New SEC website puts government agency into financial advice business

On the door of Mary Schapiro's office at the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. is a sign that asks, "How does it help investors?" It's meant to remind everyone who enters the office of the chairwoman (pictured) that whatever issue they've come to discuss better be focused on investors.

But until recently, investors visiting the main website for the government agency that enforces securities laws and regulates the nation's stocks and options exchanges were met with a dizzying array of links. These links were confusing to navigate -- especially if you were looking for basic information. Even the site's design was pretty uninviting: more like circa 1998 than the pleasant, user-friendly sites we've grown accustomed to today. That's why the SEC on Thursday decided to launch investor.gov, which has a distinctly different feel and focus.
Instead of trying to be all things to all the people the SEC serves -- they include investors, advisors, fund managers, lawyers and others -- investor.gov focuses just on whom you might think from its name: investors. And it does so in a very basic, easy-to-understand way.

While some investors who are more experienced might find the site a bit too simplistic -- one section explains what a mutual fund is -- those less experienced might see it as a refreshing break from other investing sites the all are trying to peddle something or other, including advice.

"This is really focused on the retail investor," says Lori Schock, director of the office of Investor Education & Advocacy, who recently returned to the SEC after working at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Schapiro was working at FINRA been before taking the top job at the SEC earlier this year.

As a result, the site is divided into different financial decisions that a typical investor might face, like getting started or protecting your money. Investor.gov also has a special section for seniors, a group that Schapiro addressed at an AARP forum on Thursday, where she announced the new site.

The site is clearly still a work in progress. Schock says she hopes to provide additional information for various other important life decisions, like buying a first home, starting out on your own and even handling end-of-life, money-related issues.

"Right now, the 'plan for your future' section starts at retirement, and I'd like to see more information about getting your first job, because if you wait too long or procrastinate, you can get off on the wrong foot," Schock says.

If you're looking to learn how to invest like Warren Buffett, or some other well-known investor that you've read about in the headlines, you won't find that information here. But for a way to dip your toes into what can be some very confusing waters, the site does a good job with the basics. What's more, it helps to cut through a lot of the noise when it comes to investing online.

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