Privileged Access to Financial Innovation
54 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2014 Last revised: 10 Jun 2016
Date Written: February 16, 2015
Access to private funds is limited to an elite class of investors -- wealthy individuals and large institutions. Individuals of more modest means -- “retail investors” -- face more limited investment choices; generally they can only invest in mutual funds. In spite of this inequitable division, the current regulatory climate will lead to an even further expansion of the private fund industry. This article argues that this loosening regulatory climate could lead to a talent drain amongst registered funds, could narrow the investment choices available to retail investors, and could deepen the already troubling income gap between wealthy and average earners. With respect to a possible talent drain, as it becomes easier for issuers to avoid the arduous registration requirements of the federal securities laws, many investment advisers will simply “go private” by instead offering hedge funds or other private investments. In assessing privileged access to strategies, since private funds are permitted to engage in more flexible trading strategies through the use of derivatives and other exotic instruments, elite investors have better opportunities for wealth maximization and diversification. A large body of empirical research has also found that private fund advisers often have privileged access to valuable information regarding upcoming investments. To the extent that this privileged access continues to grow, the options available to retail investors will continue to decline. From a broader perspective, this could magnify the financial challenges facing retail investors, some of which include dwindling retirement savings and declining property values, as well as deepen the already troubling income gap in this country. Alternative frameworks could entail; (1) loosening the capital restrictions that apply to mutual funds so that retail investors can access a greater degree of financial innovation, or (2) tightening the existing freedoms that apply to private funds, so as to level the playing field between retail and elite investors. However, the long-term and short-term effects to systemic risk, investor protection, and capital formation, would have to be thoroughly investigated before adopting any proposed solution along this spectrum. This would necessarily require enhanced coordination between the SEC and CFTC, and improved collaboration with related industries (e.g., economic, financial, banking, quantitative analysis, etc.).
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