Payment Systems Regulator focuses on innovation in payments with the New Payments Architecture

Genevieve Marjoribanks, Head of Policy at the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), delivered an insightful speech to the Westminster Business eForum this week on innovation in payments and the next steps for digital payments in the UK. One of the PSR’s three key objectives is to promote the development of and innovation in payment systems, including the infrastructures that are used for these systems.

The PSR will be issuing a draft policy statement later this year. Businesses which are active in the payments space or rely on Bacs or Faster Payments technology should consider feeding in views on the proposed changes and future regulatory approach.

The New Payments Architecture (NPA) is a key priority for the PSR. The aim is to achieve an ambitious Blueprint plan set out by the Payment Strategy Forum (Forum) of developing a more innovative and competitive interbank payments environment, underpinned by a resilient and sustainable infrastructure. To this end, Faster Payments and Bacs systems will be moved to use central infrastructure that uses the global ISO20022 messaging standard which has or will be adopted for payments in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), USA and Australia. The PSR believes that ISO20022 will bring increased interoperability, competition and richer data capabilities.

Similarly, Pay.UK and the Bank of England (BoE) have been working to define a ‘Common Credit Message’ for domestic payments using the ISO20022 standard which will provide for increased consistency and interoperability across the UK’s wholesale and retail payments systems. By upgrading the UK’s interbank payments services to use the global ISO20022 messaging standard for, and enabling other enhancements contained in the Forum’s Blueprint, such as promoting innovation through the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), the PSR believes the UK’s position as a payments leader will be maintained.

Developing the NPA ecosystem sits with Pay.UK which is consulting existing Bacs and Faster Payments participants, as well as future users. Implementation will require careful consideration, weighing up the potential innovation benefits to users versus costs and risks, particularly as both the industry and wider economy that it serves is facing a period of uncertainty given recent events such as Brexit and the COVID-19 outbreak.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Katie McGrory
Katie McGrory
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2669

COVID-19: Temporary bans on short selling in the EU come to an end

Those national regulators in the EU which had put in place temporary restrictions on any short selling of securities admitted to trading on regulated markets in their jurisdictions have all confirmed that the prohibitions will not be extended. However, firms should be aware that ESMA’s temporary lower net short reporting threshold will remain in force until 16 June.

National regulators – end of temporary bans on short selling

The regulators in France, Belgium, Spain, Austria and Greece have confirmed that the bans on short selling will not be extended and will expire at 11.59 pm on 18 May. The Italian regulator has also confirmed it will end the prohibition one month earlier than its original 18 June deadline at 11.59pm 18 May (in line with the other jurisdictions).

The below summary table sets out the details of each jurisdiction’s prohibition.

Jurisdiction Latest national regulator public statement Date prohibition imposed Prohibition imposed until
France AMF 18 March 18 May
Belgium FSMA 17 March 18 May
Spain CNMV 17 March 18 May
Austria FMA 18 March 18 May
Greece HCMC 17 March 18 May
Italy CONSOB 18 March 18 May

ESMA – Lower net short reporting threshold still in place

While local regulators now plan to lift the bans on short selling, ESMA has confirmed that its decision to lower the threshold at which persons who hold net short positions in companies whose shares are admitted to trading on an EU regulated market must report to national regulators to 0.1% of the issued share capital (down from 0.2%) will remain in place until 16 June.

More information about the measures put in place can be found at our previous blogpost available here.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Nick May
Nick May
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2617
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Emma Reid
Emma Reid
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2633

COVID-19: Short selling restrictions and other reporting developments in the EU

[This post was last updated on 16 April 2020 to reflect the extensions to the temporary bans on short selling by EU national regulators]

SHORT SELLING REGULATION

During this unprecedented period of disruption, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and other national regulators have taken various extraordinary steps to address the risks faced by financial markets in the EU.

In the past week, ESMA has issued a decision amending the notification threshold for net short positions under the EU Short Selling Regulation (SSR), with some local regulators also imposing temporary prohibitions on short selling transactions. While there has not been any change in the way that the underlying legislation operates, the practical impact of these steps will restrict activity in some markets. Firms involved in short selling need to adjust for the increased transparency obligations.

 1. ESMA – new short thresholds

On 16 March, ESMA published its decision to lower the threshold at which persons who hold net short positions in companies whose shares are admitted to trading on an EU regulated market must report to national regulators to 0.1% of the issued share capital (down from 0.2%).

This lower threshold applies automatically across all EU countries. It will be in place for three months, although ESMA may extend this. Certain exemptions continue to apply, including:

  • net short positions arising from market making and stabilisation activities; and
  • net short positions held in shares admitted to trading on an EU regulated market where the principal venue for the trading of the shares is located in a third (ie non-EU) country.

 2. National regulators –  temporary bans on short selling

In addition to the new EU-wide lowered reporting threshold, national regulators in certain EU jurisdictions have implemented temporary restrictions on any short selling of securities admitted to trading on regulated markets in their jurisdictions (both new and increasing net short positions). A summary table showing the relevant jurisdictions and duration of each prohibition is below:

Jurisdiction Latest national regulator public statement Date prohibition imposed Prohibition imposed until
France AMF 18 March 18 May
Belgium FSMA 17 March 18 May
Spain CMNV 17 March 18 May
Austria FMA 18 March 18 May
Greece HCMC 17 March 18 May
Italy CONSOB 18 March 18 June

Generally, those short selling transactions undertaken by market makers are exempt, and special provisions apply to index-related instruments. However, as these prohibitions are applied on a national (not EU-wide basis) firms will need to confirm the scope and application of the bans in each of the relevant jurisdictions (including any subsequent clarificatory guidance which may be published).

 3. Position in the UK

The FCA has applied ESMA’s amendment to the reporting threshold for net short selling positions (i.e. lowered from 0.2% to 0.1%). However, in a statement made by the FCA on 17 March 2020, firms were told to continue to report data in the UK using the previous threshold until further notice, while the FCA made the necessary technological changes in how it receives the data. Since then, the FCA has confirmed that the required changes have been made and that it will be ready to receive notifications at the lower threshold from 6 April 2020. Firms are not required to amend and resubmit notifications submitted to the FCA between 16 March 2020 and 3 April 2020. Firms should make best efforts to report at the lower threshold from 6 April 2020. Firms should contact the FCA if they are unable to amend their systems by this date.

The FCA has not as yet implemented any specific restrictions on short selling in shares admitted to trading in the UK[1]. In a number of recent statements, the FCA noted that it has never initiated an outright ban on short selling UK shares under SSR, and would set a high bar on imposing any such ban, but could not rule out that this might become appropriate in certain circumstances.

While the FCA’s statements do not suggest that a ban on short selling on shares admitted to UK regulated markets is imminent, firms should continue to monitor regulatory statements on this topic, as changes may be imposed on short notice.

 4. Non-EU markets

Firms should note that non-EU markets might have their own short selling reporting requirements/restrictions and monitor these accordingly.

DELAYS TO SECURITIES FINANCING TRANSACTIONS REGULATION (SFTR) REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

ESMA postpones implementation of reporting under SFTR

On 18 March, ESMA postponed the Securities Financing Transactions (SFT) reporting obligation start date from 13 April 2020, in light of COVID-19 disruption on wider implementation projects.

Trade repositories are also not required to be registered by 13 April 2020. All relevant parties (including trade repositories, entities responsible for reporting and investment firms) should be prepared for compliance by 13 July 2020, when the next phase of the reporting regime begins.

[1]       With the exception of imposing a one day ban on certain Spanish and Italian securities following a request from CNMV and CONSOB on 13 March 2020.

 

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Nick May
Nick May
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2617
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Emma Reid
Emma Reid
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2633

Budget commitment to implement Basel standards and updated investment firms prudential regime

The Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered the 2020 Budget to Parliament on 11 March 2020. This includes a package of related policy documents, many of which highlight planned reforms to the financial services sector.

Of particular note for banks and investment firms is the policy statement on prudential standards published by HM Treasury, which confirms the government’s intention to implement:

  • CRD V and the related Basel III banking standards through powers in the forthcoming Financial Services Bill, including the more recent “Basel 3.1” reforms not incorporated within the EU CRR II regulation; and
  • an updated prudential regime for investment firms in the UK. The policy statement notes the instrumental role played by the UK Government in developing the EU prudential regime for investment firms (ie the Investment Firms Directive and Regulation), although there is no specific commitment to closely mirror the EU regime, or indeed the CRR II rules.

The possibility of divergence in approach is also hinted at in the closing comments, which note that HM Treasury is conducting a review to determine how the regulatory framework will need to adapt to the UK’s position outside of the EU, including examining the ongoing allocation of regulatory responsibilities between Parliament, HM Treasury and the regulators. Both the Government and the regulators will consult on proposals to implement the various prudential reforms “in due course”.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Katherine Dillon
Katherine Dillon
Of Counsel, London
+44 20 7466 2522

MiFID II/MiFIR Review

Two years after MiFID II and MiFIR started to apply, the MiFID review process has begun, with both the European Commission and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) having recently published consultations on the framework.

European Commission consultation

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the review of the MiFID II/MIFIR regulatory framework.  This consultation uses a questionnaire format divided into two main sections.  The first section covers general questions on the overall functioning of MiFID II/MiFIR, with the second section covering specific questions on “priority” and “non-priority” topics (see below). Continue reading

UK and EU set out their stalls on equivalence and the future trade deal (or no deal…?)

On 26 February 2020, the UK Government published its approach to UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The sections on financial services in the UK’s approach document are set out below:

Chapter 16: Financial Services

  1. The Agreement should promote financial stability, market integrity, and investor and consumer protection for financial services, providing a predictable, transparent, and business-friendly environment for cross-border financial services business.
  1. The Agreement should include legally binding obligations on market access and fair competition, in line with recent CETA precedent.
  1. The Agreement should also build on recent precedent, such as the EU-Japan EPA and international best practice, by establishing regulatory cooperation arrangements that maintain trust and understanding between our autonomous systems of regulation as they evolve. This could include appropriate consultation and structured processes for the withdrawal of equivalence findings, to facilitate the enduring confidence which underpins trade in financial services.

Equivalence in Financial Services

  1. The UK and the EU have committed to carrying out unilateral equivalence assessments for financial services, distinct from the CFTA. The fact that the UK leaves the EU with the same rules provides a strong basis for concluding comprehensive equivalence assessments before the end of June 2020.

Unsurprisingly, these are brief and outcomes-focused in nature, reflecting the Government’s approach more generally and the desire for “autonomous systems of regulation” (as preserved under the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement)  rather than close alignment. The comments on equivalence do serve as a reminder to the EU that the UK will nonetheless be starting from a position of close alignment, but as ever, there are no guarantees that this challenging deadline for completing assessments will be achieved.

On the same date, the European Commission has also published a speech delivered by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on its future relationship with the UK, addressing the potential for UK/EU co-operation post-Brexit. The tone of the speech is characteristically challenging of the UK’s perceived desire to preserve sovereignty and regulatory autonomy while maintaining access to EU markets. Mr. Barnier’s discussion of equivalence indicates the lack of appetite from the EU to develop a more extensive and durable form of equivalence for cross-border market access, as explained in the following extract:

[Equivalence in financial services]

“… The EU will have the possibility to grant equivalences. We will do so when it is in the interest of the EU; our financial stability; our investors and our consumers. But these equivalences will never be global nor permanent. Nor will they be subject to joint management with the UK. They are, and will remain, unilateral decisions.

I read in the Financial Times recently that London must retain its primacy as a hub for wholesale financial markets without becoming a rule-taker of European regulation. As a former Commissioner in charge of financial services, allow me to question that. Why should we accept that the profits stay in London while the EU carries the risks?

The UK may not want to be a rule-taker. But we do not want to be the risk-taker. When the next financial crisis strikes, who will foot the bill? I doubt the UK will foot it for the EU. That is why the EU must take the responsibility for its financial regulation, supervision and stability.”

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Katherine Dillon
Katherine Dillon
Of Counsel, London
+44 20 7466 2522
Patricia Horton
Patricia Horton
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2789

ESMA publishes report on product intervention measures under MiFIR

The European Securities and Markets Authority (“ESMA”) has recently published final technical advice on the effects of product intervention measures under the Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation (“MiFIR”). ESMA makes recommendations in relation to the product intervention framework under MiFIR, including proposing extending the framework to alternative investment fund managers (“AIFMs“) and UCITS management companies. In addition, ESMA has said that it will be monitoring the markets in financial instruments linked to crypto assets as it is aware that some national competent authorities (“NCAs”) are consulting on potential product intervention measures concerning these products. If necessary, ESMA will consider exercising its intervention powers in this area.

When MiFIR was introduced in 2018, ESMA was given the power to temporarily prohibit or restrict the marketing, distribution or sale of certain financial instruments, financial instruments with certain specified features or a type of financial activity or practice. ESMA has since used this product intervention power in relation to binary options and contracts for difference (“CFDs“) due to detriment caused to retail investors. ESMA has been asked to report to the European Commission on, amongst other MiFID II/MiFIR topics, its experience of temporary intervention powers, including areas in which legislative changes might be appropriate in relation to the product intervention framework.

For more information on regulators’ product intervention powers across various jurisdictions, please see our global guide on Product Intervention Powers and Design and Distribution Obligations in Financial Services, available here.

ESMA’s technical advice

The main elements of ESMA’s technical advice are as follows:

  • Level playing field between MiFID firms and AIFMs/UCITS management companies: ESMA and NCAs currently cannot exercise MiFIR product intervention powers in relation to AIFMs and UCITS management companies despite these firms being able to carry out certain MiFID services/activities. ESMA recommends that the European Commission addresses the risk of arbitrage between MiFID firms and these fund management companies, and advises that NCAs and ESMA should have the powers to apply restrictions/prohibition directly to AIFMs and UCITS management companies.
  • Extending time validity of ESMA’s temporary product intervention powers: ESMA’s product intervention measures currently only last for a short-term period (3 months – although this period will be increased to 6 months from 1 January 2022) and reviews for extension is resource intensive and burdensome for both ESMA and the NCAs. Additionally, ESMA notes that there are divergences in product intervention measures taken by different NCAs, particularly where permanent national measures diverge from temporary ESMA ones. ESMA recommends consolidation of temporary measures into permanent ones by the European Commission, or alternatively extending ESMA’s powers to allow the introduction of temporary product intervention measures for 18 months.
  • Interaction of national product intervention measures: Article 42(1) MiFIR permits NCAs to take product interventions measures “in or from” their Member State, which ESMA suggests means that an NCA has the possibility to take measures that only apply in that Member State (and not from), and vice versa. Confusion also arises where Member States take overlapping product intervention measures. ESMA advises the Commission to clarify the application of product intervention measures to firms acting on a cross boarder basis and how those measures will be supervised and enforced.
  • ESMA opinion on proposed national product intervention measures: NCAs are required under Article 42(3) MiFIR to notify ESMA of proposed national product intervention measures, at least one month before the measure is intended to take effect, in order for ESMA to issue an opinion on the measure (Article 43(3) MiFIR). In ESMA’s view, this requirement is burdensome. ESMA advises the European Commission that NCAs should be exempt from seeking an opinion where their national measures are exactly the same as ESMA’s temporary measures, and that ESMA should have the option (not an obligation) to give an opinion in these circumstances.
  • Further clarification on Article 40(3) MiFIR: ESMA considers the wording in Article 40(3) MiFIR (“Where … competent authorities have taken a measure under Article 42, ESMA may take any … measures … without issuing the opinion provided for in Article 43”) to be unclear, and is of the view that the situation described is unlikely to occur in practice. ESMA asks the European Commission for further clarification of Article 40(3) MiFIR.

Future use of product intervention measures

ESMA is aware that some NCAs are consulting on potential product intervention measures concerning certain financial instruments linked to crypto assets. ESMA will continue to monitor markets and will exercise its coordination role in relation to measures proposed by NCAs. ESMA will consider taking product intervention measures if issues become apparent which cause significant concerns around investor protection or a threat to the orderly functioning and integrity of markets.

Next steps and Brexit

The European Commission will now present a report to the European Parliament and the Council on product intervention, and a decision will be taken on whether to adopt any of the measures set out by ESMA in this final report. If so, we may see an expansion of the scope of product intervention powers in the future.

Now that the UK has formally left the EU, the UK’s FCA is no longer a member of ESMA’s Board of Supervisors nor can it participate in any of ESMA’s other governance bodies. However, until the end of the transitional period on 31 December 2020, EU law (including MIFIR) will continue to apply to the UK as if it were a Member State, which means that ESMA will have product intervention powers over financial instruments and firms in the UK. Therefore any extension of these powers prior to the end of 2020 could have an effect in the UK. From 2020 onwards, it remains to be seen whether the UK will follow the EU’s approach in relation to product intervention.

 

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner
+44 20 7466 2278
Patricia Horton
Patricia Horton
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 2789
Katie McGrory
Katie McGrory
Associate
+44 20 7466 2669

Temporary Equivalence Decision for UK CCPs to be renewed

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis announced in a speech at the Guildhall in London last week that, ‘as the risk to financial stability has not yet been fully removed, because industry has not so far fully prepared’, he intends to renew the temporary equivalence decision for UK central counterparties (CCPs) beyond the current expiry date of 30 March 2020.  No further details of the extension have as yet been published.

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