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 still playing out (see page 23) in Congress, fighting for continuance of 12b-1 fees (on which SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said the Commission will renew its investigation; see page 24), and preserving B/D reps’ independent contractor status. That status, central to independent B/Ds’ business model, is seen as threatened by a bill introduced in December by the now senior Senator from Massachusetts, Democrat John Kerry, called the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability and Consistency Act of 2009, or S. 2882.
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 ascendance 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, such as the CFPA still being promoted in the Senate by Connecticut’s Chris Dodd, “does not oversee independent broker/dealers and RIAs.” Congress, Brown said, “is the key to long-term change,” and that “it’s more important than ever” for FSI to use its hard-won credibility in influencing those issues of importance to its members.