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Investors must learn to police themselves, determine a strategy and pay attention


Regulators have been watching your back.

Now it's up to you.

About 1,700 enforcement cases were brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past two years, the most activity since the Great Depression. Thank former SEC Chairman William H. Donaldson, who recently stepped down, for that.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been on a tear since taking office in 1998, going after fraud in the brokerage, mutual fund and insurance industries that affected average investors. He got results and is seeking the governorship of New York in 2006.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has successfully backstopped our economy through one presidential administration after another for nearly 18 years, most recently raising rates a quarter point, to 3.25 percent, for the ninth increase in a year. He's stepping down in 2006.

However you feel about their personalities, politics or accomplishments, these three have made a difference.

The financial system is a bit more fair and accountable to all investors thanks to them. While not all people accused of financial crimes are convicted, some new rules need to be reviewed further, and interest rate moves don't always get the desired effect, the thrust was in the right direction. The chilling effect of settlements and penalties is more effective than a lot of industry self-regulation that was nonregulation.

But now it's up to you.

Take your investment matters into your own hands. Whether you work through a full-service broker or financial planner or do all investing yourself, only deal with professionals and investment companies you've thoroughly researched. Seek references and find out how your money will be handled.

Figure out your total assets. Go over all accounts and cash down to the change in your pockets. This, considered along with your total debt, will help you formulate an appropriate investment strategy. Set firm financial goals and put together a budget, savings and investment plan for meeting them.

Since no regulator can protect you from normal fluctuations of the market, choose a variety of investments that will diversify your risk. Determine in advance how much uncertainty you're willing to assume.

Pay attention to what's going on in the economy and markets. Most of all, try to understand everything in which you invest. Although that sounds basic, many Americans don't do it.

Donaldson, Spitzer and Greenspan are brutally logical individuals who spent a lot of time worrying about what was happening to your money. It's up to you to continue the process.

Andrew Leckey is a Tribune Media Services columnist.

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