In his 18 years as chief of the Investment Adviser Association, David Tittsworth and his organization have been like a proverbial David pitted against the Goliath-like lobbying might of Wall Street and other major financial services interests regarding issues affecting its membership base of SEC-registered investment advisors. Tittsworth, 61, officially stepped down as IAA’s president and CEO on November 3, and will stick around until early February as an advisor to his successor, Karen Barr, IAA’s longtime general counsel. As he leaves, he reflects on some of IAA’s most important victories and its continuing battles on matters important to RIAs.

Tittsworth says one day in particular stands out for him––June 6, 2012––when he testified in front of the full House Financial Services Committee. Then-Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) had introduced legislation that would’ve authorized the creation of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) for RIAs. “I was one of two witnesses who opposed the chairman’s bill (the other was from the North American Securities Administrators Association). I was asked maybe 60% to 70% of the questions during that two-and-a-half-hour hearing, and that was perhaps the most intense experience of the past 18 years,” he recalls. “I’m happy to say that after the hearing, the legislation never came to a vote. That issue is still alive and will likely continue to be alive after I leave the IAA next year.”

He also credits Nasaa, the Financial Planning Coalition, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and certain consumer groups in the SRO fight. “During the 18 years I’ve been here, one of the things I’m most proud about is that whole effort in 2012 was the biggest collective effort I’ve seen to date of investment advisors making phone calls and sending e-mails and contacting members of Congress about an issue,” Tittsworth says. “And that’s something investment advisors need to do more of going forward.”

In that vein, Tittsworth points to the collaborative efforts that created the electronic filing of Form ADV, which was phased in over a number of years. “In 2000, we had a working group with the SEC, Nasaa, states securities regulators and IAA,” he says. “Together with the then-NASD [National Association of Securities Dealers], now Finra [created when the NASD merged with the New York Stock Exchange’s regulation committee], which was and still operates the investment advisor registration depository for the SEC, we collaborated on making the electronic filing of this primary disclosure document work. I think that whole rollout was one of the most smooth and complaint-free processes I’ve ever witnessed.”

But Tittsworth leaves the IAA with at least one thorn in his side. “The fiduciary duty debate is probably the issue that continues to vex me,” he says. “The SEC has talked about doing a rule-making under Section 913 of Dodd-Frank, but the brokers and insurance agents have successfully lobbied people at the SEC and on Capitol Hill that imposing a fiduciary duty will deprive retail investors of choices they have. I think lost in the debate, and what we and others point out, is that investors are confused and that many options on the broker and insurance side involve compensation that amounts to conflicted advice and isn’t properly disclosed.”

After attaining his undergrad and law degrees from the University of Kansas, Tittsworth’s career included stints at private law firms and in the public sector. He worked on Capitol Hill as counsel of the House Commerce Committee prior to joining the IAA in October 1996, when it was still called the Investment Counsel Association (it became the IAA in 2005) and had two people in New York. Today, the Washington, D.C.-based organization has 16 employees, with half being attorneys. Its membership has grown from about 200 firms that managed $1 trillion to more than 550 firms managing more than $14 trillion.

While Tittsworth is proud of how far IAA has come and is bullish on its future, he realizes that it and other like-minded groups remain small fish in the lobbying pond of the nation’s capital. “I think the brokers and the insurance agents and the banks certainly have a lot more clout than we do,” he says. “They’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have, they’re better at it, and we have a long way to go to catch up.”

But with roughly 11,000 SEC-registered investment advisors, $62 trillion in collective assets and more than 700,000 employees, Tittsworth believes the advisory profession is a “sleeping giant.”

“It’s a very fragmented industry with financial planners, wealth managers, institutional shops, private funds and mutual funds,” he says. “It’s a very big umbrella when you use the term ‘investment advisor.’ I’m a big tent guy, and I think all investment advisors need to come together in a collective effort to create a united voice and that’s how we can make a difference in the policy debates on Capitol Hill and with regulators.”

Although Tittsworth is leaving the IAA, he wants to keep his hand in the RIA pot. “I’d like to remain engaged with the investment advisory profession in some capacity, but I haven’t figured that out yet.”