The Financial Services Roundtable has elected Thomas A. James, chairman and CEO of Raymond James Financial as its chairman-elect. He will serve as chairman in 2007.
James, 63, joined St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Raymond James Financial in 1966, four years after the company was founded by his father, Robert A. James. He is chairman of Raymond James & Associates, the firm’s traditional-brokerage unit with some 1,000 advisors.
In 2006, the Financial Services Roundtable (or FSR) is focusing on public-policy issues such as information security — including identity theft, data-breach notification and Internet fraud; retirement security — such as pension reform; anti-money laundering, disaster recovery; tax cuts and other significant tax issues.
As a group that represents an aggregation of broad industry players, James says, the FSR is able to have a larger impact than that of a trade association, representing only one sector of the financial-services industry.
“Under the direction of State Farm CEO Edward Rust, we are evaluating a gamut of prospective responses to catastrophic events of all types, such as terrorist attacks and hurricanes, that entail financial and insurance issues of all types,” James says. The group is also working on economic issues that “touch our members in all sorts of ways,” he explains. A subgroup is concentrating on legislation to introduce a federal charter option for insurance firms.
“Today, agents have to register state by state, and products are approved by the states,” says the chairman-elect. “This multi-state arrangement is really not efficient for our members, who are the major insurance providers and distributors. We need a national option for those preferring it.”
Then there’s Sarbanes-Oxley regulation. “We’d like to encourage a re-look at some issues,” the Raymond James executive says.
“There should not be too much of a regulatory burden on small companies. We want to preserve the attractiveness of utilizing equity from public investors as a financing option, while not forcing issuers to utilize the London or other stock markets as alternative venues for selling stock. We need to maintain the preeminence of our markets.”
As he and other industry leaders see it, the SEC needs to focus more on its charter mission rather than enforcement. “It should be ensuring the soundness, effectiveness and efficiency of our financial markets for the securities firm as the Federal Reserve does,” says James.
The Financial Services Roundtable did some re-examination of its own recently in an effort led by Kerry Killinger, CEO of Washington Mutual. “We reviewed our governance process and our mission,” James says, “and designed an inclusive, transparent process for our public policy-making priorities.”
Another goal for the group, according to James, is to begin work on a “brand” for the Financial Services Roundtable. “Despite our size and the size of our members, we still do not really have a public persona and need to deepen the impact and public understanding of what resources are represented by this group and the scope of our work,” he says.
The point of volunteering for the FSR, the executive says, is that “people want to and should give back to their industry.”
“I am moving toward the end of my career,” James explains, “and I really believe that the role of a company transcends its short-term profits. We need to give back to the communities in which we live and work. It’s extremely important to focus on meaningful activities that have a long-term impact on profits rather than just adding another quick nickel to your earnings per share. A strong financial system is integral to America’s economic success.”