After a watershed year for legislation related to the financial services industry, 2011 will likely be a time when the ripples from those changes just begin to reach the industry, according to a SIFMA industry panel in January.
SIFMA, which typically submits 60 to 100 comment letters in a normal year to various regulators, has already put in 50 comment letters related to the six-month-old Dodd-Frank legislation, said Ken Bentsen, executive vice president of public policy and advocacy at SIFMA. "This is an undertaking that's very much like what it would have been if you did the 33 Act, the 34 Act, the Glass-Steagall Act and the 240 Acts all at the same time," he said. "This is a major undertaking for the executive branch as well as for the industry."
The result, according to the panel, is that 2011 will be a time when the effects start to hit, for better or for worse. SIFMA is working to lobby for the best possible rulemaking and the easiest adjustment for financial firms expected to adopt those new rules.
SIFMA believes the government should take its time with the new rulemaking process instead of strictly adhering to the deadlines.
After that, the federal agencies should hand down realistic deadlines for firms to get their compliance practices in place, said SIFMA President and CEO Tim Ryan. "It concerns me that as fatigue sets in, you are forced to make decisions that maybe you wouldn't if you had a lot more time," Ryan said of the massive rulemaking ahead that the new laws require. "My hope is that they have the right people to do the job and enough time to do the job properly."
An example of a direct market player set to adjust to the new rules handed down is RBC Wealth Management U.S., which works with both individual and business investors. New regulation means that the firm has to get its 6,000-member staff in line with new practices.
That regulatory process will likely be rigorous, said John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management U.S. and chairman at SIFMA. It will start with the writing of new federal policies and procedures, followed by the requirement for firms to create new documentation and programming of code and implement training of staff on new procedures and compliance. Firms will also have to create new systems to monitor that compliance. "You can't answer that with one size fits all," Taft said during the panel's conference call in January with SIFMA members. "As a person who runs a business, most of you in this room probably underestimate how much work goes into even implementing the simplest and most straight forward new regulation."
Part of the upcoming regulation could include a new, uniform fiduciary standard, an issue that predates Dodd-Frank as it was first introduced in summer 2009. Under a fiduciary standard, an advisor is required to put the best interests of the clients first and provide dispassionate advice. Under a suitability standard, which many brokers now adhere to, an advisor must recommend products that merely are suitable for a particular client. For the last 70 years, registered investment advisors have been included in existing fiduciary duty, but they are not contained in the statute, said Ira Hammerman, SIFMA's general counsel. As a result, existing fiduciary laws have been set by judges at the state and federal level, he says. SIFMA is urging the government to set a clear definition of the fiduciary duty that all investors and firms can understand.
But, Taft said, a uniform fiduciary standard should not place limits on who clients choose to work with, what products and services they can access or where a financial professional can work.