What would surprise us about you?
I can’t watch TV shows that center around insider trading or any other type of securities fraud. I frequently get asked whether I’ve seen the most recent episode of Billions or the latest documentary on Elizabeth Holmes. My answer is always the same — when your day-to-day life involves prosecuting and or defending people who get caught up in these types of situations, the last thing you want to do on your down time is watch other people have to deal with those situations.
The inaugural RIA Intel Awards is a celebration of financial advisors, wealth management firms, and industry leaders. Results will be revealed on September 14, 2022.
Caitlin Keating (@Caitkeating) is a freelancer at RIA Intel and based in New York City.