Those of you who are Mary Schapiro fans are one step closer to that I-told-you-so moment. Personally, I’ve been skeptical of the former FINRA CEO who’s now SEC Chair, but I have to admit, she’s starting to win me over.
Schapiro’s most recent home run came in a speech she gave on May 6. Although she’s not technically a politician, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the SEC Chair has a tendency to play to her audience–using that tried-and-true political technique of tailoring one’s remarks to at least sound like you believe what a particular group wants to hear. When she addressed a SIFMA compliance and legal seminar last Thursday, that was clearly not the case.
“Right now, investment advisors, as fiduciaries, have an obligation to provide advice that is in an investor’s best interest–and to avoid or disclose conflicts of interest,” Schapiro said. “Broker/dealers… do not currently have to meet this standard… I believe that broker/dealers and investment advisors providing the same services, especially to retail investors, should meet that same high fiduciary standard.”
Strong stuff; Especially to a group of SIFMA execs. Strong enough, in fact, to make me more optimistic about the House of Representatives’ version of financial reform bill. As you might remember, their bill includes an open-ended fiduciary duty for brokers, leaving its definition and application up to the SEC. With Ms. Schapiro at the Commission’s helm, that didn’t exactly make me warm and fuzzy. But she’s got me coming around.
It may be tactless of me (why start now?) to point out, that Schapiro’s remarks come in the wake of a sea change in Washington over the fiduciary duty. For better or worse, the Goldman Sachs case (see my last blog) has re-energized the call for brokers to have a stronger duty to but their clients’ interests ahead of their own. It’s possible that she sees the new handwriting on the wall, and is going on record as signing up.
Either way, the outlook for a fiduciary duty for all advisors who provide investment advice is once again bright. We keep hearing that an amendment to that effect will be introduced back into the Senate version of the bill in the current floor debate, possibly by Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-New Jersey) or Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), although at the time of this writing on May 7, nothing has been introduced yet.
Still, with a fiduciary duty in the House version and anticipated in the Senate version, it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t get some version of “put-your-clients’-interests-first” in the final financial reform package. And if Mary Schapiro is really as big a fiduciary proponent as she’s emerging to be, we can expect either bill will signify a quantum leap in the care of financial consumers.