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History in the Making


Let's just raise a question still unanswered after these past two scandalous years.

What is market timing, and how could an industry entrusted with $8 trillion, or 22% of the nation's retirement assets, allow the unthinkable to happen? This is the question at the heart of a far bigger one we in the mutual fund industry now face.

Ten years from now, 50 even, what will the trading scandal have meant to this country and to the investment management houses in it? Of the 14 regulations that have come down the pike from the Securities and Exchange Commission these past 20 months, will any one of them make much of a difference in the way the business is run and shareholders are served?

Once the government is done cleaning up this dust heap clouding what truly is a noble industry, this current tumultuousness could well be long forgotten, overshadowed in time by the greater malfeasance at the investment banks on Wall Street and, most recently, the 213-year-old New York Stock Exchange.

Narrow returns and the dual Social Security and retirement distribution crises are likely to obfuscate the SEC's and NASD's well-intentioned added disclosure and corporate governance rules. Even if investors are given a transparent glimpse into the private boardrooms of fund complexes, as industry founders like John Bogle argue, and we indeed begin a slow evolution to create a level playing field, investment advisors will still continue to steadfastly guard their fees.

So, back to the question: What is market timing, when does it cross the line into the illegal zone - and why did our industry and the regulators overseeing it dually fail our industry and investors by ever allowing this to become an ongoing question in the first place?

One year ago, as Matt Fink gave his final farewell as outgoing president of the Investment Company Institute, at the very Washington convention we find ourselves at this week, he stressed how important it is to listen to the few critical voices out there.

It is now up to the people in this industry to stand up to the truth in order to turn this scandal into a milestone.

In its 81 years, the mutual fund industry, has indeed, been "Investing in America's Future." We would serve ourselves and our nation's shareholders well if we accept the inherent foibles the Wall Street scandals have proven about the money management industry. We must guard even more strongly against the temptations of the free market by submitting to our original purpose and look ahead by focusing on and protecting the needs of the 75 million retiring Baby Boomers.

The mutual fund industry was built on the premise of equal entitlement. Let us be true to our original word.

As Winston Churchill once said, "It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than a critic."

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