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Proxy voting, variable annuities coming next

Dalia Blass said the SEC is looking at rules governing variable insurance products.

In addition to a standards of conduct package, the SEC is exploring other difficult issues in financial services.

On Nov. 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission is slated to host a roundtable on the proxy-voting process that will focus on proxy-voting mechanics and technology, the shareholder proposal process and the role and regulation of proxy-advisory firms.

That event comes on the heels of an SEC Investor Advisory Committee meeting on Sept. 13, when stakeholders discussed ways to improve the proxy-voting system. The same day, the SEC also rescinded two staff letters on proxy advisers issued in 2004. The letters, issued to Egan-Jones Proxy Services and Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., were aimed at assuring mutual fund managers that they could rely on their recommendations.

In another development, during her testimony last month on Capitol Hill, Dalia Blass, director of the SEC's division of investment management, said the division is considering a recommendation that the SEC propose rules designed to provide investors with more user-friendly, layered disclosure about variable insurance products.

"Variable insurance products are generally more complex than other retail investment products, like mutual funds, because they combine both investment and insurance features," she stated in her written testimony.

Jason Berkowitz, vice president and counsel for regulatory affairs for the Insured Retirement Institute in Washington, said the statements from Ms. Blass are "a very positive signal that a proposal is forthcoming."

"We really are just looking for them to start the public dialogue on this," Mr. Berkowitz added. "We feel it's high time for the proposal to be unveiled and put out for public comment."