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Securities Law

Groups Support MSRB's Revised 529 Plan Proposal, But Raise Concerns

WASHINGTON — Market participants mostly support a revised proposal by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board that would require primary distributors or underwriters of 529 college savings plans to submit information to the MSRB, but urged the board to keep information confidential and to consider additional changes.

The proposal, issued by the MSRB on Nov. 23, would create a new Rule G-45 requiring firms to submit a variety of information to the board twice yearly — within 60 days each of June 30 and Dec. 31. An earlier proposal in August proposal that would have required quarterly reporting.

Information required would include plan assets, contributions, distributions, fees and expenses, as well as annual performance data.

It would take effect one year after approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The MSRB regulates firms distributing or underwriting 529 college savings plans — mutual fund-like investment programs states have established under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code to help families save for future higher education expenses.

In recent comment letters, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Investment Company Institute said they support twice-yearly reporting and the 60-day grace period, changes they said addressed key industry concerns.

“We commend the MSRB for giving thoughtful consideration to the comments it received on the original version of the proposed rule,” said the ICI’s letter, signed by senior associate counsel Tamara Salmon.

But the groups said the proposal still poses problems.

SIFMA’s letter, signed by managing director David Cohen, called on the board to ensure data collected is used only for internal purposes and kept confidential. SIFMA also requested that the MSRB issue a new request for comments if it wants the data to be made publicly available.

Joan Marshall, executive director of College Savings Plans of Maryland, said in a letter that the agency’s support for the proposal is based on an understanding that the data will remain confidential.

SIFMA and ICI also noted that plan underwriters typically have more limited roles than underwriters of municipal bonds, and therefore might not have access to all the information required. They said some of the information might be held by dealers who sell shares to investors.

The groups said the MSRB should not require underwriters to collect information from other parties or vouch for that information.

ICI and SIFMA also expressed concern about reporting formats.

The MSRB’s proposal says the board plans to accept reporting in the same format as in the College Savings Plans Network’s Statement No. 5, which gives plan issuers guidelines for drafting official statements.

ICI and SIFMA noted that Statement No. 5 lays out many methods for calculating and presenting information and urged the MSRB to accept reporting in multiple formats and to adopt or reference instructions in Statement No. 5.

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