New rules for bank broker-dealers are edging one step closer to reality as the Securities and Exchange Commission is poised to publish them for public comment.

Once the proposal appears in the Federal Register - which is likely to be soon - bankers will have 60 days to file their comments to the SEC. And that will be the banking industry's last chance for influencing rules that could be enacted by yearend, several lawyers said.

"This is really the industry's last bite at the apple," said Sarah A. Miller, senior government relations counsel at the American Bankers Association.

The SEC has largely incorporated three amendments submitted by the National Association of Securities Dealers since the original proposal was filed last December. And these additions have drawn the most attention from bankers and their lawyers.

Those changes seem to have raised as many issues as they sought to clarify on such hot topics as payment of referral fees, sharing of customer financial information, and separation of brokerage and deposit-taking areas.

Language - in an NASD amendment - that would have barred securities sales in one-person supermarket branches was amended to allow them as long as the member exercises "exceptional caution."

The ABA's Ms. Miller expressed appreciation for that relaxation, while other lawyers questioned whether the practical result might nonetheless be a ban.

Another sensitive issue for bankers remains - restrictions on the sharing of confidential financial information with brokerage affiliates. Industry watchers expect this provision to attract a flurry of comments.

"There's a body of existing law, and a new requirement confuses the issues," said Melanie L. Fein, law partner at Arnold & Porter, Washington. "It's not something the SEC really needs to be looking at."

The stakes on the confidentiality issue are especially high.

"Anything that interferes with cross-selling can tip a delicate balance against the viability of bank investment products programs," said Robert Kurucza, a law partner at Morrison & Foerster, Washington.

Already lawyers are gearing up to respond to the proposed rules with the hope that gray areas can be clarified and problems solved before they are enforced.

"My sense is that the SEC is looking for good intelligent comment and will be open-minded," Ms. Fein said.

Bankers can get a copy of the 65-page proposal from the SEC's Web site on the Internet at http://www.sec.gov.

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