Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) told Financial Advisor magazine Thursday he hasn’t decided whether he is in favor of having Finra or other self-regulatory organizations oversee financial advisors.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” the senator said.
A proposal to add another layer of regulation on advisors floundered in the House Financial Services Committee last year.
Johnson’s remarks came following a committee hearing featuring testimony by the nation’s top federal financial regulators.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Elisse Walter told the panel subjecting investment advisors and broker-dealers to similar fiduciary standards “is the right thing to do.”
“I would like to move forward as quickly as possible,” Walter said. She added the commission expects to have a proposal ready in a month or two to solicit comment from retail investors and the financial services industry on whether investment advisor and broker-dealer fiduciary standards should be harmonized.
Two years ago, SEC staff presented the commission with options ranging from requiring the same fiduciary standard when the professionals are offering professional advice about securities to retail investors or when they provide like services to retail investors and harmonization leads meaningfully to greater investor protection.
In questioning after the session, she said she didn’t think the absence of a Democratic or Republican majority on the commission would lead to deadlock.
Describing her optimism, Walter said “we’re an independent agency, not a political body." While over 96 percent of commission votes in President Obama’s first term were unanimous, SEC spokesperson John Nester said some decisions on Dodd Frank rulemaking was done on a party-line vote.
Currently, there is a two to two split on the commission. The president’s party is allowed to have a majority of three members, but President Obama’s nomination of Mary Jo White as SEC chairman is in the early stages of the Senate confirmation process.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler told the Senate committee a lack of funding threatens to undermine the agency’s ability to monitor the protection of customer funds at future commission merchants who act as facilitators of trades.
“We desperately need more resources,” Gensler said. While CFTC Dodd Frank responsibilities have increased dramatically in the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, Congress cut one third off President Obama's funding request.
The CFTC plans to finalize a rule this year to strengthen protection of customer funds FCMs, he said.
“It would set new regulatory accounting requirements and would raise minimum standards for independent public accountants who audit FCMs. And it would provide regulators with daily direct electronic access to FCMs’ bank and custodial accounts for customer funds,” he said.
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made his first appearance before the Senate Banking Committee since a federal appellate court ruling called into question the constitutionality of his recess appointment by President Obama.
No Republican senators questioned Cordray on the validity of the CFPB’s actions since his appointment, despite the fact that 42 Senate Republicans recently sent a letter to President Obama in which they vowed to reject any nominee unless he restructures the CFPB. The senators, among other things, want the agency to be governed by a board, not a director, and to have its budget controlled by Congress.
It was similar demands that led Obama to bypass the customary Senate process and anoint Cordray as a recess appointment
When pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), none of the regulators could or would recall the last time each of their agencies brought a Wall Street bank to trial.
Warren said the lack of court actions, which could reveal more misdeeds of the banks, results in a weakening of protection of the public.