Five Minutes With Jill E. Sommers

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Five Minutes With Jill E. Sommers

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Commissioner Jill E. Sommers is serving her second term at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). She sat down with MarketsWiki’s Jessica Titlebaum at the Futures Industry Association’s (FIA) International Boca conference to discuss her career path, the current issues coming across her desk and her opinion of Bart Chilton’s remarks on the Exchange of Futures for Futures (EFF) controversy.


Q: How did you get on your current career path?

A: My senior year of college I moved to Washington D.C. and worked for Senator Bob Dole. He was a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, which has oversight over derivatives. After working for Dole, I worked for a consulting firm and did work at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). Before joining the CFTC, I worked at the government affairs office at the CME for six years.


Q: Does the Agriculture Committee still oversee the derivatives industry?

A: Yes. Back then, 70 percent of volume (at futures exchanges) was from agriculture contracts. There was talk during the creation of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 because 95 percent of volume now is made up of energy or financial contracts, only 5 percent are agriculture contracts.


Q: What is the hardest part about your job?

A: The hardest part of my job is going through the enormous amount of issues that come across my desk. Position limits, regulatory reform, EFFs – it is hard to juggle all the issues.


Q: Do you agree with fellow commissioner Bart Chilton on the EFF issue?

A: I think - and this is just my opinion - that Commissioner Chilton meant he agreed the Commission needs to make a decision on this issue and was not necessarily in favor of ELX. The headline could have been wrong.


Q: You were sworn in with Commissioner Chilton, what do you think of him?

A: Bart is a great guy and he is very interested in the issues. He has his own style of doing things. We communicate on issues that we care about. He is very supportive of my work with portfolio margining which I have been involved with since 2000. He will tell everyone to talk to me about it.

I feel the same way about his involvement with metals. We get an enormous amount of e-mails about silver speculators. We are having a metals meeting in a few weeks. There are so many issues we talk about and we don’t get to dive into the issues. But we have been looking at metals and learning a lot about that asset class.


Q: How is the CFTC different under Gensler compared to Lukken?

A: Every chairman has different personalities that they bring to the table. Walt Lukken, Mike Dunn, Gary Gensler. There personalities come about and the issues they care about.

Gary Gensler is very passionate about his role and takes it very seriously. You can hear that in his speeches. He feels the American public is better served in an OTC-regulated market.


Q: President Obama and President Bush nominated you for this role. Have you ever met them?

A: I have met President Bush, but not in my capacity of CFTC commissioner. My name was submitted to the White House and I met with people for interviews. The process is very different under both administrations, but I understood that the President had to sign my nomination papers before moving to the Senate.


Q: What is your daily work routine?

A: I travel a lot. I chair the Global Markets Advisory Committee (GMAC), so I attend IOSCO meetings. Amsterdam, Tokyo, Madrid. I have never been to Montreal, but I am looking forward to next year’s meeting in Montreal.


Q: How does your family handle your heavy travel schedule?

A: It has been a difficult choice a couple of times. As a working mother, you never have the right answer. There are some trips I just can’t take. My daughter was graduating from Pre-K, and they had a ceremony with a cap and gown and everything. I can’t miss that. That would be too hard.

I never want to let my husband or my kids down and I am trying to be in this position 100 percent.


Q: Do you have anything you would like to add?

A: This is such a great opportunity for me. I have worked in this industry for 15 years and I am still learning something new every day. In my position, we talk about why trades are done, how they are done, and risk management areas you wouldn’t think of. We were talking the other day about how you measure a true hedge. All these questions are going to have to be answered.