I was not a fan of the IA 25 when then-editorial director (now Bloombergian) Bill Glasgall suggested we start it way back in 2003. It seemed artificial, and there’s nothing advisors hate more than artificiality, I argued. Moreover, who were we to decide who the most important people were in the industry? I’ve changed my mind. There are many such lists of influential people these days, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Interwebs, it’s that people love lists. More important, the IA 25 is a chance for the editors to assess what the most important trends are among advisors. It’s also very valuable to you to hear the thoughts and plans of those most influential people who will be affecting your professional lives and your clients’ financial lives.
Two years ago at the Morningstar Investment Conference, I heard Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO (he’s back on the list this year, by the way) describe one of the salient characteristics of the new normal: “Get used to the government being your partner.” For good or ill, that is certainly the case for the foreseeable future. While he was referring to the financial crisis and Washington’s midwifery of the Wall Street bailout, he could also have been referring to the regulatory and legislative reaction to the crisis. The effects of Dodd-Frank, for instance, will be playing out for years to come, as David Tittsworth of the IAA (yes, he’s on the list) pointed out in an interview with me in early April.
The devil, with the fiduciary and other issues of great moment to advisors, is in the details. Want to make sure your clients have a reliable income stream in retirement? Sure, but now figure out exactly how to do that. Want to make sure the investments that you recommend to your clients provide the necessary alpha while managing risk? Do the dirty work of due diligence. Want to make sure that regulation meant to protect investors and the capital markets doesn’t strangle your business? Make sure you get your individual voice heard in Washington and your state capitals, and support the organizations that, yes, lobby for you in Washington. The IAA’s Tittsworth, who understands how Washington works, and doesn’t, argues that other industry groups, like the insurers, do a better job than advisors in their advocacy efforts. I think advisors like to bemoan the fact that this Administration doesn’t have enough businesspeople in leadership positions. But politics is not the same as business; it operates under different rules and has different constituencies. Politics isn’t “linear,” as Tittsworth says. It’s important to get the best minds into the government and among the regulators.
Rather than rail against the “politicians” in Washington, I suggest you get involved in the process personally and through your associations. That’s what being a “partner” with the government entails. Do it for yourself, your profession and your clients. That’s the environment in which you operate, and in which you do your best for clients.