One of the wealth management industry’s toughest critics on behalf of clients has a new role that could upend fiduciary standards once again under the Biden administration.
Barbara Roper, the longtime director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, will serve as a senior advisor to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, the regulator said on Aug. 25. The consumer advocate of 35 years will counsel Gensler on policy, examinations and oversight of broker-dealers and RIAs with an emphasis on retail investor protection.
The appointment set off alarm bells across brokerages and other wealth managers who favor the Trump administration’s Regulation Best Interest over the more stringent Fiduciary Rule issued by the Obama administration. Client advocates like Roper supported the earlier rule, only to see it vacated in 2018 by an appeals court decision in a lawsuit filed by business and trade groups. Her appointment signals that Gensler’s team could act to toughen SEC’s Reg BI rule or even replace it with a new standard governing brokerage and advisory accounts.
“Barb is a champion for investors and will provide invaluable counsel on behalf of the American public,” Gensler said in a statement. “I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with her on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the critical market reforms of the Dodd-Frank Act, and I’m thrilled to collaborate with her again at the SEC.”
In her own statement, Roper said she was excited to take the position.
“I’ve dedicated my career to ensuring that our capital markets work for the average investor,” Roper said. “With investor protection at the core of the SEC’s mission, I’m looking forward to bringing that same focus on the needs of individual investors to my work for the SEC.”
The industry at large took immediate notice of the hiring.
“Now THIS is some awesome news and such a win for investors,” Christine Benz, the director of personal finance at research giant Morningstar, tweeted.
The CFP Board, where Roper participated in three different commissions over the years, praised her hiring as well.
“Ms. Roper is uniquely qualified to assist the Chair in advancing the agency’s mission,” CEO Kevin Keller said in a statement. “While most people know Barbara Roper for her life’s work on investor protection issues, we’ve watched for years as she’s engaged tirelessly with industry participants to find common ground.”