SEC Chair Gary Gensler urged regulators to update policy and monitor economic changes as part of a dynamic approach to regulation.
In prepared remarks before the Exchequer Club of Washington, D.C., Mr. Gensler highlighted two principles important to dynamic regulation: efficiency in capital markets and rules modernization.
On capital markets efficiency, Mr. Gensler noted the SEC’s role in promoting fair markets by lowering the costs of financial intermediation. He encouraged greater competition and transparency as key pillars of efficiency, and directed SEC staff to foster competition and transparency throughout the financial sector. Mr. Gensler hoped this focus on transparency and competition would help both issuers and investors.
With regard to modernization, Mr. Gensler described the SEC’s history of adapting to emergent technologies and emphasized the need for more dynamic regulation. While acknowledging cryptocurrency as one area of technological advancement, Mr. Gensler focused on artificial intelligence and predictive data analytics as potentially revolutionary developments for the SEC to watch closely in the coming decade. He also pointed to non-technological developments, such as special-purpose acquisition companies and direct listings, as important areas for the SEC’s consideration.
Mr. Gensler addressed public speculation on the timeline of new SEC rules publication by focusing on flexibility and “getting proposals right” rather than trying to prioritize any one area over another.
Commissioner Gensler reports that in 1963, financial services accounted for 3.5% of the U.S. economy, while today it accounts for about 8%. He also cites to a 2014 study, which he describes as reporting that the “costs of financial intermediation . . . were as high in 2014 as they were in 1900.” The message behind these numbers is that financial services are too great a part of the economy with the implicit assumption that costs of financial services are effectively a tax or a drag on the U.S. economy. Mr. Gensler suggests that better (more?) dynamic regulation would serve to increase competition and drive down costs.
A different view on the role of financial services in the U.S. economy can be found on the U.S. government website, SelectUSA. According to that website, the financial services industry generated an export-import trade surplus of over $40 billion dollars and employed more than 6.3 million people. Further, the government site indicates that financial services also play a significant role in supporting the export of U.S. manufactured and agricultural products.
As to the costs of financial intermediation, without being able to access the 2014 article to which Mr. Gensler cites, it is common knowledge that the costs of trading U.S.-listed securities have dropped dramatically. New financial technologies, such as robo-advice and payment through the use of digital assets, may also substantially reduce the costs of financial transactions.
In short, a very high-level view of the numbers may not actually tell very much about the role that financial services should play in the economy, or as to whether that role is now too large, or could even be increased, given America’s position as banker to the world. While regulators should certainly be mindful of the costs of financial services and whether those costs are artificially high, it should be as important for regulators to be mindful of the costs and the impact of the regulations that they impose.
To take one example of the potential impact of regulatory costs, it is useful to take a look at another number: the number of futures commission merchants (“FCMs”) in the United States pre- and post-Dodd Frank. In January 2008, the CFTC shows that 151 firms filed financial reports as FCMs. In January 2021, the CFTC shows that 65 firms filed reports. This suggests some correlation between increasing regulation and a decrease in the number of competitor firms.