Fast Growth Helps FSI Gain Clout In Washington

The Financial Services Institute has more than doubled its advisor membership from 15,000 in 2011 to 34,000 today. Many firms are subsidizing the cost of membership for their advisors, the institute says, and it reflects the fact that advisory firms see a clear need to support the group’s work among lawmakers, both in Washington and at the state level.

Dale Brown, president and CEO of FSI, told journalists at the group’s OneVoice 2012 conference in Orlando, Fla., this week that the institute’s 2012 budget is up to some $5 million, a 25 percent increase over last year. FSI hopes to reach 40,000 advisor members and a budget of about $7.5 million by 2015, he said.

The group has 40 firms partnering with it to promote membership, 10 of which are using a new model where firms pay for the advisors’ membership for a year before the responsibility shifts to the FAs themselves. IBDs that have enrolled their advisors over the past year include Cetera, LPL Financial, Investors Capital, Foothill Securities and Ladenburg Thalmann. Hopefully, Brown says, advisors will see the value and continue their membership after their subsidy ends.

The push for rapid growth is needed for the group to make its presence felt on Capitol Hill. There are a number of issues circulating among lawmakers and regulatory agencies that challenge the independent advisory model, says Joe Russo, chairman of FSI’s board, including the possible revamping of 12b-1 fees and independent contractor rules.

Bellaire believes FSI has had its “best year yet,” influencing the decision by the DOL to withdrawal its proposal on the fiduciary standard for retirement accounts; testifying in favor of an SRO for investment advisers; urging offending provisions be stripped out of a California independent contractor bill; and even helping reduce the time it takes to get branch office registration in Florida.

Sixty-five percent of FSI’s 2012 budget will go towards hiring additional staff. David Bellaire, general counsel and director of government affairs, said he plans to add a new lobbyist and two lawyers to his team. FSI is also building out a taxation and retirement team and a state advocacy team, lead by Matthew Schwartz, government affairs counsel. The group will also hire a lawyer and lobbyist for the securities regulatory team, as well as additional administrative staff.

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