Key developments in financial services: what to look out for in Q4 2019 and beyond

Key developments in financial services: what to look out for in Q4 2019 and beyond

 

 


Now that the threat of a no-deal Brexit has subsided (for now), financial services practitioners may breathe a sigh of relief, but this is no time to relax. There are plenty of other changes on the horizon that should keep financial institutions and their advisors busy until the end of 2019 and beyond. This article provides a quick overview of five of the most important developments:

  • the extension of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime to solo-regulated firms
  • the growing focus around the world on sustainable finance
  • preparations for the transition from LIBOR to other benchmarks
  • the new EU prudential regime for investment firms, and
  • possible expansions of the Financial Conduct Authority’s powers

 

 

Extension of the SM&CR to solo-regulated firms

 

On 9 December 2019, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is extending the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SM&CR) to solo-regulated firms. From this date, the SM&CR will apply to almost all firms authorised under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and to branches of non-UK firms with permission to carry out regulated activities in the UK. The FCA created the SM&CR to expand the scope of individual liability, focusing on senior management responsibility and creating a firm-wide ‘culture of accountability’ in order to reduce consumer harm and strengthen market integrity. The SM&CR marks a fundamental shift in the FCA’s regulatory approach to individuals and compliance with the SM&CR is a top supervisory and enforcement priority for the FCA.

Most solo-regulated firms’ SM&CR preparations should be well underway; so-called ‘Enhanced’ firms should have submitted appropriate documentation to the FCA in order to transition their relevant employees from the Approved Persons Regime to the SM&CR. By day one of the extension, all firms are required to have identified those employees who meet the definition of one or more Certification Functions and trained their Senior managers and Certification staff in the Conduct Rules. Among other requirements, firms will have 12 months in which to train their remaining staff in the Conduct Rules and certify their Certification staff as ‘fit and proper’.  For all SM&CR firms it is critical to embed a culture of individual engagement and accountability at all levels. Increasingly, the FCA, and indeed other international bodies like the Financial Stability Board, consider that the process of cultural change, of assessing and managing culture, and corresponding governance should be a top priority for financial services firms.

Comprehensive coverage on the extension of the SM&CR and the regulator’s expectations on developing a culture of accountability can be found in our sub-topic: Authorisation, approval and supervision > Senior Managers and Certification Regime which includes:

Overview: Senior Managers and Certification Regime

Practice Note: Senior Managers and Certification Regime policy development and key dates

Practice Note: Practical steps FCA solo-regulated firms should take to prepare for the SM&CR extension

Practice Note: The FCA’s expectations around culture in financial services firms

Practice Note: The Directory—a public register of key individuals working in financial services

Practice Note: Application of the SM&CR to claims management companies

 

A growing focus on sustainable finance

 

On 22 September 2019, 13 years after the launch of the United Nations (UN)-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative’s (UNEP FI) Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) were launched.   The PRB aim to strategically align banks with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change and - like the PRI - contain mandatory reporting requirements for signatories.  Both the PRI and the PRB have a significant number of signatories globally and it is likely that further banks, asset owners, investment managers and service providers will sign up to these principles.

In addition to the global, voluntary PRB and PRI - and a wide range of industry best practice guidance for different asset classes - there are proposals for EU regulations (and amendments to delegated acts under the recast Markets in Financial Instruments Directive 2014/65/EU (MiFID II) and the Insurance Distribution Directive (EU) 2016/97) on:

  • Taxonomy  -  a unified classification system on what can be considered an environmentally sustainable economic activity, which (amongst other things) is intended to reduce the risk for ‘greenwashing,’ ie where the ‘green’ label is potentially mis-used in order to tap into increased investor demand for sustainable and green investments
  • ESG integration - disclosure obligations on how pension schemes, asset managers, institutional investors, insurance distributors and investment advisors integrate environment, social and governance (ESG) factors into their risk management processes, investment decisions and advisory processes, including suitability tests
  • Benchmarks - new categories of benchmarks, comprising low-carbon and positive carbon impact benchmarks, intended to provide investors with better information about the ‘carbon footprint’ of their investments

For further information about these EU regulatory developments, see the European Commission’s webpage on green finance and frequently asked questions and our sustainable finance timeline

 

LIBOR transition – the pressure builds

 

On 30 September 2019, Bank Overground published an article reminding the market to prepare to transition from the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) to alternative, more robust benchmarks such as overnight risk-free rates (RFRs) by end-2021, when it is expected that LIBOR will be discontinued. The article noted that despite progress in establishing RFRs, many new contracts maturing beyond 2021 continue to reference LIBOR. In particular, LIBOR-linked lending continues to dominate in loan markets, and many new long-dated derivative contracts continue to reference LIBOR.

In a speech given in June 2019, the Bank of England (BoE)’s executive director for markets, Andrew Hauser, called the transition from LIBOR ‘as complex a task as any the financial sector has faced over the past decade, involving a global network of market participants and public authorities, and touching most systems, products and markets in some way’. There are significant regulatory barriers, as outlined in letters to the European Commission, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the FCA which BoE’s working group on sterling RFRs (RFR WG) published on 23 October 2019. The issues highlighted by the RFR WG include:

  • the possibility that contractual amendments related to the transition will bring ‘legacy’ contracts within the margin and clearing requirements of the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EU) 648/2012 (EMIR)
  • firms will have to report a change in their contracts from LIBOR to the new SONIA RFR en masse, which might create an artificial impression that there is sufficient liquidity in SONIA swaps to meet the threshold for the trading obligation under the Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation (EU) 600/2014 (MiFIR)
  • internal model standards under the Capital Requirements Regulation (EU) 575/2013 (CRR) and other prudential regulations were not designed to accommodate a wholesale (probably phased) shift from existing to alternative interest rate benchmarks across a wide variety of products and currencies. The transition to RFRs will require firms to have sufficient data to build or re-calibrate internal models, and in the absence of such data a period of forbearance is necessary during which firms are permitted use current benchmarks as proxies and, where possible, backfill or extrapolate to help mitigate against unnecessary regulatory capital requirements

For updates on the transition to RFRs, see Benchmarks Regulation – timeline.

 

A new prudential regime for investment firms

 

In April 2019, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached political agreement on a revised version of the European Commission’s 2017 proposal to overhaul the prudential regime for investment firms in the EU.  The intention is to create a framework that is more proportionate and risk-sensitive. Under the new regime, most investment firms will be subject to new, simpler prudential rules, while large, systemic firms that carry out bank-like activities and pose similar risks as banks will be regulated and supervised like banks.

 

The new regime will take the form of a new regulation, which will include amendments to CRR and MiFIR, and a new directive, which will include amendments to the Capital Requirements Directive 2013/36/EU (CRD IV) and MiFID II. Other changes include:  

  • tighter equivalence rules for third-country firms, which will now be subject to a detailed assessment by the European Commission and enhanced monitoring by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) before they can provide services of systemic importance within the EU—this could have a significant impact on the ability of UK firms to access EU markets post-Brexit
  • new transparency requirements for investment firms about their investments and their voting behaviour during shareholder meetings
  • extending the “tick size regime” under MiFID II so that it will apply to systematic internalisers (SIs) in order to level the playing field between SIs and trading venues

The Council is expected to adopt the final texts shortly. The new legislation will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the EU and will take effect in 2021. Given the magnitude of changes, however, investment firms should familiarise themselves with the changes and start preparing now

For more information, see our Practice Notes: Review of the prudential framework for investment firms and Preparing for Brexit: CRR and prudential regulation—quick guide.

 

Expanding the perimeter of the FCA’s powers

 

 

In August 2019, the House of Commons Treasury Committee published a report entitled “The work of the Financial Conduct Authority: the perimeter of regulation”, in which the Committee argued for increased powers to be granted to the FCA following a string of scandals including the failure of London Capital and Finance and wider questions around the regulation of so called ‘mini-bonds.  In particular, the Committee recommended that:

  • the FCA be given the formal power to formally recommend to HM Treasury (HMT) changes to the perimeter of regulation, where that would enhance its ability to meet its objectives, in particular to prevent consumer harm, and
  • the Financial Policy Committee’s power to recommend that the HMT order additional information from unregulated entities to help meet its objectives should, at the very least, be replicated for the FCA in relation to its own present objectives

In October 2019, the Treasury Committee published the government’s and FCA’s responses to the Committee’s report. In its response, the FCA stated that it shared the Committee’s:

  • view that there could be a more structured and transparent approach for identifying and engaging with HMT on perimeter changes, and
  • concern in ensuring the FCA is well prepared to deal with the fast­ moving nature of risks that consumers face and pre-empt these risks where possible

However, the government does not see the case for providing a formal power for the FCA to request changes to the perimeter, arguing that ministers should decide on the perimeter of regulation. It also said that turning data on unregulated entities over to the FCA would substantially increase the regulator's workload and so hinder its ability to supervise the nearly 60,000 financial services companies for which it already has responsibility. Whether or not the FCA will be granted enhanced powers to enforce against consumer harms therefore remains to be seen.

For more information, see our sub-topic: Regulated activities—specified activities and investments.

 

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About the author:
Pietra has completed the Bar Professional Training Course at the University of Law and was called to the Bar in 2019. Prior to the BPTC, Pietra undertook a law degree at the University of Bristol.