With many issues surrounding the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act set to come to a head in the next year, advocacy is more important than ever for industry groups like the Financial Services Institute (FSI), says President and Chief Executive, Dale Brown.
FSI's sole purpose is to advocate on behalf of independent broker-dealers and independent investment advisors it represents. But that effort is even stronger now, as the Securities and Exchange Commission could implement a new fiduciary rule for all retail investment advice. The Department of Labor may also expand its definition of fiduciary advice tied to qualified retirement plans.
"Our engagement is critical," Brown says. "We're either actively lobbying and engaged in the process to try to influence the outcome, or we stand on the sideline and somebody else makes these decisions for us."
For large banks, trade groups, and self-regulatory organizations, first quarter lobbying reports show that certain members of the wealth management industry are also placing a large emphasis on having their voices heard on Capitol Hill. For instance, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), spent $1.33 million.
FINRA, has also recently increased its lobbying spending, reporting $300,000 for the first quarter, up from $220,000 in the fourth quarter and $210,000 in the first quarter of 2010.
Banks with brokerage arms, like Wells Fargo & Co., spent $1.94 million on lobbying in the first quarter, on pace with the $1.92 million in lobbying expenses it reported for the fourth quarter and up from $1.02 million in the first quarter of 2010.
Wealth management wirehouses behind Wells Fargo in first quarter lobbying spending include Bank of America N.A., with $930,000; Morgan Stanley & Co., $740,000; and UBS Americas Inc., $190,000.
All of the disclosures from those organizations mentioned topics related to the wealth management industry, including, the fiduciary standard of care and a self-regulatory organization for investment advisors.
New lobbying spending comes as the bruises to banks' reputations are still healing from the financial crisis. In April, the International Monetary Fund released a research report that detailed strong lobbying efforts tied to mortgage lending by major financial institutions, prior to the crisis. After the financial meltdown hit, those same firms were most likely to get government support, the report says.
Now, as banks distance themselves from the time they were paying back the Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, they can freely lobby against the administration's objectives. Those efforts may be more pronounced, as the credit card bill that was implemented last year has hurt profitability, says Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.
But the lobbying influence does not just end with large banks. With 7,000 U.S. banks spread over 3,000 counties, regional banks have just as much influence on legislators.
"Goldman might not be in your district, but you certainly might have a small community regional bank in your district," Calabria says. "Those banks also tend to be very aggressive and active in the local community."
But there are those who feel the financial services industry is already a behemoth when it comes to lobbying. Consumer advocacy groups like the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), who see credit card reform as a boon for consumers, still believe too much attention is being paid to the concerns of banks and the financial services industry in general. "There's no one on the right or left that could possibly — with a straight face — say that the banks did not cause this problem," CRL's spokeswoman, Kathleen Day, says. "So why are some people still listening to the banks? It's about money."
But for FSI, having a voice in new rules that could impact industry profitability and costs to consumers, is critical. FSI is now developing a five-year advocacy strategy, which includes plans to triple its 16,000 financial advisor membership and expand beyond its current 127 broker-dealer members.
Those plans come as Dodd-Frank and other regulatory measures could result in FSI's members' costs of business going up. That would, in turn, result in their clients paying more, Brown says.
"We will never apologize for fighting for our members' interests," Brown says. "We think that the interests of investors and the interests of the industry are in line because investors need advice. They need advice they can afford and that meets their specific needs."