DESPITE THE MUTUAL FUND industry's booming growth this year, no one is laying odds that Arthur Levitt, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will get his wish for more examiners to scrutinize investment companies.
Mr. Levitt recently told the Senate Banking Committee's securities subcommittee that he wants to add at least 150 mutual fund examiners to a contingent that now numbers 133. His predecessor, Richard Breeden, began the push for more examiners.
Members of the Senate panel - including the committee chairman, Sen. Donald W. Riegle, D.-Mich. - were clearly sympathetic to Mr. Levitt's request during recent hearings.
But they said budget constraints will make it a tough sell.
While industry representatives are backing Mr. Levitt, they also are uncertain about this chances for success.
"Clearly, he's gotten the message across," said Erick Kanter, spokesman for the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry's trade group. "But we're not at all clear on what the outcome will be."
An authorization bill for the SEC would have to go to the Senate appropriations committee, which has a limited pool of funds to allocate.
Because of this, other funding sources are being discussed for the SEC. These include giving the commission a greater slice of securities registration fees, or using proceeds from a newly imposed annual fee on investment advisers.
The American Bankers Association wants Congress to extend the Truth-In-Savings Act to include mutual fund companies and others that offer investment products.
The act, which took effect in September, requires banks to step up their disclosures about rates and fees as a way of giving consumers clear choices.
But this puts banks at a disadvantage to other financial service suppliers, said ABA president William Brandon in a letter to members of the congressional banking committees.
"Unfortunately, some of our nonbank competitors are subject to no full-disclosure requirements, and are therefore giving incomplete and in many cases misleading information to consumers," Mr. Brandon said.
Seen as Leveling Playing Field
Legislators, who had recessed for the holiday, could not be reached for comment.
But mutual fund industry representatives were quick to point out that agencies such as the SEC and the National Association of Securities Dealers strive to keep tabs on claims made by mutual fund companies and brokers.
"Mutual fund advertising has been heavily regulated for decades," said Mr. Kanter of the Investment Company Institute. "The Truth-in-Savings Act really brought banks up to a similar level of strict regulation."