Moreover, White has also drawn the ire of progressives, including Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who have criticized her for not being tougher on Wall Street and for refusing to push public companies to disclose their political spending.

Before she leaves, White has said she will work to wrap up rules governing the U.S. derivatives market. She also highlighted the SEC's intentions to approve a plan that will help police the markets by storing data on every trade order, execution and cancellation. A vote has been slated for Nov. 15.

White's departure announcement comes less than month after Warren took the unusual step of asking President Obama to oust the SEC chair.

The SEC draws strength from being a bipartisan panel with a healthy diversity of opinions, but politics are checked at the door, White told Reuters.

"When you cross the threshold into the job as chairman or commissioner, then your mission is the SEC's mission," she said.

Unlike some of White's predecessors, who were tasked with restoring confidence in the SEC after the financial market collapse, White has not faced the same kinds of crisis management challenges.

Rather, she had to contend with completing a mountain of rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and the JOBS Act, a 2012 law designed to help start-ups.

"When I first came in, on the rulemaking front, there were things pending of great importance," she said. "We had not yet gotten anywhere, frankly, on the JOBS Act."

The changes she made in the enforcement division, including requiring corporate defendants in some cases to admit to their wrongdoing rather than letting them settle without admitting or denying the charges, will likely stand out as one of the most significant milestones of her tenure.

Since then, White said, the SEC has done more than 70 settlements with admissions, and some other regulators have started to follow suit,