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Mutual Fund Shareholder Reports Under Scrutiny

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WASHINGTON—The Securities and Exchange Commission says it is continuing work on two studies related to providing investors with disclosures that are more useful.

Eileen Rominger, director of the SEC Invest Management Division, said as the keynote speaker at an insurance conference that the SEC is conducting investor testing to examine the effectiveness of mutual fund shareholder reports in communicating useful information to individual investors.

The study is designed to gather feedback from investors in order to help us determine how mutual fund shareholder reports could more effectively communicate information to individual investors.

The study also will generate a baseline assessment of mutual fund shareholder reports, providing a way to measure potential improvements over time.

The agency is also conducting a separate regarding financial literacy among investors that is mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, and is also working on variable summary prospectus.

Rominger said the financial literacy study is required to address general issues regarding financial literacy of retail investors, as well as to identify “the most effective existing private and public efforts to educate investors.”

The issue should be important to agents, broker-dealers and advisors because of a separate DFA provision which expressly authorizes the SEC to designate information to be provided by a broker or dealer to a retail investor before the purchase of an investment product or service — that is, at the point of sale.

“Specifically, I hope that the study will be useful to the SEC in considering any potential rulemaking with respect to point of sale disclosure for investment products and services, including variable insurance products,” she said.

Rominger made her comments at a Conference on Life Insurance Products sponsored by the American Law Institute/American Bar Association. The conference is being held in Washington.

She said the DFA calls for the financial literacy study to identify methods to improve the timing, content, and format of disclosures to investors with respect to financial intermediaries, investment products, and investment services.

It also requires the SEC to identify methods to increase the transparency of expenses and conflicts of interest in transactions involving investment services and products.

Rominger noted that the study agency staff is conducting focuses, as required by the DFA mandate, on issues of disclosure with respect to financial intermediaries, financial products, and financial services and not be limited to any one particular product or service, although mutual funds are expressly mentioned in the DFA.

In addition, she said, there is a focus not only on disclosure content, but also on timing, in particular on information that is needed before the time of an investment decision as well as a specific focus on expenses and conflicts of interest.

Regarding the summary prospectus for VAs, she said that as with the mutual fund summary prospectus, the SEC’s goal would be to have a document that is useful, easily read and understood; a document that will provide investors with clear and concise disclosure regarding the key features of a variable annuity.

She said that although the SEC’s goal is a summary prospectus that is concise, it must still provide investors with the key information they need to make an informed decision.