Name: Robert Lewis
Position: Vice president of legislative affairs for the Financial Services Institute
Location: Washington, D.C.
Education: B.A. in political science, Morehouse College; J.D., Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law
The true mark of a good lobbyist is their ability to effect change for their organization without becoming the news themselves.
You may not have heard of Robert Lewis, who joined the Financial Services Institute in March 2012, but as head of the group’s legislative affairs, he’s has had a hand in many industry issues, including the debate around the Department of Labor’s fiduciary proposal and Florida’s “notice-filing state” law enacted last year, which allowed branch offices to stay open while making changes to their business.
Most mornings, Lewis can be found huddling with his team to discuss what federal and state legislation could affect advisors. After that, he’s talking to members. “The only way I can be effective for [advisors] is if they are candid, honest and open about these issues and explain how these issues impact them in real dollars,” he says.
At the moment, Lewis and his team are closely watching the issue of state-run retirement programs. The proposed programs—which vary from expansive defined benefit plan models to those that call for a payroll deduction individual retirement account option—aim to ensure access to affordable retirement solutions.
“I think you’re going to see more state-run retirement plan issues,” says Lewis. California has already enacted an early model, while Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Illinois, Indiana and Maine have proposed similar bills in state legislation this year.
The organization argues that such plans could disrupt the competitive nature of the private market for retirement plans and compete with financial advisors.
FSI is also monitoring early-stage legislation around intrastate stock exchanges and crowdfunding, as well as the impact of President Obama’s recent directive expanding overtime pay.
Financial literacy is also a big part of Lewis’ job these days, an issue he says is close to home. Lewis was raised by a single mom who held blue-collar jobs all her life, and he grew up in an underserved community in Rochester, N.Y. He hopes to leverage FSI’s 35,000 advisor members to craft events like the one in Warrensville, Ohio, earlier this year, where local advisors spoke to middle and high school students about topics such as household finances and credit card usage.
“My vision is that I want us to be the financial literacy resource for underserved communities,” Lewis says. “I’ve taken that as a personal challenge to make sure that goal becomes a reality.”