The new head of the investment industry's main self-regulator is up against two troubling issues: Some people don't know who he is, and others don't seem to care.
When Andrew Kriegler was announced last week as the new head of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), a senior executive at one brokerage reacted by saying, "Who?"
The head of another medium-sized brokerage, asked a few days later for his reaction, admitted he hadn't yet heard who had been named to run what is supposed to be one of his industry's most important regulators.
It's a bit like that old joke, the one that asks what is the difference between ignorance and apathy? The punch line, of course, is "I don't know and I don't care."
It would be funny, except ignorance and apathy are not what IIROC wants after an announcement of this magnitude. Fear, optimism, excitement, respect – that's what you want.
Part of the issue is that Mr. Kriegler comes from another world than the one in which most Canadian brokerages operate. His background is in big banks and their balance sheets. He works, for a few more weeks at least, at the country's main bank regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Yes, OSFI has a hand in overseeing the few brokerages that are owned by banks. They are, to be sure, the biggest brokerages. But most of the 195 investment dealers that he will regulate are independent and do not deal with OSFI. Many have fewer than 10 employees.
Prior to his time at OSFI, Mr. Kriegler was at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, working in the treasury department. Before that, he was at a bond-rating firm, spending his last years there running human resources.
Aside from the big brokers that lend and have bond desks, most IIROC members operate largely in the business of selling equities. To impress much of his constituency, Mr. Kriegler will have to prove quickly that he gets the equities part of the industry.
So far, Mr. Kriegler isn't speaking about his new role, which doesn't officially begin until Nov. 1. There are a few clues about his philosophy in his work at OSFI. In his 18 months there, he gave a handful of speeches, which he apparently wrote himself. One idea he may bring to IIROC is a focus on "inside rules" over "outside rules" – that is, concentrating on the way regulated companies work on the inside, their culture and standards, rather than one-size-fits all rules imposed from above.
Aside from his personal profile among IIROC members, Mr. Kriegler needs to work on the watchdog's own image.
Speed would help. For example, a push to make the debt markets more transparent to investors has been under way for at least five years. Progress is incremental. In the latest IIROC annual report, released Monday, the regulator noted it is "closer to our goal." It's hardly a problem unique to IIROC. Capital-market rule making in Canada is glacial on most fronts, leading to a "wake me when there's a decision" malaise among the regulated.
A greater sense that the regulator has sharp teeth would also help. The number of cases the regulator looks into has been going down in recent years, as has the number of investigations completed. Decisions involving firms and individuals were down last year from 2012 and 2011 levels. Even when IIROC does fine an individual, most penalties go unpaid.
Mr. Kriegler also joins at a time when the regulator is dogged by concerns about a data breach that some member brokerages are concerned could still cost them a lot of money. The issue stems from the loss in in early 2013 of a laptop containing data on 52,000 clients of IIROC firms. So far, IIROC estimates the cost of dealing with the breach at about $5.7-million, most of which has been paid out already. For a regulator funded by its members, that is a significant amount of money that had to come out of operating funds.
What's more, there's still a $52-million class-action lawsuit in Quebec stemming from the breach. Small firms can ill afford to help foot a bill anywhere close to that. Last month, a judge declined to certify the class action, but there is a 30-day appeal period that has not yet lapsed.
This is not to say that Mr. Kriegler is a poor choice – he does come from a well-respected regulator in OSFI. Colleagues who worked with him at CIBC have good things to say. But he clearly wasn't one of the expected names. Similarly, IIROC does a lot of good work, such as its high-frequency-trading studies that are world leading. But its relationship with some members is strained in the wake of the data breach, and others don't seem to be paying that much attention.
And when you're a regulator, that's worrisome.