The Financial Services Roundtable officially opened its membership to securities firms and insurance companies, but whether any will want to join remains unclear.
"We are no longer bank-based," president Steve Bartlett said Friday after a unanimous vote by Roundtable members. "The financial services marketplace has changed dramatically. ... It's time for us as a trade association to change.
"We believe strongly that there is a dramatic need for one premier financial services association led by CEOs to represent the major providers of financial services in the public policy arena."
Yet a formidable competitor already has a head start.
Five diverse trade groups -- the American Bankers Association, American Council of Life Insurance, American Insurance Association, Investment Company Institute, and Securities Industry Association -- have formed the Financial Services Coordinating Council.
It has a similar aim as the revamped Roundtable: to lobby lawmakers on legislation that would eliminate the remaining barriers to the integration of the banking, insurance, and securities industries and serve as a united voice on Capitol Hill for all financial firms.
"You are hard-pressed to compete against the collective resources of five groups," said Leigh Ann Pusey, the AIA's senior vice president for federal affairs.
Ms. Pusey contended that the coordinating council is the best solution for now because all financial firms have a growing list of mutual interests, but each sector has its unique charter and other concerns. The groups in the council can cooperate on major issues, but its structure does not force member companies to join yet another trade association.
"There are an increasing number of issues that affect all financial services sectors," she said, "but I am not sure how much demand there is for a new dues-assessing organization."
"I haven't heard of big nonbank operations clamoring to get in" to the Roundtable, said David J. Pratt, senior vice president of the Columbus Group, a Washington consulting firm. "The coordinating council is a little more practical."
But Mr. Bartlett disagreed, predicting that the Roundtable would have its first nonbank members by mid-February.
"Over the last 60 days, I have received significant interest from several very prominent nonbanks," said Mr. Bartlett. He said some of them have given tacit commitments, but he declined to disclose how many. "They are contacting me rather than vice versa."
Roundtable board members have identified 30 candidates that will be courted over the next several months, he said, without revealing any names.
New members will be encouraged to stick with their traditional trade groups, too -- banks with the ABA, for example -- to attend to their charters or similar unique issues. The allure of the Roundtable, Mr. Bartlett said, would be that it is a CEO-level group devoted to issues affecting all parts of a diversified financial company. He dismissed the council as a less attractive "coalition of trade groups."
Under bylaws approved last week, the Roundtable would draw members from the 150 largest financial services companies ranked by market capitalization. Current members -- which have to be among the 125 largest bank holding companies in the country -- would be grandfathered.
Membership would eventually be limited to only 100 companies, but the Roundtable will not impose that restriction for the first few years in order to encourage many securities and insurance companies to join.