Articles Tagged with SRO

Proposed legislation designed to create a self-regulatory organization (SRO) for investment advisers may not be acted on during this Congressional session, according to its sponsor, Rep. Spencer Bachus (D-Ala.). Rep. Bachus, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said earlier this week that no consensus has developed regarding any proposal relating to enhancing investment adviser oversight and that, therefore, no action is imminent.

There has been increasing interest and legislative activity over the past several months relating to investment adviser examinations. While there is almost universal agreement that examination coverage should be increased, there is a sharp division among industry members, regulators and legislators about how to accomplish that goal.

Most observers agree that Rep. Bachus’s bill, if passed, would lead to the Financial Regulatory Authority (FINRA) becoming the SRO for investment advisers. Adviser organizations have split over supporting the bill, with the Financial Services Institute (FSI) as a supporter, and the Investment Adviser Association (IAA) and the American Institute of CPAs strongly opposed. Other investment adviser organizations have also come out in opposition to the Bachus bill, as has the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).
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According to an InvestmentNews poll, 58.7% of 293 advisers who responded to a recent survey support the option of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charging user fees to defray the costs of increased examinations. This is an increase from a year ago when only 27.8% of 335 responding advisers supported the user fee approach. The poll also concluded that 74.7% of advisers said they oppose permitting the Financial Regulatory Authority (FINRA) from becoming the self regulatory organization (SRO) for advisers.

The increased willingness of advisers to pay user fees suggests that there could be more support for the bill soon to be introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that would authorize the SEC to charge user fees for advisers to cover or defray the costs of examinations. Rep. Waters’s bill would combat the SRO bill introduced by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Al) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY).
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The Financial Services Institute (FSI) Chair, Joe Russo, recently released a letter stating that the FSI supports the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as the new self-regulatory organization (SRO) for investment advisers. Russo stated that the FSI has conducted two polls of its financial adviser members to determine whether they support FINRA as the SRO and 75% agreed that FINRA should become the SRO.

FSI has been asked by a number of critics why it has not advocated repealing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. In response, FSI says that the act will likely not be repealed as a practical matter. Therefore, FSI has decided to focus its legislative efforts on securing for its members the least intrusive of the three options for investment adviser regulation posed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Those options are (1) the SEC charging user fees to fund more examiners, (2) FINRA becoming the dual SRO for broker-dealers and investment advisers, or (3) creating a new SRO.
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As a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan investigative agency of Congress, conducted a study which criticized the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The purpose of the study was to determine how the SEC has conducted its oversight of FINRA, including the effectiveness of FINRA rules, and how the SEC plans to enhance its oversight.

The GAO found that both the SEC and FINRA do not conduct retrospective reviews of the impact of FINRA’s rules. As a result, the GAO believes that “FINRA may be missing an opportunity to systematically assess whether its rules are achieving their intended purpose and take appropriate action, such as maintaining rules that are effective and modifying or repealing rules that are ineffective or burdensome.” The GAO also noted that the SEC does not conduct sufficient oversight over FINRA’s governance and executive compensation. The SEC has responded to the survey by saying that it is focused primarily on oversight of FINRA’s regulatory departments, which the SEC claims has the biggest impact on investors.
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The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), on May 29, wrote to Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) opposing the self-regulatory organization (SRO) bill that was reintroduced in the House of Representatives in April. We discussed the bill in a previous post, SRO Redraft Bill Reintroduced. POGO joins a long list of groups, including the Investment Advisers Association, the Financial Planning Coalition and the American Institute of CPAs, opposing the bill. POGO is particularly opposed to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) becoming the SRO because it believes that “FINRA’s regulatory effectiveness is undermined by its inherent conflicts of interest, its lack of transparency and accountability, its lobbying expenditures, and its executive compensation packages, among other issues.”

The letter addresses each area of concern POGO has relating to FINRA becoming the SRO for investment advisers. First, POGO states that FINRA’s “conflicted mission” will lead “to cozy ties with the industry.” POGO says the conflict arises because FINRA collects fees from member firms and is also charged with regulating the investment adviser industry. POGO believes that FINRA’s “inherently conflicted self-funding model has contributed to an incestuous relationship between FINRA and the industry it is tasked with regulating.” In contrast, POGO contends that government agencies are not conflicted because they must comply with federal ethic laws and agency regulations designed to alleviate the conflicts.
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Another large group in the financial service industry has come forward to oppose authorizing the Federal Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to become the self regulatory organization (SRO) for investment advisers. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) has voiced its desire to keep the oversight of investment advisers with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The AICPA is the world’s largest association representing the accounting profession. It is interested in the oversight of investment advisers because a number of its members work for firms that are registered or affiliated with a registered investment adviser. Members also provide audit, tax, retirement consulting, plan administration and financial planning services to their clients.
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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has responded to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study that estimated the cost of FINRA becoming the investment adviser self regulatory organization (SRO). The BCG study, which we have discussed in a previous blog, was sponsored by the Financial Planning Coalition, comprised of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers. The Financial Planning Coalition, along with a number of other groups, is urging Congress to maintain investment adviser oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The BCG study concluded that, if FINRA were to become the investment adviser SRO, the one-time start-up cost would be between $200 million and $255 million, and the annual cost would be about $550 million to $610 million. In response to the BCG study, last month FINRA released its own cost estimates. According to FINRA, its start-up cost would be approximately $12 million to $15 million, with annual cost of about $150 million to $155 million. FINRA contends that the BCG projection is inaccurate because “BCG used as its base the costs for establishing the PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) and the CFPB from scratch. BCG used figures – set up costs for organizations that didn’t even have one desk or employee to start with – and provided for only a 20% discount off the from-scratch start-up costs to allow for efficiencies in FINRA’s existing infrastructure.”
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House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) has reintroduced his bill calling for a self-regulatory organization (SRO) for investment advisers. The bill has a Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), indicating that it may have some bipartisan support. Rep. Bachus said that the bill was drafted in response to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) study which showed that the SEC does not have sufficient resources to adequately monitor and regulate the 12,000 registered investment advisers. The SEC examined only 8% of advisers in 2011, which is significantly less than the 58% of broker-dealers that were examined.

The bill calls for the creation of one or more SROs which would be called a “National Investment Adviser Association” (NIAA). NIAA would report to the SEC, and investment advisers with retail customers would be required to become members. The bill provides an exception from the membership requirement for investment advisers with less than $100 million in assets under management. The bill gives individual states the authority to regulate those investment advisers as long as the states conduct periodic on-site examinations.
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The Investment Advisers Association (IAA) believes that it needs to become more outspoken and involved in order to deter Congress from passing legislation requiring a self-regulatory organization (SRO) be designated for registered investment advisers. The IAA is concerned because Congress is fully aware of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) position and its desire to become the SRO for investment advisers. IAA vice president for government relations Neil Simon stated, “Despite our best efforts, there is still a woeful ignorance of the role investment advisers play. They’re aware of FINRA. We need to help educate policymakers so they make informed decisions.”

Section 914 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prepare a report considering whether there should be an SRO for investment advisers, as there is for broker-dealers. The SEC set forth three possible models to help the agency better oversee advisers: (1) allow the SEC to charge user fees for exams, (2) establish a new SRO, or (3) allow FINRA to be the SRO for both registered investment advisers and broker-dealers. The IAA is supporting the user fee approach, while FINRA is aggressively pursuing becoming the designated SRO. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala) previously offered a bill which would provide for an SRO in response to the SEC’s recommendations, which were delivered to Congress in January 2011. Some industry observers believe that Rep. Bachus is likely to release a revised discussion draft of his bill and push it, because he will leave his post of Financial Services Chairman in January 2013 due to term limits.
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The Obama administration released a proposed budget last week that will boost the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) budget for the next fiscal year. The SEC claims the need for an increased budget stems from the mandatory creation of 100 rules which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act and the need to hire new examiners to regulate the market more efficiently. The proposed budget would increase the SEC’s funding by 18.5 percent from $1.32 billion to $1.57 billion.

Prior to the release of the Obama administration budget, the SEC submitted a budget request which stated that the new budget would allow for 222 new examiners. That request estimated that in 2013 it will be responsible for examining 10,000 advisers with $44 trillion in assets under management. Currently, it only has 10 examiners per $1 trillion in assets under management, a decrease since 2005 when it had 19 examiners for every $1 trillion in assets under management. The SEC is capable of reviewing only eight percent of registered advisers each year. Investment advisers have also shown a preference to be regulated by the SEC as opposed to FINRA or another self regulatory authority (SRO), as we discussed in a previous blog, BCG Report Claims FINRA Cost Will Exceed SEC Cost as RIA SRO.
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