Last year the Financial Services Institute celebrated its 10th anniversary as the independent broker-dealer industry’s advocacy voice in Washington. But FSI is not resting on its lobbying laurels, with plans under its $8.5 million 2015 budget to increase its total advocacy head count from 10 to 13 (FSI currently has a total professional staff of 27).
Two of the current 10 advocacy staffers — Robin Traxler, VP of Regulatory Affairs and Robert Lewis, vice president of Legislative Affairs — spend the majority of their time on state regulation and legislation issues.
In an FSI leadership press conference and a general session during last week’s FSI OneVoice conference, and in separate discussions with FSI staff during that San Antonio meeting, FSI flaunted its growing influence in Washington and the states, though David Bellaire, FSI executive VP and general counsel, said in the general session that “our secret weapon” in advocacy is “our 35,000 members who can get the attention” of their congressional representatives.
The headline advocacy issue at the late January conference was a leaked January White House memo that seemed to call for a strict fiduciary standard on retirement plans under the Department of Labor (which some sources expect to be released the week of Feb. 9-13).
In his welcoming speech at OneVoice 2015, FSI Chairman Adam Antoniades took aim at the memo, saying “The ignorance in the memo is shocking to me,” and that “for those who spend their lives in the industry, it is frankly offensive.”
In the press conference, Antoniades, president of Cetera Financial Group, said the role of FSI is to “protect the industry from what may happen” as a result of regulatory or legislative actions, and that because of its 10-year-old advocacy efforts, “to policymakers we speak with one voice.”
Amy Webber, president of Cambridge Investment Research and FSI’s vice chairwoman for 2015, said at the press conference that “our industry is under attack,” particularly on the fiduciary issues at the DOL and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and that FSI’s advocates “tell legislators that our goals are the same as yours — to protect investors.” But she urged policymakers to “not take outdated approaches,” as was evident in the White House memo, in attempting to protect investors.
Bellaire said FSI’s advocacy efforts could be considered as coalescing around five major themes:
1) Preserving and expanding consumer access to advice — which is why FSI is so concerned about the Department of Labor’s redefinition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
2) Reduce unnecessary burdens on broker-dealers and financial advisors — he used FINRA’s CARDS proposal as an example
3) Work with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to streamline regulations — he said FSI was pleased with FINRA’s recent cash compensation rules.
4) To make regulation work for the investing public — he cited the issues of financial literacy and the financial abuse of elderly Americans.
5) To build relationship with regulators, legislators and community groups.