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Mutual Fund Industry Might Get a Regulatory Makeov

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Even as a wave of investigations, indictments and record fines have washed over Wall Street, the mutual fund industry’s largely scandal free record has allowed it to avoid being singled out for stepped up scrutiny by regulators and legislators.

That could be about to change.

Reports requested by Congress on the mutual funds business are being completed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the General Accounting Office and are about to be sent to Capitol Hill. The reports likely will lay out an agenda for increased oversight of the industry, including possible new mandates by Congress and rules changes by the SEC in areas such as fund sales practices and fee disclosures.

SEC officials have made it clear that while mutual funds haven’t been dragged into the Wall Street corruption investigations, the industry remains responsible if its practices are found to treat investors unfairly.

“Funds and their boards simply cannot simply say ‘We are not at fault, therefore, it is not our problem,’” Paul Roye, the SEC’s top mutual fund regulator told fund executives at an industry conference in May. “When any issue impacts fund investors, it is our problem.”

The fund industry says it agrees with that message and that it has a long track record of backing measures to protect investors. “The fact that we don’t think we did anything wrong doesn’t mean that we’re not terribly concerned about shareholders,” says Paul G. Haaga Jr., chairman of the Investment Company Institute, the industry’s largest trade group.