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An Interview with NFA Chairman Michael Schaefer

On February 20, NFA’s Board of Directors elected Michael Schaefer to serve as its new chairman. Schaefer is a managing director with Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CGM) in New York, working in the Futures Department of the Fixed Income Division. He has been associated with CGM and its predecessor firms since 1981.

Schaefer is only the fifth person to serve as chairman since NFA began operations in 1982 (following in the footsteps of Leo Melamed, John Conheeney, Hal Hansen and Charles Nastro). News,Facts,Actions recently met with Schaefer to discuss his views on NFA, its future plans and his goals for the Association.

NFA: As you begin your tenure as NFA Chairman, what do you consider to be NFA’s strengths?
Schaefer: NFA could boast of many strengths, but its singular and greatest strength is its management and staff. Their knowledge, experience and professionalism have contributed more than any other single factor to the creation of what is acknowledged to be a self-regulatory organization without equal.

Over the years, I have enjoyed a very close association with the people at NFA as I participated with them in defining and fulfilling NFA’s mission: to be the very best organization of its kind and to provide value both to the membership and the public participants in its efforts to assure the integrity of the industry.

What specific goals would you like NFA to achieve under your leadership?
As chairman, my role is to help NFA achieve the goals and objectives laid out by our Board. As our industry continues to evolve, those objectives are constantly under review. So, one of my major goals is to make certain that NFA remains flexible and responsive. We’ll need to be able to identify trends in the industry, determine their likely impact and assist our Members and the public by providing guidance and rulemaking that is considered and responsive.

Another goal is to position NFA to provide its considerable expertise in the area of market surveillance to electronic exchanges. This is not a new initiative. Senior Vice President of Compliance Yvonne Downs and others at NFA have been hard at work on this effort for quite some time and with reasonable success. Many new exchanges have approached NFA because they understand the benefits they can derive from such a relationship.

I would like to help move this initiative to a new level. Continuing an effort begun by my predecessor, Charlie Nastro, I am hopeful that the various futures exchanges will take NFA up on our offer to take on some or all of their surveillance and/or audit tasks. NFA’s role would be ministerial in nature. We would have no function in the affairs of the exchanges. Rather, in an effort to provide additional value to our membership, our intent is to offer to act much like a “service bureau,” providing services from a menu of possibilities.

What specific issues will NFA need to address if it wants to continue to be successful?
NFA will face more challenges in the next few years than at any time in its history, as will the futures industry. There are potential challenges in the offer and sale of innovative products that will be coming to market. There may exist potential issues in the offer and sale of forex products to retail customers that will require rulemaking, guidance to the membership and an education outreach to the public.

There also exists the real possibility of competition among futures exchanges in the U.S. and from futures exchanges abroad. The regulatory and jurisdictional issues that may arise in connection with developments on this front will have to be carefully addressed.

With all of the changes occurring in the financial services industry (e.g., new products, new exchanges), what role do you see NFA playing as we move forward?
I see NFA’s role as vital to the health and integrity of the futures industry in the U.S. I can think of no greater value to the membership and the public than a strong but responsive self-regulator—one that is not entrenched in bureaucracy, but nimble and proactive.

Where would you like to see NFA five years from now?
I wish I had the proverbial crystal ball to be able to see out that far. My hope is that we are then what we are today—an organization with the respect of the industry, Congress and the CFTC. Moreover, I hope it will be said that we are in touch with our industry and the market participants in a way that contributes to the public confidence. Finally, it is my hope and expectation that NFA will be then, as it is now, the premier self-regulator in the financial services industry.

NFA is the premier independent provider of efficient and innovative regulatory programs that safeguard the integrity of the derivatives markets.
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