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In what will almost certainly be his final year as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox is preparing to tackle a number of issues — some controversial and some fairly straightforward — in 2008. Cox described an agenda he plans to discuss with senior SEC staffers after the new year. Though he has not announced that 2008 will be his final year at the SEC, it is almost certain that by the time President Bush leaves office in January 2009, Cox will also be gone, if only to allow the next president to appoint his or her own candidate to the position.

Among the goals Cox hopes to achieve in 2008:

•Mutual fund prospectus reform.

Noting that U.S. investors have invested about $3 trillion of their retirement funds in the stock market, and that half of that sum is invested via mutual funds, Cox says he wants the mutual industry to do a better job communicating basic information to investors about their offerings.

Currently, an employee trying to decide where to invest 401(k) contributions either has to wade through a mutual fund's prospectus, or look at sales material for the fund, which doesn't provide an adequate description of what the fund is about.

In November, the SEC put a proposal for mutual fund prospectus reform out for comment. In a few months, after reviewing the comments, the SEC will vote on the matter. "It's not that people need things dumbed down," Cox says. "But people are busy. There's a reason that CEOs insist on having executive summaries. It's important to put the vital information upfront."

•New rules on 12b-1 mutual fund fees.

These add-on fees were approved by the SEC in 1980 as a way for mutual funds to promote themselves, attract new investors and, theoretically, reduce the cost of operating a mutual fund. But with the explosive growth of mutual funds over the past 25 years, the fees have morphed into pools that fund managers can use to reward brokers they do business with.

The SEC's department of investment management is considering a proposal that would clarify the role that independent directors should play in approving a fund's 12b-1 plan. "You can expect the SEC to engage in rulemaking on 12b-1," Cox says. "Independent directors have been urging us to make changes in this area, and I think we can bring a great deal of clarity that is currently lacking."

•Proxy access.

Cox promises to revisit a topic that has generated the most severe criticism he has endured since being sworn in as SEC chair more than two years ago: the ability of shareholders to have access to a public company's proxy materials.

Last month, Cox voted in favor of a proposal that solidified the SEC's long-standing position that public firms can rebuff shareholders' attempts to get their own director candidates on proxy ballots. Citing ambiguity in the SEC's position, a federal appeals court ruled in 2006 that shareholder activists could force their candidates onto proxy slates through litigation.

Cox's vote to close the "ambiguity" loophole drew outrage from investor-rights advocates. But Cox said at the time of the vote that he was not willing to proceed with a meaningful overhaul of the commission's proxy-access rules with a commission hobbled by the absence of one Democratic appointee.

The August departure of Roel Campos, one of the Democratic appointees to the commission, changed the dynamics surrounding proxy access and scuttled any chance at meaningful reform for 2007. The other democratic commissioner, Annette Nazareth, also plans to step down.

If and when the Senate votes to confirm their likely replacements — Democrats Luis Aguilar and Elise Walter — Cox vows to revisit the issue.

•Protection of seniors.

Cox has made protecting older investors a priority, cracking down on abusive "free lunch" promotions and the like. For 2008, he wants to reach out to investor advisers to find out answers to potentially tricky questions.

If, for example, an investment broker has a longtime client who develops Alzheimer's, how should financial decisions be handled?

Cox realizes that every situation will have a unique set of facts and circumstances, but with a boomer population rapidly moving toward retirement age, he says he wants to develop some "best practices" in the area.


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