Dodd-Frank Legislation? For Asset Managers, Who Cares?

The truth is, asset managers haven’t gotten very involved in the debate surrounding the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, mostly because they say there are few issues that apply to them. According to Barbara Novick, founder of BlackRock and a member of the firm’s Government Relations Steering Committee, the financial services industry has mostly been represented by bankers and broker/dealers.

When Martin Beaulieu, head of global distribution at MFS Investment Management, recently sat down with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in his office, Dimon asked him if he had read the derivatives regulation that’s part of Dodd-Frank. Beaulieu told Dimon he was familiar with it, but he hadn’t read it. “You haven’t done your homework,” Dimon said to him.The truth is, asset managers haven’t gotten very involved in the debate surrounding the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, mostly because they say there are few issues that apply to them. According to Barbara Novick, founder of BlackRock and a member of the firm’s Government Relations Steering Committee, the financial services industry has mostly been represented by bankers and broker/dealers.But Novick has been very active in lobbying around the Dodd-Frank legislation, and she has encouraged BlackRock’s competitors to get involved from an oversight perspective. The industry has the power to challenge certain issues by demanding reports and sending letters. Fidelity has been the most active alongside BlackRock, she said. Vanguard has also been active on this front, posting white papers and writing comment letters.Novick believes the overall framework of Dodd-Frank is a good one, but “the problem is, the devil is in the details.” The more technical the reform is, the fewer regulators understand it, she said.One concern is with the SEC’s additional proposals for money market funds, particularly the recommendation that these funds use a floating NAV structure, according to a BlackRock white paper. These funds are used by financial corporations and municipalities, and if financial reform altered the nature of these funds, it would be difficult for these organizations to get lending for their operational needs, Novick said.Beaulieu believes a floating NAV structure would be a mistake for money market funds because it would treat sophisticated investors and traditional retail investors the same. This structure, he says, is not suitable for a traditional retail investor who wants a safe haven but doesn’t want the added risk.He also doesn’t think the idea of a private bank as a liquidity backstop will fly. With the liquidity facility, the transfer of financial risk would happen between one company to another, and the other members of the bank are left having to pay for the blowup, he says.MFS and the Association of Institutional Investors co-authored a letter to the SEC, expressing their views on the possible fiduciary standard and a self-regulatory organization. The co-authored letter calls on the SEC to take into account the difference between institutional advisors and retail advisors. It proposes that the SEC continue to regulate institutional advisors and that retail advisors come under an SRO or a different structure, Beaulieu says.Another area that has not been given enough attention is retirement, Novick said. As we will see a wave of defined benefit plans freezing and moving toward a defined contribution model, something has got to change on a national level, not just a local level, she said. The changes will have to be applied to those who are still working.“You have a generational conflict coming,” she said. “The can’s been kicked down the road for too long.”As far as regulation goes, the Department of Labor is looking at fee disclosures and changes related to target date funds. But Novick said the problem has not been with target date funds with longer time horizons. During the recession, people went into asset allocation products and didn’t understand what they were getting into, she said. People need to become more personally educated on these products, according to Novick.According to George Ball, CEO and chairman of Sanders Morris Harris Group, a Houston-based asset and wealth management firm, there’s a lack of clarity in the legislation on how to do full and clear fee disclosure. The legislation doesn’t describe how that’s going to be done, he said.Sanders Morris Harris Group has been involved in the debate through SIFMA, as well as by talking to elected officials the executives know personally.While Beaulieu doesn’t think there’ll be a cap on compensation, he does believe there will be more focus on who pays for what. It will require them to be more thoughtful on cost accounting, product design and fees, he said.

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