The head of Sifma contended yesterday that the market is not "rigged" and that brokerage services to retail investors keep getting better.

Ken Bentsen, president and CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, was responding to allegations in a controversial new book by Michael Lewis that high-frequency traders are rigging the market and cheating ordinary investors.

“We don’t believe the market is rigged,” Bentsen said at a policy conference of the North American Securities Administrators Association (Nasaa) in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Retail investors are getting “tremendously better” execution than they did 10 years ago with reduced spreads and commissions, he added.

In other comments, he said enhanced retirement savings tax breaks could help investors regain some of the confidence they lost in stocks after the 2008 market meltdown.

“It is difficult for the average worker to save,” he said.

Also at the conference, Paul Jiganti, TD Ameritrade’s managing director of market structure and client advocacy, said more transparency in the markets is needed to encourage retail investors to return to stocks from a current historically low rate of equity ownership by the public.

A more aggressive and effective Securities and Exchange Commission would also help, argued J. Robert Brown, an SEC investor advisory committee member and University of Denver Law professor.

Charles Vice, a Conference of State Bank Supervisors commissioner, told the regulators they need to be thinking about creating oversight for alternative currencies such as Bitcoins, which he claimed are here to stay.

Oversight questions begging to be addressed for Bitcoins and their competitors include what shape licensing and enforcement would take along with capital requirements, said Vice, who also services as head of the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions

“(Alternative currency) is something we have to get on to. There are a lot of scams out there,” said Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah State Department of Commerce.

Woodwell noted that regulation would diminish some of Bitcoin’s current advantages over traditional currency, including anonymity and the savings over the commission costs of online purchases with credit cards and PayPal, which typically run from 2 percent to 4 percent.

David Woo, head of currency research with Merrill Lynch Global Research, said Bitcoins would have to be regulated if there is to be a future for them. The public’s fascination with alternative currencies is driven by a fundamental distrust of the financial system caused by the last recession, he added.

Andrea Seidt, Nasaa President and a Ohio securities regulatory commissioner, said nearly all state securities regulators have signed a memorandum of understanding demonstrating their agreement to participate in NASAA’s new review program for Regulation A offerings.

She said this will help streamline state registration of Regulation A offerings. The program streamlines such offerings and includes strict review and comment timeframes—generally no more than 21 business days to finish for an offering with no application deficiencies.

Reg A offerings allow businesses to raise $5 million through stock sales without going through the costly process of SEC registration. Spurred by the JOBS Act, the SEC is preparing to raise the cap to $25 million.

Nasaa continues to balk at an SEC proposal to allow it to pre-empt state oversight of Reg A deals.