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Securities Lobby To Members: We’ve Done Good In 2007, But We Need To Whip Washington Into Shape

The securities industry’s biggest lobby held its annual meeting today, and, as usual, congratulated itself on the great job the industry has been doing in raising capital for business

Boca Raton, Fla.--The securities industry’s biggest lobby held its annual meeting today, and, as usual, congratulated itself on the great job the industry has been doing in raising capital for business, governments and individual companies. In his speech, NYSE Euronext CEO John Thain told members that Congress should quit demonizing China, lower corporate tax rates, and rationalize regulatory processes lest the United States capital markets fall behind the rest of the world. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Citi Global Wealth Management, told the 650 or so attendees that we’re in the “greatest single decade of wealth creation ever,” and that brokerage firms need to invest globally, and realize that they have a fiduciary responsibility to their retail clients.

Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) President Marc Lackritz summed up the year so far: “This past year was one of turmoil—in credit markets, in the political world, and in association leadership and management. And yet we’ve achieved a number of very tangible successes in our integration, advocacy, market practices and technology and operations areas.”

Lackritz, who is celebrating his 20 years at SIFMA and its predecessor organizations (he was presented with a new set of golf clubs by its members, but criticized for “underestimating” his handicap and taking “financial advantage” of his golfing partners), pointed to the technological advances that have allowed the industry to become “super efficient and productive.” Today, Lackritz said, “We process 14 times the trading volume in equities from 1987 on the nation’s exchanges with only 51 percent more people.”

Like Thain, he urged Congress to “modernize the regulatory paradigm for financial services to ensure that regulation keeps up with the business and the technology.”

Thain was blunt, saying Congress should quit blaming China for U.S. economic problems, stating that proposed bills before Congress amounted to “protectionism that would reverse” America’s economic growth. “Trade never made any nation poorer,” he said, quoting Ben Franklin. “This is not the time to be putting prosperity at risk. Protectionism is a bad bargain. So are high taxes.” He urged Congress to reduce corporate taxes from 40 percent to make them more competitive with rates in Europe. Germany, France and the United Kingdom are all talking about cutting corporate rates, he said. (The average corporate tax rate in Europe is 26 percent.) High taxes raise the cost of capital and reduce U.S. companies’ competitiveness. “We need to look at taxes from a global perspective.”

Sallie Krawcheck urged the assembled SIFMA members to face facts: They have a fiduciary duty to clients—like it or not. “There is real fear in the industry” over the “F word,” as she called it. Smith Barney is already doing just that, with about 10,000 of its approximately 13,000 advisors licensed with a Series 65, the financial advisory designation. She says that Smith Barney’s most satisfied clients are the ones whose advisors act in a fiduciary manner. Referring to the Financial Planning Association, which successfully sued to stop registered reps from offering fee-based brokerage accounts, Krawcheck had these words: “The FPA won the battle, but they are going to lose the war. The FPA just forced $300 billion into the advisory model.”

She also criticized the “poaching of each others FAs,” saying it was “not good for the client and not good for the firm”—even the acquiring firm. Broker/dealers would be better off spending recruiting money on their current advisors. She also called for easier to understand Form ADVs and disclosure statements, ones that could be posted online so that firms wouldn’t have to send out “pounds and pounds of paper” each day.

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