Of all the important ways in which the independent financial services sector has evolved to expand its voice in Washington, D.C. and the states since the Financial Services Institute (FSI) was founded in 2004, one development has flown under the radar—yet it’s been one of the most vital factors in helping us secure a seat at the table when major regulation or legislation that impacts our industry is discussed.

I’m referring to the ever-increasing determination of firm executives and advisors across the country to not only get engaged in the advocacy priorities that matter to our industry, but to take leadership roles in proactively pushing those priorities forward.

As my team and I work with members each week to encourage them to get involved in our mission, we are increasingly finding that another powerful force is spurring these professionals to engage in advocacy in ways we have never seen before: The voices of their peers, expressed independently of our outreach efforts.

What we have found, in short, is that there is a new generation of advocacy leaders emerging across our industry. It’s a network of advisors and executives that have seen success in moving the needle on key bills and rule proposals, whether it’s through running for various FINRA committees; developing a working dialogue with their representatives in Congress; participating in our annual Capitol Hill Day and urging other members to do the same; attending hearings on key issues, or any number of other activities.

And it’s not just a handful of professionals. We are finding that advisors and firm executives today have a far more sophisticated grasp of how to impact legislative and regulatory rulemaking processes than they did 10 or even five years ago. They have also come to view advocacy as one of their own core priorities and set aside time to get involved.

These growing, industry-wide trends have strengthened the voice of the independent financial services sector by ensuring that regulators and legislators hear directly from the professionals on the front lines—helping to amplify our efforts to advance our industry’s advocacy priorities.

To honor this rising generation of advocacy leaders, this summer, we launched our new advocacy recognition program. These awards, which include the Stephen R. Kareta Excellence in Advocacy Award and the FSI Advocacy Circle of Excellence, celebrate our members’ service and achievements in fighting for a more sensible, business-friendly regulatory environment.

The honorees were selected for their efforts to organize and engage other members in advocacy, their devotion of time and resources to building and strengthening working relationships with legislators and regulators and many other factors.

The 20 members of this year’s Advocacy Circle of Excellence represent nearly every discipline across our industry, including firm CEOs; veteran financial advisors; leaders in compliance, supervision and regulatory affairs; and executives in operations, technology and marketing—demonstrating the breadth of the growing focus on advocacy leadership we are seeing throughout the independent financial services community.

Even among this extraordinarily dedicated group of 20, there were those that stood out for the example they set. We were therefore pleased to further recognize three members of the Circle of Excellence—Harman Wealth Management Managing Director and CEO Dean Harman, Kusske Financial Asset Management President Mary B. Kusske and Cetera Advisor Networks’ Head of Supervision Summer Pretzer—as the first recipients of the Stephen R. Kareta Excellence in Advocacy Award.

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