Better Markets is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month. To mark the event, Better Markets will publish a series of blog posts profiling members of its staff and highlighting the work they do as lawyers, regulatory and legislative specialists, researchers, administrators, and fundraisers as they fight for the economic security, opportunity and prosperity of all Americans, particularly those who are disenfranchised.
Spotlight: Lev Bagramian, senior securities policy adviser
Background: Lev joined Better Markets in 2016. He is a subject matter expert on securities and tracks and responds to the actions of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He brings a comprehensive understanding of legislative and federal policymaking processes and Congressional oversight of financial industry and regulatory agencies thanks to his work on the Hill during which he assisted with drafting the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act’s securities and investor protection sections. Immediately prior to joining Better Markets, Lev was the head of legislative affairs at the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, solely responsible for developing and execution its Congressional and administration policy.
What are you most proud of regarding your work at Better Markets?
What I find deeply rewarding is Better Market’s active and effective engagement on policies that impact ordinary Americans who borrow from banks, save through their 401(k)s, purchase cars and houses, open small businesses or exercise their shareholder rights. Our focus on issues that normally don’t get enough attention but are important for the financial safety and prosperity of ordinary Americans is what motivates—and is a source of pride—for me.
We focus on reducing conflicted advice that savers and retirees may receive from their financial professionals. This means that savers and retirees can hold on to more of their hard-earned money. We also focus on reducing costs for financial intermediation and strengthening regulators’ abilities to detect and punish predatory practices. And our advocacy is trained on holding corporate executives accountable, so they take less undue risks (that threaten the safety and stability of the financial system) and don’t pursue profit-making endeavors that ruin the environment or deepen social injustice.
Better Markets also believes in holding regulators—those tasked with enforcing laws and protecting those who cannot protect themselves—responsible for their actions. Some fall short of fulfilling their mission and so we hold them responsible for their inaction, or is sadly often the case, harmful actions. We know that regulators can—and often do—get captured by those entities that they are called upon to police. This regulatory-capture is harmful to the interests of ordinary Americans. Better Markets’ dual role—supporting and influencing regulators in their policymaking and holding them accountable when they fall short—is critical so that agencies are filled with dedicated, public-oriented experts and that they fulfill their statutorily-set missions.
The result of all these activities—while often unseen and underappreciated—is that ordinary, hard-working Americans keep more of their hard-earned money, are able to have a dignified retirement, and that the society they live in is welcoming to all.
What has made Better Markets so successful over the years?
Better Markets’ success comes from the mission-oriented drive of its staff. Better Markets is home to people who are highly skilled, knowledgeable, dedicated, but most importantly, they love the country and are devoted to the well-being of her people. Better Markets’ legal and policy staff have—on average—two decades of experience in setting—and influencing the crafting of—public policy. Their network includes senior-most policymakers, academics, and industry experts. These relationships and expertise become handy when Better Markets decides to take on a tough fight.
Based on your work at Better Markets, what are the pressing issues that impact Main Street Americans?
Reducing the costs of financial intermediation, encouraging more corporations to become public companies, and holding corporate executives accountable (so they pay their employees and vendors well, while not ruining the environment) will remain important issues in 2021 and beyond.
Today’s capital markets’ structure allows certain market participants to siphon off billions from the pockets of pensioners, savers and long-term investors. Using regulatory loopholes, blind spots and inaction, predatory high-frequency traders and other Wall Streeters make billions at the expense of ordinary savers and long-term investors. Regulators must remain vigilant, and quickly act in this space to protect the interests of long-term investors and punish and deter those market practitioners who abuse the rules.
Also, the shrinking number of public companies is a public policy failure created by misguided Congressional and SEC action. Since the late 1990s, the number of U.S. companies listed on public exchanges has decreased by more than 50 percent. Companies that stay private or public companies that go dark deprive investors and savers of investment opportunities in liquid and transparent markets. Real attention should be devoted to reverse these trends by strengthening investor protections and further empowering investors—that would in turn increase investors’ confidence in the securities markets and encourage their participation in capital formation.
Finally, regulators should hold corporations and their executives accountable by requiring the disclosure of robust Environmental, Social and Governances data. Such data is becoming critically important for savers and retirees to make informed financial decisions, and yet, today, investors (and all those who serve investors, such as analysts, journalists, etc.) don’t have access to such data. Disclosure of such data would show how these corporations are treating their employees and whether these corporations are pursuing their profits while ruining the environment. Finally, regulators should earnestly work to enact strong executive compensation rules that would reduce the incentives for executives to take undue risks.