With Schapiro gone, what does the future hold?
By Andy Stonehouse
There's an element of being involved in what now constitutes the journalism business that makes the end of the election cycle a let-down like no other - like the kid waiting for Christmas, who really did get everything he wanted. What do you do now?
Probably the biggest thrill, schadenfreude or not, was the anticipation writers had for at least being guaranteed some interesting times if things had gone a different way and all the heads had rolled, as promised. That would have made for some lively copy.
In the meantime, we got our first head – that of SEC chairman Mary Schapiro – though her departure doesn't even seem to be particularly politically motivated. She just happened to have landed the job during the four worst years in recent American financial history, and she's probably due for a vacation from the spotlight. Can't say I blame her. It'll all make for a good book, or at least some good consultancy work.
Schapiro's departure does create a good occasion to consider what's changed in the regulatory climate felt by those in the retirement advisor, plan administrator and regular, plain-old financial services industry during her four years - time she spent trying to do the best to convince regular folks that the government really was looking out for their investments, when it hadn't been doing a particularly job of doing so in the past.
The best news of all is that, at least for the interim, not a whole lot is going to happen. All of the long-winded talk about establishing a fiduciary standard and further placing the business of how you do business under a stronger microscope – well, that's going to be on hold. Even the real work on the Dodd-Frank rules are only partly complete.
That leaves a lot for successor Elisse Walter to try to handle, but even she says she's not interested in the job for a long time - the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the Treasury Department's Mary John Miller or Sallie Krawcheck, current Bank of America financial management president/ex-Citigroup CFO are both more likely to be given the opportunity to head up the financial watchdog.
Probably the biggest issue, especially in the minds of folks at the 401(k) participant level, is that talk of more regulations and Good Cop/Bad Cop enforcement all sounds good, but the reality often just makes things tougher for advisors, plan sponsors and administrators to figure out, which mostly just equates to higher costs and a more confusing climate.
It's just like the Department of Homeland Security, that most Orwellian of organizations which, I guess, is supposed to make you feel safer and better in general, but when it mostly seems to involve a bunch of fat guys in blue shirts getting federal paychecks to run 1990s-era scanning equipment at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, the feel-good factor dissipates.
Yes, Schapiro's reign will be remembered for a slam-bang flurry of enforcement excitement, but none of it rates a reality series. And for those working to honestly try to make America's widely disorganized and sometimes depressing retirement system a little more appealing to equally depressed and disorganized participants, a ton of new regulations are not the best, first step.
She does at least step away being more widely respected than former SEC chair Christopher Cox, whose own travails attempting to regulate the fixed annuities business provided me with some colorful copy back in the old days.
So, as we wait for the fiscal cliff – or the Mayan Calendar's projected end of the world, which we all seem to have forgotten about after six months of attack ads, but is also right around the corner – the retirement business has a slight respite. And may even get a slightly easier regulatory treatment with all of this short-term temporary leadership stuff going on for the next year.
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com