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Salutations Where Salutations Are Due

The mood at the Investment Company Institute's 50th Annual General Membership Meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, themed "Our Foundations, Our Future," was markedly upbeat. Certainly, this is welcome and refreshing, especially following the dot-com crash of 2000-2001, the mutual fund scandals of 2003-2005 and this year's subprime credit crisis hitting the financial services industry and Wall Street, in particular, so hard.

Executives, starting with a keynote from ICI President Paul Schott Stevens (see Week in Review, page 6), once again sounded the drumbeat on our industry's resounding, vital importance to the investor, especially on the eve of 77 million Baby Boomers entering retirement. We go to work every day thinking foremost about our fiduciary responsibility, and, surely, want to get it right, for them, for our own families and for ourselves.

But as the industry reminisced about the past 50 years at the convention, Stevens took it even a step further, to remind those who could remember and those of us slightly younger who were too young to really understand, of the privilege of investing.

Up until the late 1970s, when Ted Benna was pouring over the 401(k) clause in the IRS tax code and 1981, when the first 401(k) was first offered by tax accountants, banks and a handful of large employers, only the privileged were allowed to invest in the stock market. And that was principally relegated to those who had the money and the cachet to hire a stock broker.

The 401(k) has leveled the investment playing field and has empowered, to sum up one of Mr. Stevens' key points, the American people to take charge of their financial lives and their retirement.

That was one ray of sunshine at a meeting that actually included many, not to mention a wildly popular performance by The Beach Boys. (Marketers, take note: your Boomer audience loves that type of nostalgia.)

Another takeaway from the meeting was the return of past ICI President Matthew P. Fink. He gave a speech highlighting some of his memories of the industry, going as far back as the 1930s, predating the 40 Act and the Securities Act of 1933. One of the truest points Fink made-and yet another noteworthy historical reminder of how we got to $12 trillion in assets today-was the hard-fought fight with the banks in the 1970s over money market mutual funds, and how the banks tried to crush mutual funds on that one.

More important that what he said, was the fact that it was good to see Mr. Fink again. He reminded the audience of how he had only just announced his planned retirement when the then-New York Attorney General staged his trailblazing press conference on Canary Capital, in lower Manhattan, on Sept. 3, 2003.

Fink delayed his retirement to help the industry slug through one of its darkest, if not the darkest hours.

And when he finally did retire, a year later than when he originally planned, he left without any well-deserved fanfare, for a lifetime career at the ICI spanning nearly four decades.

Thank you, for your leadership and your reminders about the importance of our work, one and all. Let us give salutations and thanks, where they are justly due.

(c) 2008 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.