A ‘Bull Market’ in Regulation Lamented at the SIA Small Firms Conference

There is plenty of worry on the minds of attendees of the Security Industry Association’s Small Firms Conference this week.

SAN FRANCISCO—There is plenty of worry on the minds of attendees of the Security Industry Association’s Small Firms Conference this week.

In his keynote address Thursday morning, SIA President Mark Lackritz addressed many issues that affect small firms, from compliance issues to consolidation to increasing concerns about independent research. But Lackritz, like the attendees, also found themselves talking a lot about politics.

Lackritz did what he could to emphasize that the SIA is a “bipartisan, nonpartisan” organization, but acknowledged that in his lobbying efforts, he has found a more welcome, receptive audience with the Bush campaign than the Kerry campaign. “You can look at the different positions,” he said, “and, well, it’s much easier when the candidate and their campaigns actually believe in the markets rather than regulation. It’s clear one campaign is more receptive to that.”

It was clear, through his speech and through his audience’s questions, that he and the SIA are openly skeptical of the Kerry campaign, specifically the campaign’s stated goal of repealing the tax cut on dividends and capital gains to individuals with more than $200,000 in assets. “I—and we—think it’s just foolish,” Lackritz said. “We’ve had trouble with the Kerry campaign on this issue, repeated trouble.”

Lackritz also had slightly less harsh words for Bush, though by comparing the president to his opposing party. “We were joking [Wednesday night] that if Kerry won, one thing he’d definitely do is reappoint [SEC Chairman William] Donaldson, because it would be impossible to find a more traditionally Democratic leader of the SEC.”

The other major topic of conversation was the onrush—or “bull market,” as Lackritz put it—of regulation. Lackritz pointed out that there have been 52 new SEC regulations in the last two years, an unprecedented amount. Regulations tend to hit smaller firms harder than wirehouses and large regional firms, because they are issued uniformly, no matter what kind of resources a firm might have.

Several small firms’ representatives specifically brought up the new NASD Rule 30-12, released earlier this week. The rule requires all broker/dealers to designate a chief compliance officer by the end of the year and have that person provide a “comprehensive” yearly report showing exactly what procedures the firm has in place to make sure it is following all SEC and NASD regulations.

Many small firms are concerned that they will be required to provide oversight that they lack the resources to provide. And, as Lackritz put it in his speech, when it comes to regulation, “it feels like one damn thing after another,” emphasizing that, “when it comes to the press, the public and the regulators tend to just look at how regulation affects investors, rather than how it affects our costs.”

With regulation so forefront in people’s minds, it was no surprise that talk kept coming back to the election. Many small firms’ leaders even seemed to lament having an election at all. “It’s just terrible timing, really,” said one owner of a small firm in the Midwest. “As if we don’t have enough uncertainty, with Iraq, and terrorists, and everything else, now we might have someone new completely in charge.”

The majority of attendees—in a completely informal and unscientific survey—seemed to be Bush supporters, most often citing Kerry’s support for repealing the tax cut on dividends and capital gains. But there were holdouts, albeit quiet ones. “I’m voting for Kerry,” one whispered, “but don’t tell anybody. I might get shouted down.”

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