ORLANDO, Fla. – Amid record attendance and formidable growth in its membership ranks, the leaders of the Financial Services Institute insisted that ensuring the organization’s potency as lawmakers define a fiduciary standard for the industry is chief among their strategies and challenges for the coming year.

“We’re marshalling the resources that we have, that our friends and competitors in those other business models don’t have,” said Dale Brown, CEO of FSI, who opened FSI's annual OneVoice broker-dealer conference in Orlando, Fla. earier this week. “Wall Street – their trade organizations have almost a hundred years of experience and tons of money – but they can’t mobilize thousands of advisors. We can do that,” he added.

FSI has more than doubled its ranks in the past year, growing to 34,000 members. Expecting attrition because much of the growth was due to membership dues subsidized by about 40 large firms, FSI hopes to have 40,000 members and a $7 million to $7.5 million operating budget by 2015. Spending is set at $5 million for this year.

“What matters in Washington, D.C., is numbers,” said Joe Russo, FSI’s chairman and the first advisor to head the organization. He is chairman of Longwood, Fla.-based Advantage Financial Group.

Keith Kelly, FSI’s executive vice president, added that the organization has “intentionally fused advocacy and membership together.”

Many advisors have fretted publicly that, if lawmakers impose a fiduciary standard on all wealth managers, even the smallest clients seeking simple guidance on opening an IRA would face a huge increase in fees, driving away that business and leaving those clients to fend for themselves.

“The economics do not work when you add heavy regulatory burdens” for servicing smaller clients, Russo said.

“Advisors are seeing for the first time the dangers that are coming out of D.C. and the states. … It would disenfranchise the very people they are trying to protect,” he added.

FSI officials crow that, at their prompting, 5,000 advisors wrote to the White House to urge restraint in addressing the fiduciary issue, and that 260 meetings were held in a single day on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington to discuss the matter.

A heavy regulatory burden would disrupt the advisor business model, Brown argued. “The core of the business model is you have an advisor who is client-focused, is not an employee beholden to any corporate parent, is a business owner, an entrepreneur, a professional in their community in partnership with an independent financial services firm,” he said.


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