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Robert W. Cook

President and CEO, FINRA

2023 Annual Conference Welcome Remarks

May 16, 2023

Washington, DC

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Kayte [Toczylowski, FINRA’s head of Member Relations and Education], and good morning, everyone. It is so wonderful to see you. I am delighted to join Kayte in welcoming you to the 2023 FINRA Annual Conference.

We appreciate your being with us, either here in the room or virtually. To start, I would like to say a few words this morning and then Kayte is going to join me back on the stage here to throw some questions at me that she has been hearing from you recently in her conversations with firms.

First, as Kayte mentioned, this event would not have been possible without the tireless work of many on the FINRA team who put together not just a very substantive program, but also lots of opportunities for us to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. But Kayte forgot to mention someone who has been essential to pulling all this together: Kayte herself. So, please join me in thanking Kayte, and the rest of the team for pulling this event together.

Now, when I look out on this room, I see a lot of familiar faces. I look forward to the opportunity to connect with as many of you as possible in the days ahead, and I hope you too will take the many opportunities available to you with your fellow conference attendees as well. When I look out on this room, I also think about the theme for this year’s event, Future Focused, and I think about something else, as well, which is that this event is a terrific reminder of the essential role that FINRA plays in our regulatory structure, especially when we convene and engage with you with a view to promoting stronger and more vibrant capital markets that are better prepared for the challenges of the future.

You know all too well that we have our work cut out for us. So much is happening across so many different dimensions of our markets. Everyone can say, "I remember a time when there was a lot of change,” but boy, it sure feels like there is a lot of change now. At times, it feels like everything is happening all at once. Investors and market participants are communicating and consuming information in new ways. Macroeconomic and geopolitical forces are creating unexpected market dynamics, uncertainty and pressure on market infrastructure. Bad actors who are finding new ways to take advantage of investors, firms and the system. Meanwhile, there has been a proliferation of new and often very exciting products and services, but new products and services require that require that we continually reassess and adapt our regulatory compliance framework. And of course, there is new and paradigm shifting technology, such as AI, that is both enabling and complicating our work.

So, as we at FINRA think about how to go about addressing these challenges, as we stay “Future Focused,” our mission stays clear: investor protection and market integrity. That is our North Star. That is what controls the what we are trying to achieve, the outcomes we are expected to work towards and how we make judgment calls when we are confronted with difficult decisions. Investor protection and market integrity, that is at the root of it all.

But as a not-for-profit self-regulatory organization (SRO), the how matters. When Congress codified FINRA and our structure into federal law more than 85 years ago, it recognized even then the dynamic nature of our markets. It recognized that our markets are incredibly complex and constantly evolving. And it determined that, in this context, the regulatory structure would be strengthened by having an entity like FINRA sit at the intersection of the government and the private sector, an entity that could be closely supervised by the government to make sure it was serving the public interest, while also engaging with market participants in ways that the government typically does not.

Through that engagement, FINRA is expected to be able to drive a more effective regulatory outcome then would be possible had the government had acted on its own. By engaging with firms, FINRA can leverage the deep experience, expertise and insights of market participants in our work to better identify emerging risks, to improve our rules and regulatory operations, to understand better how they work in practice, to identify and provide tools and compliance resources and information that will help firms promote stronger compliance, more resilient markets and more informed investment decisions, and, ultimately, to raise the standards of conduct in the industry.

This 85-year-old mandate for engagement is reflected in our governance structure. Our Board of Governors is majority public, but it also includes representatives from firms of different types and different sizes. And market participants sit on a variety of our formal advisory committees and councils and the like. We have people here at this conference who are sitting in all those different seats. If you see a ribbon you do not recognize, go up and ask the person and ask them to tell you more about their work. These positions open up routinely because we have term limits to make sure we are regularly hearing new voices and new perspectives to better inform our work. So, if you are interested in becoming more involved, I encourage you to find out more.

We also have many other ways of engaging with the industry in ways both formal and informal. On the formal side, we have our Regulatory Notices and comment processes, while on the informal side we have discussions, ad hoc meetings, roundtables and the like. And of course, we have conferences such as this, which provide a terrific opportunity for us to convene and engage with other federal and state regulators, exchanges, SROs, member firms, investor representatives and other market participants.

The conversations planned for this event are a big part of how we as an SRO will go about working with you to better protect investors and promote market integrity. Just as you have come here to learn, so have we. We are looking forward to learning from the insights of fellow regulators and market participants on conference panels. We are looking forward to the feedback that we hope you will give us when you visit the IDEA booths or when you take other opportunities to share the feedback during the breaks. We are constantly listening and learning, and I hope you will take the opportunity to get to know some of the FINRA staff here and to share what is on your mind, what could we be doing better and what are we doing well.

Thank you again for being here. I hope you find the experience enriching and informative, but I also hope and really ask that you take this opportunity to engage with us throughout the conference so that we can collectively learn and work together to create a more effective regulatory environment that will continue to facilitate vibrant capital markets in the future.