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VOL. 125 | NO. 152 | Friday, August 6, 2010

Simmons Helps Shape Oversight of Financial Advisers


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Photo: Lance Murphey

When the finance reform bill became law in July, registered investment advisers throughout the country could thank Memphian Cathy Simmons for a notable absence.

In December, Simmons, chief compliance officer for Legacy Wealth Management, met with U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to share her concern about a push by FINRA, the federal agency that oversees broker-dealers, to extend its jurisdiction to include registered investment advisers.

The extra oversight is unnecessary, she told Cohen, because registered investment advisers are already regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and unlike broker-dealers, are required by law to exercise fiduciary duty (that is, to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own).

Cohen took this concern to House Financial Services committee chairman Barney Frank, and together they removed this provision from the House bill, a position that prevailed.

“I like feeling like I can really make a difference,” Simmons said.

Her success won kudos from her industry.

“It was really a testimony to Cathy’s effectiveness,” said Neil Simon, vice president of government relations for the Investment Advisers Association in Washington. Simmons has served on IAA’s government relations committee for about a year.

“Cathy has a talent for engaging people about issues of concern to the investment advisory industry,” Simon said.

This accomplishment, combined with Simmons’ professional excellence, won her a spot on WealthManagementWeb.com’s list of the Top 50 Women in Wealth for 2010. The list has included House speaker Nancy Pelosi and SEC chairman Mary Shapiro.

While proud of these accomplishments, Simmons said she finds her daily work for Legacy clients very satisfying.

“I help people every day to reach their goals,” Simmons said. “I love seeing them retire comfortably.”

Legacy is a Memphis-based registered investment advisory firm with more than 500 clients and some $700 million in assets under management. Founded in 1982, it consistently makes Worth magazine’s list of top wealth advisers.

At Legacy, Simmons’ role as chief compliance officer means ensuring the firm meets the growing number of industry and government requirements. It’s a much bigger job these days, given the flood of regulatory activity in the wake of the Madoff and Stanford scandals.

“Almost daily, there is something new that comes up,” Simmons said. “You can’t stop. There are too many changes not to stay on top of it constantly.”

Simmons, while passionate about this business today, didn’t start out in finance. She grew up in Germantown, a self-described tomboy who loved being outdoors. When she was a Memphis State University freshman, Simmons was injured so badly in a car accident her doctors said she would never again run or ride a bicycle. Simmons was determined to prove them wrong – and did. She worked in the local tourism business, and eventually went back to Memphis State for her undergraduate and MBA degrees.

In 1991, she joined what was then IDS Financial Services, went through its training program, and excelled as a financial adviser.

“I liked what they had to say, that I could be a financial adviser and help people with their money. It was a great training ground. I learned so much.”

In 2000, she joined Legacy Wealth Management, attracted to its reputation as a world-class investment advisory firm.

“The registered investment advisory world is better for clients, really,” she said. “There’s not a conflict of interest, because we are not selling them anything. Our interests are aligned.”

Simmons also teaches at Christian Brothers University and gives her time to many organizations, including the Estate Planning Council of Memphis and the National Committee on Planned Giving.

To balance all the work, Simmons and her husband love playing with their three dogs and bowling. They are big roller-coaster fans, which means an annual pilgrimage to Ohio to the roller-coaster capital of the world.

PROPERTY SALES 74 74 17,939
MORTGAGES 95 95 20,660
BUILDING PERMITS 141 141 36,977
BANKRUPTCIES 59 59 11,485