Critics sweep election at futures-industry regulator

Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:42pm EST

Related Topics

* Outspoken managers win spots on regulator's board

* Members to pursue ban for former MF Global CEO

* Election represents changing of the guard

By Tom Polansek and Ann Saphir

CHICAGO/SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Three outspoken critics of futures-industry oversight won spots on the board of a key U.S. regulator, vowing more aggressive customer protections following the stunning collapse of two brokerages that cost clients hundreds of millions of dollars.

James Koutoulas, chief executive of Typhon Capital Management; John Roe, president of Roe Capital Management, and Jeffrey Malec, chief executive of Attain Capital Management were elected to the National Futures Association's board of directors, the NFA said on Wednesday.

The trio, who all manage Chicago-based futures firms, were personally stung by the bankruptcies of MF Global in 2011 and Peregrine Financial Group in 2012.

Their clients' money was frozen when the now-defunct brokers dipped into customer accounts in violation of industry rules, leaving a $1.6 billion hole in MF Global customer accounts and what U.S. prosecutors say is a $215 million loss at Peregrine Financial.

NFA, Peregrine's primary regulator, has tightened some rules since the failures, including requiring brokers to allow regulators to check their bank accounts at will, and forcing brokers to disclose more information about how they keep their customers' money. The new directors say more is needed.

"The overall goal is to change the culture of the organization to be more activist," Koutoulas told Reuters in an interview.

Koutoulas and Roe co-founded the Commodity Customer Coalition in late 2011 to help former customers of MF Global get their money back, and now want NFA to take the lead as an advocate for customers.

First on their agenda, they say, is to bar Jon Corzine, MF Global's former chief executive, from the commodity futures business.

No one has been charged in the downfall of MF Global, although U.S. congressional investigators have determined that Corzine failed to maintain the systems and controls necessary to protect customer funds.

Meanwhile Peregrine Financial founder and former Chief Executive Russell Wasendorf Sr. is set to be sentenced next week after pleading guilty to embezzlement, lying to regulators and mail fraud.

"When people keep trying to steal from your customers like Corzine and Wasendorf, you have to make them afraid of you," Koutoulas said. "We're going to make the NFA a whole lot more aggressive."

BACKWATER

NFA, which is based in Chicago and funded by industry fees, has traditionally operated in relative obscurity, overshadowed by better-known market regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

That changed last year, after the attempted suicide of Peregrine's Wasendorf brought to light a 20-year fraud he had conducted despite yearly audits by the NFA.

NFA's profile is also on the rise because of tighter rules for the vast over-the-counter swaps industry, where major dealers must now register with NFA. The regulator has been on a hiring spree, adding to its staff to cope with additional responsibilities on swaps regulation.

The changing of the guard on NFA's board reflects growing discontent with the status quo in the regulatory world.

The three newly elected directors replace long-serving board members with a collective 37 years of tenure: George Crapple, co-chairman of Millburn Ridgefield Corp; Bruce Cleland, Campbell & Co's vice chairman, and John Vassallo, president of Coquest Inc.

The three seats were the only contested ones in this year's election.

An NFA spokesman declined to comment on what the new blood means for the direction of regulation, saying only that "we look forward to working with them."

"GET IT DONE"

Wasendorf said in a suicide note that he duped "unquestioning" regulators from NFA by falsifying bank statements.

Malec said it was "an embarrassment" the association did not have electronic access to the broker's bank accounts, which could have uncovered the fraud.

Attain was one of NFA's biggest critics after Peregrine's collapse, calling for reforms and for clients to get their money back.

"People in the industry are looking for a change," Roe said. "They want to see reform at the NFA. We told them we could do that. Now we have to do the hard part and get it done." (Reporting By Tom Polansek in Chicago and Ann Saphir in San Francisco; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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