Leadership Perspectives | 08.14.19
ProEquities CEO and FINRA Board Candidate Chris Flint: 'We Have to Get This Right'
Chris Flint is convinced that the retail advisory industry is at a crossroads, and the president and CEO of Birmingham, Alabama-based independent broker-dealer ProEquities has decided to step forward to help guide the way.
Flint recently threw his hat into the SRO ring, challenging an incumbent member of the FINRA Board of Governors for a Large Firm Board seat. The election will take place during FINRA's annual membership meeting on Aug. 19 in Washington, D.C.
His view is that the coming implementation of Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) will be monumental—a determinative step by regulators to level the playing field between big brokerages and smaller RIAs.
"I bring a voice that cuts across all sectors," Flint said in a recent interview with Bank Insurance and Securities Association (BISA) Portfolio, pointing to his role heading up a retail financial advisory force, while simultaneously running the distribution arm of ProEquities' parent, Protective Life Insurance Co.
A native of Utica, New York who did his undergraduate work in Birmingham at the University of Alabama, the 48-year-old has worked in sales, technology, compliance and trading since entering the financial services industry in 1996. Flint was formerly president of Lincoln Financial Securities and the head of recruitment at Philadelphia-based Lincoln Financial Network during a period of dramatic advisor growth there. In 2015, Protective Life recruited Flint to help lead an ambitious growth strategy at ProEquities.
Endorsed by the Financial Services Institute (FSI) and BISA, Flint brings a jolt of energy to the contested election. This marks the first time the FSI and BISA have jointly endorsed a candidate to oppose a FINRA-endorsed incumbent, not to mention the fact that it’s the first time BISA has ever endorsed any FINRA board candidate.
Flint's diverse career, "spanning nearly all functions of the financial services profession, lends to his strong qualifications for the role," BISA President Jim Nonnengard said.
Nonnengard also pointed to Flint's oft-stated promise to bring objective representation for financial advice-focused firms.
"Leveling the playing field between broker-dealers and RIAs is in the best interest of both BISA members and the financial services industry," Nonnengard said.
Flint believes he brings a unique perspective to the conversation.
"What we do in the next year implementing Reg BI is going to shape the industry for decades to come."
Below is an edited version of Flint's recent conversation with BISA Portfolio contributing writer Rich Blake.
Portfolio: In a post-Reg BI environment, what is FINRA's biggest challenge, and what unique impact can you make if elected to the FINRA Board of Governors?
Chris Flint: Reg BI is about protecting investors, an obligation shared by FINRA and all member firms. It’s incumbent that each of us ensure the successful implementation of Reg BI. Fundamentally, this regulation will reshape our industry for many years to come, and it is critical that FINRA works to put the new rules into practice with input from all the various industry stakeholders, including groups such as BISA.
We're certainly moving in the right direction. However, it’s up to the FINRA Board of Governors, and the entire industry, to provide guidance to FINRA and other regulators so that the rule is implemented in a way that advances our mission to protect investors and help them reach their investment goals through access to affordable and competent advice.
Our industry is changing to reflect a greater awareness of placing the interests of clients first. Reg BI is a strong rule that will help every segment of our industry align around specific guidance on how to put those clients’ interests first in everything we do.
One thing that is great about Reg BI is how thoughtful and inclusive the rulemaking process was. You really do need a diversity of perspectives, whether broker-dealer or RIA, retail or wholesale, or product manufacturer or distributor. The SEC’s process did a great job of incorporating those perspectives and the comments they received on the rule.
That sense of broad-based perspective is something that is needed among our regulators and the industry representatives who sit on the FINRA Board of Governors, in particular. During my career, I’ve worked in just about every operational discipline in the financial services world, from capital markets to operations to business development and everything in between. My current position with ProEquities, and our affiliation with Protective Life, further strengthens the perspective I bring to this campaign. I believe my perspective will be an advantage as we determine the role the FINRA Board will play as Reg BI is implemented.
Portfolio: Did the SEC get Reg BI mostly right? What needs to be watched most closely in terms of potential unintended consequences?
Flint: As an industry, we championed a uniform standard for 10 years. We asked for it, and now we are here. So yes, I think Reg BI is a good rule. However, we need to make sure that we get interpretive guidance on an ongoing, constructive basis – without retroactive penalties when guidance shifts.
In other words, we don't want to see rulemaking through enforcement applied in terms of how Reg BI is implemented and enforced in the future. The rule is clear, and the process and guidance around its implementation should be clear, as well.
Portfolio: What are some of the major trends that will determine success or failure among retail financial advice providers?
Flint: It's undisputable that our industry is moving toward a core model centered around more robust advice and planning, provided in a holistic and customized way. I can't stress enough that everything our industry does going forward must place the core emphasis on the investor experience.
All the moving parts of our business should be built around improving the investor experience, whether it’s upgraded CRM systems, other evolving technology tools and platforms, new ideas on how to interface with and serve Millennial investors or new approaches that help clients deal with the changing shape of retirement due to longer lifespans. Improving the investor experience will be critical to the mission of broker-dealers and RIAs in helping advisors provide custom solutions.
Portfolio: How can the advantages of financial technology best be tapped into, while balanced against the disruptions that some new "fintech" will cause?
Flint: I'm not someone who worries that “bots” are taking over; in fact, I think any technology that helps improve the customer experience is going to be critical and should be embraced. The world is changing, thanks to the smart phone and the kinds of customer experiences delivered by Apple and Amazon. We see those changes reflected in the way our customers’ expectations have evolved, as well.
Any form of technology that helps advisers master the art of personalization will be welcome. Investors want to have more predictable service outcomes, and tech can play a role here as well. The intersection of predictive analytics and longevity planning is one example where technology can help retirees plan for different retirement scenarios and help them live more fulfilling lives after their careers end. Technology is also helping to develop financial plans that take longer lifespans and complex needs into consideration.
Portfolio: You've said you see the industry at a crossroads, and Reg BI compliance deadlines are fast approaching. Looking out over the next 12 months, what would you hope to see?
Flint: The focus has to remain on ensuring access to high-quality advice, and as our industry looks to maintain high levels of quality in serving clients, the ways in which we implement Reg BI will play a central role. We're in a great place today, but it is incumbent on all of us to keep information and feedback flowing to our regulators in a constructive manner as we move toward Reg BI’s compliance deadlines in June 2020. We have to get this right.