The tone of remarks made by Adam Antoniades, chair of the Financial Services Institute, at the group’s OneVoice 2015 conference did more than hint at the multiple hits the advice business is taking from legislators, regulators and political candidates.
“The challenge is none greater than the changing winds of public opinion,” said Antoniades, who is also president of the Cetera Financial Group, late Monday. “We are the platform for which campaigns are won or lost.”
The financial services veteran spoke directly to leaked comments from the White House concerning a Department of Labor proposal to amend the definition of fiduciary in retirement plans.
“The ignorance in the memo is shocking to me,” Antoniades explained. “For those who spend their lives in the industry, it is frankly offensive. Stay around and learn more about the leaked memo. It is likely to become a big focus of this group.”
The DOL fiduciary rule “is long awaited and now looming,” said FSI President and CEO Dale Brown, and the group is “well positioned to impact it.”
What’s the industry to do?
“We highlight the good we do, how the good outweighs the bad, and we come together to address what’s wrong and craft a solution,” he explained. “As industry leaders, we must be brave, bold and strong enough to take policies and positions founded on our core beliefs of how to engage clients in a conflict-free … manner.”
More broadly, Antoniades said, FSI’s mission is “to do advocacy around key legislative and regulatory issues that threaten the future of our industry.”
The group, which represents independent financial services firms and advisors, recently introduced an expanded program to offer life and disability coverage to its 35,000-plus advisor members.
At the state level, the organization successfully pushed back against two proposed securities taxes and is working to secure lower filing fees for investment advisors in Texas.
“We’ve earned ourselves a seat at the table and do not take this access for granted,” said Brown, who noted that the group’s operating budget now stands at $8.5 million vs. $3.5 million a few years ago.
“When it comes to the regulatory environment, advocacy is marathon, not a sprint,” he explained. “Since the crisis, we are just one sensational headline away from how regulators and Congress view the industry and our members in particular. We are positioned to win the long-run race.”
As for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s proposed plan to collect broker-dealer account data through its Comprehensive Automated Risk Data System, FSI contributed a lengthy comment letter relaying its critical thinking on the matter.
“Firms are very concerned that FINRA will use this data to second guess compliance departments, and we warned FINRA against any effort to duplicate firms’ efforts,” said Robin Traxler, FSI’s vice president of regulatory affairs, during a breakout session at OneVoice on Tuesday.