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Fiduciary rulemaking under ‘serious consideration’

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Elisse Walter, chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told members of the Senate Banking Committee Thursday that the SEC is “giving serious consideration” to its rule to put brokers under a fiduciary mandate, and confirmed previous reports that the agency will move forward with a request for public input on the rule.

SEC Chairwoman Elisse WalterNoting that the agency has “extensive experience in the regulation of broker-dealers and investment advisors,” Walter told lawmakers in her testimony regarding the agency’s progress in implementing Section 913 of Dodd-Frank that SEC economists continue to review “current information and available data about the marketplace for personalized investment advice” regarding investment advisors and broker-dealers, and the “potential impact of the [SEC] study’s recommendations.”

The SEC, Walter said in her remarks, believes “the public can provide further data and other information to assist us in determining whether or not to adopt a uniform fiduciary standard of conduct or otherwise use the authority provided under Section 913 of the Dodd-Frank Act.”

Specifically, Walter said the SEC is drafting a public request for information to obtain data specific to the provision of retail financial advice and the regulatory alternatives. “The request aims to seek information from commenters—including retail investors, as well as industry participants—that will be helpful to us as we continue to analyze the various components of the market for retail financial advice,” she said.

In reponse to a question by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., regarding the SEC’s priority in moving the fiduciary rulemaking forward, Walter said she believes the issue “is very important,” and said that assessing the rule’s cost implications “is the right thing to do,” and that after gauging this, the agency should “take a hard look at the different rules that are applicable” to advisors and broker-dealers “to see where they should be harmonized.”

Tester responded: “I think this [rulemaking] should be a prioroity because it is a benefit to investors. You should push it.”

Walter testified along with other financial regulators during a hearing titled, “Wall Street Reform: Oversight of Financial Stability and Consumer and Investor Protections.”

Before turning to the list of Dodd-Frank related rules that the SEC has passed, Walter told lawmakers the agency lacked the resources to fully implement the rest of the Dodd-Frank mandated rules.

“…It has been clear to me from the outset that the Act’s significant expansion of the SEC’s jurisdiction over OTC derivatives, private fund advisors, municipal advisors, clearing agencies, and credit rating agencies, among others, could not be handled appropriately with the agency’s previous resource levels without undermining the agency’s other core duties. This is proving especially true as we turn from the first step of rulewriting to efforts to support and monitor implementation and the ongoing process of examinations and enforcement of those rules,” Walter said.

While Congress’ fiscal 2012 appropriation gave the SEC the resources to hire additional staffers needed to fulfill its rulewriting responsibilities, Walter continued, “I believe that the SEC does not yet have all the resources necessary to fully implement the law.” Enactment of President Barack Obama’s budget request for fiscal 2013, she said, would fill “the remaining gaps.” The request would give $1.566 billion, and permit the agency to hire 676 additional individuals, Walter said. “A number of these new hires are needed to focus on enforcement, examinations, regulatory oversight, and economic and data analysis related to the Act.”

To date, the SEC has made “substantial progress in writing the huge volume of new rules” under Dodd-Frank, Walter said, as well as in conducting the various studies required by the Act.

Of the more than 90 Dodd-Frank provisions that require SEC rulemaking, she said, the SEC has proposed or adopted rules for more than 80% of them, and also has finalized 17 of the more than 20 studies and reports under the Act. “While this has been a challenge, the considerable progress the commission has made is a direct result of the thoughtful, thorough and professional efforts of our staff, whose efforts in fulfilling the Dodd-Frank Act mandates have come in addition to carrying their normal workloads.”