(Dow Jones) Recent shake-ups in the U.S. Senate could influence lawmakers' efforts to reform the nation's hobbled financial regulatory system-but probably not the development of a stringent fiduciary standard for certain broker dealers.
Advisors say they expect the next three weeks to be crunch time for regulatory reform on Capitol Hill.
Congress reconvened from its winter recess on January 5 to face a political landscape vastly different from the one it left weeks before. The U.S. House passed landmark financial-services-reform legislation on December 11. The 2010 session, however, began with a bombshell. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D. Conn.) chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announced plans to retire. On Tuesday, Scott Brown won an upset victory in the state's U.S. Senate race to become the first Republican senator from Massachusetts in more than 30 years.
Uncertainty about Dodd's potential influence in his remaining days and Brown's positions on regulatory specifics has lead to some concerns that the Senate's financial services regulatory reform efforts may be delayed or possibly gutted.
The discussion, which has kicked off with proposed legislation drafted by Sen. Dodd, will undoubtedly include a type of fiduciary standard for brokers who give advice.
A spokesman for Brown said the Senator elect hasn't yet commented on the subject. Brown has said, however, that the financial industry doesn't need more regulation-just better enforcement of existing laws, according to the spokesman.
Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, questions whether Sen. Elect Brown's victory will significantly affect fiduciary reform efforts. "I don't know if one vote changes anything," she said. The proposed reform wasn't a partisan issue in the U.S. House and may not be as senators begin to debate the issue.
Based on comments from key figures in the industry and the Securities and Exchange Commission, creating a uniform fiduciary standard remains an important issue-and one that is becoming more explicit.
"When investors receive similar services from similar financial-service providers, it is critical that the service providers be subject to a uniform fiduciary standard of conduct that is at least as strong as exists under the Investment Advisers Act ... regardless of the label attached to the service providers," SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro recently told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in prepared testimony.
David Tittsworth, executive director of the Investment Adviser Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said that Schapiro, who has spoken generally about a fiduciary duty in earlier speeches, was getting "more specific."