Joe Sack, an independent consultant, and trade association veteran talks to DerivSource about the skills gained whilst working with SIFMA, his new role with the Association of Institutional INVESTORS and the benefits of involving yourself with a trade association within the financial markets.
Q: What pushed you to pursue a career as a trade association executive in the financial industry?
A: I was working for the New York Stock Exchange back in the day as an in house lawyer and I was noticed by the Securities Industry Association (SIA). The SIA was known for its work in the equities space and they started a new, independent trade association that called itself the Public Securities Association (PSA). I was the second hire for the PSA, which became The Bond Market Association (TBMA).
At the time, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. It seemed like an opportunity to advance my career but I didn’t see the trade association space as a lifetime professional pursuit at that time. However, it quickly became something that I felt I was a natural at because I was able to deal with the big picture and I appreciated the opportunity to meet and rub elbows with the leaders of the Wall Street community.
Q: What skills are crucial to work within trade associations?
A: The financial services industry is a relationship business. One of the main skill sets needed is respect for the many talented people that make up the industry. That gives rise to building relationships and just as building relationships is important if you are out there doing deals or if you are heading up a trading desk, it’s also important if you are a representative of the industry in a trade association capacity. The people that entrust you to represent them have to have confidence in you, which means they have to know you and you have to tell them who you are.
Q: What roles, experiences and milestones in your career really helped you to transition into your current role in the Association of Institutional INVESTORS (AII)?
A: As I gained experience in the trade association world I was able to spot opportunities for the trade group as a business, which were engaging up and coming segments of the financial services industry. For example, The Bond Market Association formed a buy side component, which still exists and is part of SIFMA. Buy-side firms then were somewhat reticent and their voices were being expressed individually. In order for them to expand their business they had to have the sophisticated systems of sell side firms with regard to trading and processing. They effectively became partners with the sell side on matters of common concern. Previously that was only the domain of the sell side. I spotted that as an opportunity for the trade association and led the establishment of the Asset Management Group (AMG).
People will say a business is only as good as the staff but really it is only as good as the industry leadership. Over the years there have been some extremely committed people who had outstanding careers and then still went the extra mile and became public spokespeople for the industry. The memorable experience is actually having a relationship with people who stepped up in that capacity. I’m still at it, I’m still doing this and most likely if the people I represented didn’t care, I don’t think I would care.
Q: Why did you decide to work with the Association of Institutional INVESTORS and move on from SIFMA?
A: Well, all good things come to an end. I was there for 24 years and it was time to move on. I decided to remain involved in the industry. The Association of Institutional INVESTORS offers an independent buy side point of view and doesn’t address every issue under the sun. SIFMA represents a larger group of people and does an extremely good job of it. However, there are some issues for large asset management firms and they’d like to just be able to huddle on their own, outside of the groups. They’re not banks and certain issues can be seen as “bank issues”. While there are bank issues, there are, separately, asset management issues.
There’s a whole bunch of our guys who are saying ‘we want to hear the story about regulatory reform. Bring everybody together, bring together the experts and let’s have one sit down and just see what we get.’ That’s a perfect project for the AII.
Q: Can you tell us about your role in the Association of Institutional INVESTORS?
A: My role now is somewhat more targeted than what I’m used to in that I’m less involved in what’s going on in Washington and more engaged in the process of what happens when the regulatory reform begins to be implemented. We are having a major challenge at this point in time assessing what is the tempo of the implementation of regulatory reform? There’s so many bumps in the road… what do you do with LEI? Who’s going to clarify it? There are a thousand-and-one questions that a lot of people thought would be more discernible at this stage of the game. The AII is attempting to fit into that process in a constructive way.
Large banks realise there’s these bumps in the road and hold a conference call. Then the people who are members of the AII come back to us and say ‘we’ve just done a call, we have something we have to deal with’. You have to figure out whether it’s a business matter that affects a couple of firms or is it industry-wide? We’re like a fire department – we’re constantly going out there, answering the call.
Q: Do you have any advice that you could give to our growing number of younger readers?
A: Right now there’s so much change going on. Don’t just listen to one association, hear what they’re all saying and configure what’s going on out there to your own business. I think DerivSource is a great example of how you can find comprehensive information. You’ve got to think industry-wide on your own. No one’s going to put that together for you.
Q: What would you do professionally if you hadn’t followed the path you’re on now?
A: I played baseball in college and I had offers from professional teams I could have pursued. I did not go that route; instead I went to law school and got involved in the trade association field. But who knows? Maybe I would have made it!