10 millennials making their mark in Washington — and beyond

These next-generation leaders are raising their voices and gaining influence over financial advice regulation and legislation

Feb 16, 2019 @ 6:00 am

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Millennials are no longer young kids, and you'll think twice about deriding them with generic tags like "unambitious" and "entitled" when you meet this next generation taking power in Washington, and beyond.

"I continue to believe that all the problems we have today are solvable," said Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., age 35 and a member of the House Financial Services Committee. "Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, so we need to have a voice — just like in the workplace, in the public policy forum."

(More: What surprised our reporter most about millennials taking power in Washington)

Several millennials are moving into positions of influence regarding legislation and regulations affecting investment advisers and brokers. Whether as members of Congress or the Securities and Exchange Commission, congressional aides, trade association staffers, government relations professionals or researchers, the cohort born between 1981 and 1996 is bringing unique characteristics to the policy arena.

Many of them came of age during the financial crisis of 2008-09, an event that not only dealt a blow to their bank accounts and job prospects but shaped their thinking about the financial markets and their participants. They also have struggled with student debt, with many putting off rites of passage such as buying homes and starting families.

InvestmentNews compiled this list of millennials influencing policy in financial advice to shine a light on where our industry is headed as power shifts to a new generation.

"They do their homework," said Maureen Thompson, vice president of public policy at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. "They know the issues. And they approach their positions in a thoughtful way."

Elad Roisman 37 Member, Securities and Exchange Commission

The newest member of the Securities and Exchange Commission is also its youngest. As one of four commissioners, Elad Roisman would be a crucial vote on the agency's final advice reform rule, especially if it occurs with the panel missing one of its Democratic members, as is the case today. Mr. Roisman was a Republican nominee.

Mr. Roisman hasn't tipped his hand on which way he's leaning when it comes to advice standards for brokers and investment advisers. He declined to be interviewed for this story. But observers expect Mr. Roisman, a former Senate Banking Committee aide, to align himself with his fellow GOP member Hester Peirce and SEC chairman Jay Clayton, nominated by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Clayton has promoted the centerpiece of the proposal, Regulation Best Interest, as a way to strengthen the broker advice standard, while critics warn about its vague requirements.

"On Reg BI, I would not be surprised to see a party-line vote," said Duane Thompson, senior policy analyst at Fi360.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 29 Member, House Financial Services Committee

No new member of Congress has occupied a bigger spotlight than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who scored the biggest upset of the 2018 election by taking down the fourth-highest-ranking House Democrat, Joe Crowley, in a district that includes parts of the Bronx and Queens.

Why does her victory matter to financial advisers? Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has secured a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues of consequence to the financial advice industry. It's already a pretty good bet she will join other members of the committee, including chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in opposing the Securities and Exchange Commission's advice reform proposal.

"She's to the left of Elizabeth Warren," said Paul Auslander, director of financial planning at ProVise Management Group. "I don't think [the SEC rule] would go far enough for her."

A Democratic Socialist, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is developing the Green New Deal, a plan for economic stimulus and environmental protections. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has suggested paying for such a deal by raising income taxes on the rich, perhaps to levels in effect before the 1980 reforms.

Like Mr. Trump, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez finds an avenue for influence in the social media platform Twitter, where she tweets multiple times a day to her more than two million followers.

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth 35 Member, House Financial Services Committee

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., moved to his southern Indiana district from Tennessee in the fall of 2015, and proceeded to win the 2016 Republican primary over several well-established politicians.

Mr. Hollingsworth opposed the Labor Department's fiduciary rule because he said it would make advice to investors with modest assets too expensive. He has had several meetings with advisers in his southern Indiana district about advice standards, which he calls a topic of "enormous importance to Hoosiers' financial futures."

He supports the SEC advice reform proposal and said "making sure we get to a rule that enables financial advisers to serve the smallest investors is really important."

A former small-business owner, Mr. Hollingsworth put startup funding at the top of his agenda when he joined the House Financial Services Committee. While Republicans controlled the panel in 2017-18, he was the author of bills that would ease regulatory requirements for emerging companies.

"Rep. Hollingsworth is a rising star in Congress on many issues that benefit economic growth and America's retail investors, including small-business capital formation," said Christopher Iacovella, chief executive of the American Securities Association.

Micah Hauptman 34 Financial services counsel, Consumer Federation of America

Micah Hauptman works with one of the most high-profile investor protection advocates, Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. Although he's not quoted in the media as much as Ms. Roper just yet, he is often the co-author with her of comment letters.

"On an almost daily basis, I find myself saying, 'Thank God for Micah,'" Ms. Roper said. "When he works on an issue, he wants to understand it down to the last detail. Micah's constitutionally incapable of winging it."

Mr. Hauptman's interest in the financial services industry began when his uncle gave him a subscription to Kiplinger's magazine as a youngster. His approach to regulation has been influenced by the 2008-09 market meltdown.

"Having personally experienced the financial crisis, as well as having family and friends who struggled to recover from it, instilled in me a desire to ensure that such a catastrophe and the dynamics that contributed to it never happen again," Mr. Hauptman said.

Michelle Carroll Foster 32 Vice president of state affairs, Financial Services Institute

Gridlock has tightened its grip on Washington, with Democrats taking over the House and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate for the next two years of the Trump administration. Given the political atmosphere in the nation's capital, legislative activity is more likely on the state level. That makes Michelle Carroll Foster's job more challenging.

For four years, she has worked on state government relations for FSI, which represents independent broker-dealers and financial advisers. As a vice president, she plays a key role in helping the organization resist state-level fiduciary regulation. FSI favors the Securities and Exchange Commission's proposal, Regulation Best Interest, as the new broker requirement nationwide.

"We want to avoid a patchwork of [state] standards," Ms. Foster said.

She will likely stay busy in 2019. At FSI's annual meeting last month, executives reiterated the trade group's intent to have a voice in individual states' fiduciary efforts and mentioned adding resources to that cause, such as additional state lobbyists. Earlier this month, Maryland lawmakers proposed legislation that would raise investment advice standards for brokers and insurance representatives in the state.

Michael Pieciak 35 NASAA president, Vermont commissioner of financial regulation

Michael Pieciak became president of the North American Securities Administrators Association last September. As the first millennial to ascend to that position, his short videos updating state securities regulators are putting a generational signature on his leadership.

"It's a different way of communicating, [and], I think an effective way of getting the message out," he said. "More frequent communication about what we're doing, where we're going and where we need input fosters collaboration."

Mr. Pieciak has made cybersecurity regulation one of his top priorities. The organization of state regulators is mulling whether to propose a model cybersecurity rule for state legislatures to consider.

He said the financial crisis has made millennials believers in good regulation.

"I don't think you'll see a millennial generation that thinks there should be less regulation or that we should be scaling back regulation to some significant degree," Mr. Pieciak said.

Aron Szapiro 36 Director of policy research, Morningstar Inc.

Morningstar Inc. has a reputation for being a font of reliable statistics and other information on funds and markets. It is burnishing respect for that same ability in Washington, thanks in part to Aron Szapiro.

As director of policy research, Mr. Szapiro has written papers about how the Labor Department's fiduciary rule impacted the mutual fund sector and has analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the Securities and Exchange Commission's advice reform proposal. His work ends up in the hands of lawmakers and regulators.

"Our North Star is what is best for the investor," he said. "That's given us a fair amount of credibility with policymakers. We're going to give them an unvarnished view of what our data tells us."

John Crews 34 Staff director, Senate Banking Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment

Over his six years on the staff of Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., John Crews has worked his way up from answering constituent mail as a legislative correspondent to leading the staff of the Senate banking subcommittee with oversight of issues most directly impacting retail investment advisers and brokers.

"Generally, [Mr. Toomey] views market competition as the most valuable tool in getting good results for consumers," Mr. Crews said.

Mr. Toomey opposed the Labor Department's fiduciary rule and was happy to see the Securities and Exchange Commission take the lead on investment advice standards last year.

"John has been a strategic adviser to Sen. Toomey on [advice] issues to promote and maintain customer choice," said Christopher Iacovella, chief executive of the American Securities Association.

Amanda Fischer 35 Chief of staff, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.

As a top staff member for Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Amanda Fischer helped shape the Democratic defense of the Labor Department's fiduciary rule when it was attacked by the Republican majority on the House Financial Services Committee. She served as Ms. Waters' deputy staff director from 2009-17, assisting efforts related to the Democratic position and message on the measure.

In 2018, Ms. Fischer was a policy adviser to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee.

Now she is chief of staff to freshman Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who has joined the House Financial Services Committee. Investor protection advocates foresee Ms. Porter potentially becoming a force on adviser issues.

"She doesn't need help from me," Ms. Fischer said. "She's a contracts lawyer. She understands the limits of disclosure."

Kevin Mechtley 35 Associate vice president and director of government affairs, Sammons Financial Group

Kevin Mechtley works closely with trade associations in Washington, such as the Insured Retirement Institute and the American Council of Life Insurers, to shape policy positions that reflect insurance firms' goals for legislation and regulation. Recently, Mr. Mechtley was named to the board of directors of the National Association of Fixed Annuities.

He has been in the middle of insurance industry efforts related to the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, the Securities and Exchange Commission's advice reform proposal and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' revision of its annuity suitability rule.

Millennials have seen their parents' retirement threatened by the Great Recession and have experienced skyrocketing student debt that could crimp their own ability to save for retirement early on, Mr. Mechtley said.

"Millennials, through their unique lens, are the perfect people to talk about safe retirement products," he said.

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