As sharp lines have emerged within a prominent House committee over how to step up examinations of investment advisors, the panel's chairman has signaled that no legislation will advance without broad, bipartisan consensus.
An aide to Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, confirmed to Financial Planning that competing proposals for where oversight of the sector should properly be housed won't come to a vote before fundamental differences are reconciled.
"Until there is broader agreement on a bill, no bill will be able to move through the committee," the aide said.
That word from the committee, just ahead of lawmakers' August recess, follows closely on the introduction of a bill authored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) that would authorize the Securities and Exchange Commission to levy fees on investment advisors to fund a more aggressive examination program. By its own account, the SEC only reviewed 8% of registered investment advisors in 2011.
But Bachus, along with Democrat Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.), has introduced legislation that would direct the SEC to name at least one self-regulatory organization (SRO) to conduct the reviews, a responsibility that group would share with state authorities.
"Everyone agrees there is a serious problem," Bachus said in a statement. "Unfortunately, there is no consensus on how to fix it."
The debate over what body should take on the mantle of overseeing investment advisors has created divisions among industry groups. Organizations such as the Investment Adviser Association and the Financial Planning Coalition, for instance, have thrown their support behind the Waters bill, arguing that the SEC is the most qualified entity to oversee advisors, while the addition of a new layer of regulation in the form of an SRO would only increase the cost and compliance burdens for industry members.
Meantime, groups such as the Financial Services Institute have lined up behind Bachus' proposal to grant new regulatory authorities to an independent supervisor, most likely the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). With the legislative calendar in this election-shortened year running thin, word that Bachus would shelve his bill in the absence of a general agreement among committee members was not altogether surprising.
"We've said from day one that this was a multi-year process," said FSI spokesman Chris Paulitz. "What is encouraging, with the release of Rep. Waters' bill, is that now everyone agrees the status quo is not acceptable and we must increase examinations to protect investors."
Indeed, the authors of the competing bills agree on the regulatory deficit that their proposals are meant to remedy. But Waters, along with co-sponsors Barney Frank, the ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, and Michael Capuano, both Massachusetts Democrats, maintains that the SEC, rather than a group with close ties to the industry, would be best suited to handle oversight if it were given adequate funding. By empowering the agency to collect fees from industry practitioners, their bill would avoid an additional congressional appropriation to fund the enhanced examination regime.
Bachus, though he has been skeptical about the SEC's ability to effectively oversee the advisor industry, said in shelving his bill that he remains open to alternative proposals to implement appropriate regulatory reviews. As a matter of process, he said that only a bill with a solid majority will emerge from the committee.
"No bill, including the bipartisan bill I offered, will move forward in the committee unless and until there is a consensus," Bachus said. "Our only goal should be to deter bad actors and to protect American investors. I see no way to do that without timely examinations. Who conducts those examinations and how is still open for debate, as far as I'm concerned."