WASHINGTON - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Securities and Exchange Commission are near agreement on a plan to jointly examine bank-managed mutual funds.
The agreement, similar to one signed in January by the four federal banking agencies and the National Association of Securities Dealers, would mean no change in the authority or jurisdiction of the Comptroller's office or the SEC. But it should mean fewer examinations for banks.
"It is very important," said Robert M. Kurucza, a partner with the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in Washington and a veteran of both agencies. "As a general proposition, the banking industry is going to look very favorably upon any efforts by the two agencies to conduct one exam instead of two."
Mr. Kurucza said the joint exams may also provide a preview of the "functional regulation" of financial services that is likely to become the order of the day as Congress, regulators, and the marketplace continue to lower the walls separating the banking, securities, and insurance industries.
The pact has been close to ready for weeks, but has yet to be made final. "These things just take a while," said Ellen Broadman, director of securities, investments, and fiduciary practices in the legal department of Comptroller's office. "Right now everything looks like it's on track."
The SEC was less forthcoming. The agreement is not final, an agency spokesman said, and "we usually don't talk about things until they are."
The cooperative effort would deal with bank-managed mutual funds. In the course of regulating national banks, the Comptroller's office conducts safety-and-soundness examinations of banks' mutual fund operations.
The SEC, meanwhile, has responsibility for ensuring that mutual funds and fund investment advisers provide accurate information to potential investors.
Under the proposed agreement, banks would be subject to just one set of exams, with SEC and Comptroller's office examiners going to the banks together and sharing information as they work.
"This is all part of our effort to work more closely and effectively with securities regulators," Ms. Broadman said.
This effort is not something the Comptroller's office started out of the blue. Banks and mutual funds have bitterly complained about overlapping regulation.
"We would favor such closer coordination," said Erick Kanter, vice president for public information and marketing of the Investment Company Institute, the trade group for mutual fund companies.
Comptroller Eugene Ludwig committed to the joint examinations in March 1994 at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at which then chairman John Dingell blasted the Comptroller's office for failing to regulate bank mutual fund operations adequately. The panel is now known simply as the Commerce Committee.