The Financial Services Institute is heralding the advance of legislation in Florida that would significantly ease the registration process for advisors representing firms headquartered in other states.

On Tuesday, a state senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would make Florida a "notice-filing" state, which means that representatives of out-of-state financial firms seeking to do business in Florida would be automatically approved upon filing their application, and at that point could immediately begin offering advice to clients in the state.

Under the current system, applicants must wait until they win the blessing of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation before they can begin operating, and that process has often stretched out for several weeks, according to the FSI. That meant that any outside advisory firm or broker-dealer looking to set up shop in a state whose residents comprise one of the largest markets for advisors had to endure considerable regulatory delays and substantial uncertainty.

"It's not just a Florida issue. It's really a nationwide issue," said FSI spokesman Chris Paulitz. "It's any broker-dealer around the country who has an advisor in Florida."

The proposed legislation would streamline the application process for outside firms setting up a branch in the state, as well as individual advisors who change their broker-dealer affiliation or relocate within the state.

The senate committee's action follows unanimous approval of a companion bill by a house panel, sending the measure to the floor of each chamber, where the FSI expects it to encounter little opposition.

"We're very confident that it will pass both chambers and be signed by the governor by Labor Day," Paulitz said.

The FSI has been working with Florida regulators for years to streamline their review process for advisor applications, and has recently expanded its lobbying presence in the state capital to build momentum for the bill to make Florida a notice-filing state.

Final passage would bring Florida in line with almost every other state's registration process. According to the FSI, only five states aside from Florida -- Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Texas and Vermont -- haven't adopted a notice-filing system, but that members of the trade group only reported significant delays with their applications in the Sunshine State.

"For years, we were getting nightmare calls from our members," Paulitz said. "The problem is you can't really look ahead. You can't do it a month before you move -- you have to do it once you've moved."

The FSI said that it has won the support of the Office of Financial Regulation for the notice-filing shift, in part by agreeing to a provision that would give regulators 30 days to notify registrants of a problem with their application. The FSI would have liked that timeframe to be longer to give applicants more time to withdraw their applications to avoid a fine, but considers that a small concession in a legislative negotiation that figures to allow its members to begin working in Florida immediately after they filed their application.

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