Lobbying over the contentious issue of regulatory oversight of investment advisors will likely continue deep into the next session of Congress, with some advocacy groups working to scuttle the measure altogether in an election-shortened legislative calendar.
The issue came under the spotlight in September, when a House Financial Services subcommittee held a hearing on proposals for oversight of the sector. Earlier in the month, committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) circulated draft language of a bill that would authorize the Securities and Exchange Commission to appoint a self-regulatory organization to oversee retail investment advisors.
At the time, Bachus signaled that he planned to introduce the bill formally by the year's end, but nearing the middle of December, it now appears likely that the bill won't drop until at least the early months of next year, and would then begin to work its way through the committee process.
And, if the formal bill closely resembles the draft legislation -- that is, retaining the core SRO provision -- opponents of the measure will continue to lobby to kill the bill.
Count among those the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), a group representing securities administrators at the state level, which has warned that inserting an SRO into the mix would only serve to muddle the compliance landscape by adding another regulatory layer. Instead, the group has argued that oversight today is properly housed at the SEC and with state authorities, who are best equipped by training and experience to oversee IAs, but that oversight falls short only because of a lack of funding.
Bob Webster, a spokesman for NASAA, recalled the September hearing, at which the organization testified "that there are numerous issues that must be addressed and resolved before an SRO for investment advisers should even be considered." Until those concerns, which include encroachment on state regulators' authority, are addressed, the group remains firm in its opposition to the measure.
"Today, our view hasn't changed and we continue to have concerns about the chairman's initial approach to this issue," Webster said in an email. "Pushing a possible IA SRO bill into the next session would give the full House Financial Services Committee an opportunity to take advantage of additional time to carefully assess the need for an IA SRO without rushing to judgment as it did with the recent crowdfunding legislation," he added, referring to the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act that the House passed with overwhelming support last month.
That bill would give entrepreneurs the ability to raise money by selling equities to a broad base of public investors, potentially disrupting the traditional venture capital model. Critics maintain that the bill would open the door to unscrupulous hucksters who, with little in the way of oversight, could use an online crowdfunding system to bilk naïve investors.
But Bachus' proposal for an SRO for advisors has its share of supporters, including the Financial Services Institute, which has been pressing hard on the issue, making its case to anyone who will listen that it is the only way to correct what it sees as a highly uneven system of oversight over the retail advisor industry.
The FSI is pressing for the SEC to name the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as the SRO to oversee independent investment advisors, establishing a uniform fiduciary standard across the industry that would subject IAs to the same level of oversight that broker-dealers currently face.
The FSI, Chairman Bachus and other supporters of the move to an SRO model cite a study the SEC conducted under a mandate from the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, finding that the growth of registered investment advisors has outpaced the agency's capacity to conduct regular oversight examinations. In 2004, 18% of RIAs were subjected to an SEC examination. By 2010, that proportion had slid to just 9%, the SEC found.
Ask Dale Brown, FSI's president and CEO, and he'll tell you he's not worried about the postponement of the Bachus bill.
"We are never surprised by delays in the legislative process -- they are inevitable," Brown said in an email. "Momentum is not only still in favor of Chairman Bachus' SRO bill, but it's growing, because it is the only viable solution to a growing problem."
Bachus' office did not immediately return phone messages and emails seeking comment on the status of the bill.