Lobbyist Dan Cohen was hired this year to set up the first Washington, D.C., office for a company called Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. — it provides complex services for financial transactions — but he is still trying to get pictures on the walls.
Decorating the new digs has taken a backseat to everything from briefing Members of Congress last week on the debt ceiling crisis to grappling with the details of the new Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
This week, he's doing another debt limit briefing with Senate aides. He has started a DTCC political action committee and has made hires to staff his global government affairs division inside the Beltway and in Europe.
Such is life in the financial services lobby.
The sector's lobbyists, who are consumed mostly with the Dodd-Frank law, have seen a boom in business and a hiring bonanza as banks and other operations such as Cohen's set up shop in the capital for the first time or step up their existing Washington operations.
"This will create more jobs than the jobs stimulus bill," said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, whose group has added lawyers and lobbyists and is in the market for more.
Firms such as TD Bank, Citigroup, Fifth Third Bank and JPMorgan Chase have made strategic hires in recent months. TD brought on Edward Silverman, who was staff director of the Senate Banking Committee under then-Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
Eric Rizzo, formerly with Farmers Insurance, joined Fifth Third last month to open the Ohio-based bank's new D.C. office. Citigroup added Candida Wolff, an ex-Bush administration legislative affairs liaison, to head its operation, and she has hired another GOPer, John Emling, to co-head the lobbying team with a still-to-be-hired Democrat.
"It really reflects that the industry recognizes the role Washington plays in creating the new landscape," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president for government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable. "And so it's important to have your voice heard."
In addition to the openings at Citigroup and the CBA, industry insiders say U.S. Bank and several trade associations are still looking to bring on help or fill vacancies from all the job movement this year.
And it's not just about Congressional relations.
"There is sky-high demand both on the law firm/lobby firm side as well as the corporate side for people that have an understanding of the regulatory process as it relates to financial services," said Ivan Adler, a K Street headhunter with the McCormick Group. "There's so much of the Dodd-Frank law that needs to get implemented and needs to get done, and there aren't that many people in town who really understand the financial services piece."
Cohen, who opened the DTCC shop at 13th and F streets Northwest, said that even though financial services has long been a highly regulated sector, Congress wasn't viewed as the focal point.
"Dodd-Frank shifted the center of gravity to Washington," he said.
Within a year, Cohen added, he plans to have hired additional D.C. advocates. He has already brought on Alison Wolpert as director of government relations.
Because DTCC interfaces with many financial players, Cohen said he has helped to explain, with no partisan slant, the potential outcome of the U.S. not being able to meet its debt obligations. Along with officials from Standard & Poor's and JPMorgan Chase, Cohen said, he participated in a 90-minute briefing for some 55 House Members last week that was organized by Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.).
"We're really the back room of how Wall Street works," Cohen said, "at the intersection of the stocks and bonds, banks, trading companies and their customers."
The meeting was off the record, so Cohen declined to discuss specifics. But he did say a lot of freshman lawmakers attended and asked "good, real serious questions."
Most financial services lobbyists, though, say they're steering clear of the debt debate with the exception of trying to gather intelligence to pass along to their clients. Like other big-business advocates, Wall Street's experts on K Street are reluctant to push for any specific proposals for how Members and the White House should solve the debt limit matter.
"We're not the most beloved right now," one industry executive said. "If we go in and say, 'We need revenue raisers,' they'll say, 'Good, write us a check.'"
A GOP financial services lobbyist agreed, "You'd get a target on your back."
The debt ceiling crisis might be something of a distraction from the financial sector's real top priority of Dodd-Frank, but keeping in touch with the Hill on its own No. 1 issue can be part of crafting and maintaining good Congressional relations.
"You can't just come to town with your hand out," said Cohen, who previously lobbied for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and worked on the Hill for former Rep. Joseph McDade (R-Pa.). "I know, having worked on the Hill, if you can be helpful, that's important."