WASHINGTON -- The heads of the banking, thrift, and securities agencies will meet June 1 to consider dispatching "mystery shoppers" to test mutual fund disclosures.
Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig called for the meeting in an April 11 letter to his counterparts at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
THe FDIC made the decision in March to develop a program to test mutual fund disclosures at all insured institutions.
Mr. Ludwig wants to expand that effort to include brokerages.
Agreeing to a meeting does not mean all the agency heads agree with the testing program, however.
SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt was cool to the idea of testing intially, questioning tghe legality of mystery shoppers. The Fed, too, has never endorsed sending fake customers into banks.
Mr. Ludwig Explains
Mr. Ludwig pushed his case this week in a letter to Mr. Levitt. THe COmptroller was responding to a letter Mr. Levitt has sent earlier this month about fees pait to bankers who refer customers to mutual fund sales representatives.
"A sales testing effort coordinated by all bank and secuities regulators may provide useful information in determining whethe referral fees create inappropriate incentives for unqualified employees to offer investment advice," Mr. Ludwig wrote.
There are limits on bonuses for referral business, Mr. Ludwig noted, adding that the banking regulators based their rules on the SEC's limits for brokerages.
Bonuses for mutual fund referrals to bank employees such as tellers must be fixed, one-time nominal fees and may not be tied to whether the referral generates an investment.