Independent Broker/Dealers Celebrate Earned Credibility

FSI lays out its agenda, starting with preservation of independent contractor status

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The leadership of the Financial Services Institute (FSI) threw down the gauntlet in front of legislators and regulators at its OneVoice annual meeting in New Orleans January 25-27, saying it would focus its "effective political advocacy," in the words of new FSI chair Mari Buechner, on the regulatory reform now in Congress, fighting for continuance of 12b-1 fees, and preserving B/D reps' independent contractor status. Now in its sixth year of existence, FSI national conference chair Tim Murphy, CEO of Investors Capital, noted that there were 514 attendees in 2010, representing a 10% increase.

Buechner argued that the group has "earned credibility for our business model" in its advocacy efforts, to the point that "today we have a seat at the table with SEC, FINRA, the states, and Congress," and that independent financial advisors "now represent 43% of all advisors," according to Cerulli Associates.

Buechner's attendance reflects the growing influence of smaller-firm broker/dealers, which Buechner said now represent 20% of all FSI membership. In an interview, outgoing Chair Eric Schwartz of Cambridge Investment Research noted that a dozen such small firms joined FSI during his tenure as chair, and that FSI effectively now represents the entire independent B/D community.

CEO Dale Brown, the single person most responsible for FSI's efficacy and growing influence in a remarkably short time, noted in a speech in the opening session that FSI's priorities include continued robust participation in FINRA governance; being "constructively engaged" in the regulatory and legislative process, and in educating policy makers, citing as a particular triumph "making sure" that any consumer financial protection agency "does not oversee independent broker/dealers and RIAs. "Congress," B Brown said, "is the key to long-term change," and it's more important than ever" for FSI to use its hard-won credibility in influencing those issues of importance to its members.

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