Up until earlier this month, the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council was known by the name it has gone under since 1999, the Commercial Mortgage Securities Association. The association’s new title, and the broader mandate it implies, reflects the dramatic change in the world of real estate finance since the CMSA’s founding under a different name in 1994. Namely, it has grown considerably more complex. Securitization played a key role in that, of course, but at the same time, the CMSA’s membership grew to encompass a variety of financial disciplines.

That greater scope led the CMSA’s board of governors to revamp the association into what it is now. A key component of the CRE Finance Council’s makeup is five “forums”: groups bound by their market constituencies. Within the council, there are forums for securities and loan investors, multifamily lenders, portfolio lenders, servicers and investment-grade bondholders. The intent is to have the membership of each forum interact among themselves—or with members of other forums—to address issues critical to their business sectors.

Patrick Sargent, a Dallas-based partner with Andrews Kurth LLP and president of the CRE Finance Council, believes the new structure will better serve the council’s constituency as it confronts the issues facing the industry, not least of which is the role Washington plays in its future. Sargent recently spoke with GlobeSt.com about this new direction.

GlobeSt.com: What lay behind transforming the CMSA into the Finance Council?

Sargent: It really reflects what has been evolving practically over the past five or six years. Different innovations in commercial real estate finance have been a part of our members’ existence. When we looked to assess and update our strategic plan last summer, we included that in the process. We felt that a name change would make it clear that we’re not limited only to securitization, although that is a significant part of our focus. Our members are interested and involved in issues that cross all of commercial financing.

GlobeSt.com: One of the key elements of the new organization is the five forums. It seems likely that current and future members would want to belong to more than one.

Sargent: Yes, just as we have member institutions that are involved on the investing side as well as loan origination, so it makes sense for people to want to be involved in more than one forum. The forums are really a formalization of what our group has been adept at, which is spotting issues and trends, innovating in commercial real estate finance, helping to bring about changes that really improve the industry. For example, several years back we began what was then called the CMSA Investor Reporting Package. It is used for reporting the performance of loans in a given securitization. We’ll continue to be innovative and cutting-edge for the betterment of the industry.

GlobeSt.com: One of the areas in which the old CMSA was most active was advocacy, particularly on matters in Washington. Is this part of the new organization’s mandate?

Sargent: It is a critical part. We have had dozens of meetings over the past 12 to 18 months with Treasury and the Fed as well as legislators. Our senior vice president, Brendan Reilly, is head of the government relations group, and we’re expanding that with a junior lobbyist as well as a policy person. I think everyone would acknowledge that Washington seems to be the new center of the universe, and we’ll probably have some degree of regulation coming out of there for several years to come. So we want to be sure that we educate and inform as well as provide input from those who are involved in the markets.

GlobeSt.com: Does the council encourage members to become individually aware and active on the legislative and regulatory front?

Sargent: Absolutely. Our strong point has been member participation. That’s why we formalized that through the creation of forums. That just creates an efficient framework where people can participate, dialogue and offer up suggestions. Then, as the need may be, we’ll create a task force to zero in on a particular, narrow effort that we may have. Our goal is to advocate where we have consensus and educate where we do not.

GlobeSt.com: As the council expands its reach, how is it planning to grow the membership?

Sargent: The key is to get out the word on what we have done in the past. That’s a good proxy for what to expect going forward. It’s why we conduct after-work seminars, such as the one we held in New York on March 24 about pooling and servicing agreements, and why we have many educational resources on our website. We had a tremendous turnout for our January conference, which was held in Washington, so we had tremendous access to regulators. Sheila Bair, chairman of the FDIC, spoke there, and we had a number of legislators speak there as well.

We reach out through news releases and through the programs that we offer. People can look at them and hopefully realize that this is a group that is active in getting things done for the benefit of the industry.

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