The plan to prevent the next ‘Flash Crash’ is years behind schedule, but for most people it doesn’t matter

Mary Jo White SEC
SEC head Mary Jo White. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

After the 2010 ‘Flash Crash’ sent markets down 9% and plunged the Dow 1,000 points in seconds, regulators got to work on a plan to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

Five years later, their plans to create a real-time market auditing system have barely begun to take shape.

The new system would have to monitor some 100 million accounts and make about 58 billion records a day, the Wall Street Journal reported. It would help regulators pinpoint the source of similar crashes down the road and would ideally help catch future fraudsters.

The ten organisations overseeing the project haven’t decided on a contractor to build the framework, nor on how to pay for it, and the SEC has yet to approve the final plan. Deadlines have repeatedly been pushed back, and regulators have held some 645 meetings over the past 3 years, according to the Journal.

You might think these long delays are setting us up for disaster, but the truth is, for most mum-and-pop investors who the regulators are mandated to protect, preventing a Flash Crash doesn’t really matter.

Peter Henning, a securities litigation professor at Wayne State University, thinks the kinds of trades that may have caused the crash really only impact elite investors and high-frequency traders using high-powered computers.

“You and I aren’t playing in this game,” he said. “These are all sophisticated investors.”

The SEC describes its mission on its website. It mentions maintaining “fair, orderly, and efficient markets,” but it really emphasises protecting normal people who are putting money into the market.

“As more and more first-time investors turn to the markets to help secure their futures, pay for homes, and send children to college, our investor protection mission is more compelling than ever.”

If a Flash Crash isn’t really a threat to those types of people, then that could explain why there’s little urgency to finalise a plan.

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