Officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are wondering whether they should regulate financial Web portals.
SEC officials are happy to see financial portals such as Yahoo!Finance and MSNs MoneyCentral give individual investors access to data and analytical tools once reserved for institutional money managers.
But “portals are starting to like a lot like broker-dealers,” Laura Unger, the SECs acting chairman, told participants in Washington at a recent discussion on portals.
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Financial portals, which are not licensed by the SEC, are adding so many personalized services, and so many links to online trading companies, that they could eventually crowd out the traditional broker-dealers, Unger said.
“Were all sort of feeling our way around,” Unger said.
Unger organized the discussion to get ideas about financial portals before the SEC decides whether to write new rules or regulations.
Speakers included representatives from consumer groups, portal companies, broker-dealers and the NASD Regulations Inc., Washington.
The SEC posted a sound recording of the conference on the Web, at http://www.streamonsite/sec/openpage.html.
Any actions that the SEC takes on portals could affect independent insurance portals that offer products such as variable annuities; insurance companies own financial education and information Web sites; financial advisors attempts to market through portals; and advisors efforts to list links to outside sources of information on their own sites.
No one at the SEC discussion accused financial portals of causing problems, and speakers agreed that broker-dealers already work hard to make sure that the portals they use to generate leads are reputable operations.
Several representatives for the portals and Harold Wittman, a representative of the Washington chapter of the American Association of Individual Investors, questioned whether SEC efforts to regulate Web-based financial portals would violate portal developers freedom of speech.
The courts have exempted print newspapers and print magazines from the SECs regulations on financial communications, speakers said.