Things move slower than evolution when it comes to rulemaking in Washington, D.C., as the financial services industry has learned in recent years regarding such issues as the creation of a self-regulatory organization for registered investment advisors or crafting a uniform fiduciary standard of care for both RIAs and broker-dealers. And don’t expect that pokey pace to change any time soon.
“Absent a crisis that would prompt Congress to take action, I think we’re stuck with the status quo for a while,” Dale Brown, CEO of the Financial Services Institute, said yesterday during a gathering in Philadelphia. “It will likely be a case of nibbling at the margins.”
Brown spoke at Gladstone Associates’ annual conference focused on mergers, valuations and succession planning within the RIA space. As head of FSI, which represents more than 100 firms and 37,000 members among independent advisors and broker-dealers, Brown for the second consecutive year came to the conference to speak about the latest doings on the regulatory front.
And, like last year, he offered some predictions for the year.
Given the lack of movement in Washington regarding Dodd-Frank proposals and the like, Brown didn’t have much fodder to work with. Then again, that was the story.
Take, for example, the wrangling over a uniform fiduciary standard of care for both RIAs and broker-dealers. “Congress told the SEC in Dodd-Frank that it may do this rulemaking if it determines that it should,” Brown said. “And that’s where we are, and that’s why I think this can keeps getting kicked down the road for a couple of reasons.”
For starters, he said, it’s a very complex issue. In addition, there isn't a broad consensus on what a uniform standard of care should look like.
“FSI has taken the view that the SEC ought to be working on a uniform fiduciary standard of care under the securities laws that would levelize, if you will, the legal standard for everyone providing retail investment advice whether you’re on the broker-dealer or RIA side of the business.
“I think everyone in the industry agrees this would be a good thing in concept,” he continued. “What’s debatable is the details of how the principles of a fiduciary standard are translated into a rule that’s supposed to apply to a diverse industry from both a business model and regulatory standpoint.”
FSI’s stance is that a uniform fiduciary standard shouldn’t exclude the broker-dealer model of selling commissionable products in favor of the fee-based RIA model. Doing so, FSI says, would have unintended consequences because investors with smaller accounts often can’t afford to pay for fee-based service and would get squeezed out of getting investment and retirement advice.