Mary Jo White, a political independent appointed by President Barack Obama, said Monday that she will step down as Securities and Exchange Commission chair in January.
Her nearly four-year tenure has been highlighted by high-profile enforcement cases and plagued by internal battles that stalled controversial policies.
In moving aside for Donald Trump's administration and with the Senate under Republican control, Mr. Trump is likely to have a relatively easy time installing his choices to run the SEC and other agencies, so the vacancy might be filled quickly. The five-seat commission is already two members short and Ms. White has essentially represented a tie-breaking vote between Republican Michael Piwowar and Democrat Kara Stein, who split on major issues.
It remains to be seen what tack the president-elect will take in overseeing the financial industry beyond his campaign pledge to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, which has dominated regulators' work since it was enacted in 2010. Former Commissioner Paul Atkins, a Republican who left the agency in 2008, is leading the Trump transition team's work on independent regulators like the SEC.
After taking the helm in 2013, Ms. White moved to improve morale at an agency that had been assailed by lawmakers over its failure to spot Wall Street abuses in the run-up to the financial crisis. Her outreach efforts included handing out coffee and doughnuts to rank-and-file employees, and walking the halls of the agency's sprawling headquarters to chat with workers.
Major enforcement actions under Ms. White's watch included a September lawsuit accusing hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman of insider trading. Policy highlights included pushing through rules designed to make the $18.5 trillion mutual fund industry more resilient.
The SEC also brought first-of-their-kinds cases, such as a settlement with hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC over allegations it paid bribes to win business and accords with private equity firms over claims that they didn't adequately disclose fees to investors.
Ms. White hasn't said what she plans to do next. After serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York under President Bill Clinton, she had a lucrative law career representing banks and other clients. Her husband, former SEC official John White, is a partner at law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.