2020 Global Bank Review: #disruption

We are excited to launch the 2020 edition of our Global Bank Review#disruption.

While the banks sector has faced significant challenges before, the depth and breadth of Covid-19’s disruption has left banks in the position of having to brace for impact to their own businesses, whilst simultaneously demonstrating a change in culture, providing support to vulnerable customers, and supplying vital credit for regrowing our economies. Continue reading

House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee reiterates importance of UK-EU relationship in financial services after Brexit

On 27 March 2020, the House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee published a letter from its Chair, Lord Sharkey, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon. Rishi Sunak MP,  emphasising the importance of the UK remaining actively engaged in shaping the future relationship with the EU in financial services.

In the letter, Lord Sharkey calls on the Government to establish a structured dialogue between the UK and the EU to support cross-border financial services and manage any future divergence. The key message from Lord Sharkey is as follows:

While the Government is quite rightly currently focussing on the coronavirus pandemic, at some point it will need to return to considering the future of the UK’s financial services sector and negotiating its relationship with the EU.

“When it does, it should pay particular attention to how it will work with the EU to support cross-border financial services and manage any future divergence.

The letter also sets out the following key points and recommendations which were reached by the Committee during its review of financial services after Brexit:

  • while the UK is currently fully aligned with the EU, there is a risk that the EU’s equivalence decisions will be politicised and could be withdrawn at very short notice. There should be regular and structured dialogue to provide a forum for discussion and resolve any possible disagreements;
  • the Government should delegate more powers to the financial regulators after Brexit, to give the UK’s regulatory regime more flexibility and increase its ability to respond to changes. This will require increased parliamentary oversight of the financial regulators’ activities; and
  • the UK may wish to make some targeted adjustments to ensure that the regulatory regime is fit for purpose. The UK should take a leadership role in promoting international cooperation in financial services after Brexit by promoting global standards.

The letter also includes a longer annex highlighting key findings from the inquiry from various government, regulatory and industry sources. While much of this will be familiar territory to market participants that have remained engaged in the discussion on this area, the annex is a useful round-up of key perspectives on equivalence and the shape of the future UK-EU relationship.

 

Clive Cunningham

Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278

Katherine Dillon

Katherine Dillon
Of Counsel, London
+44 20 7466 2522

FCA publishes information for firms on COVID-19

The FCA has published information for firms on COVID-19. Communication with the FCA will be key as the situation evolves, and we recommend that firms regularly monitor the FCA’s website for news and developments.

Firms are expected to:

  • take reasonable steps to ensure they are prepared to meet the challenges coronavirus could pose to customers and staff, particularly through their business continuity plans;
  • be clear and transparent, and provide strong support and service to customers during this period (being flexible to meet retail customers’ needs in unusual times is a core theme); and
  • manage their financial resilience and actively manage their liquidity, and report to the FCA immediately if they believe they will be in difficulty.

The FCA is taking this opportunity to provide some high level guidance and to remind firms of their obligations as the consequences of this pandemic unfolds before us. For example, reminding firms to report their concerns to the FCA, notwithstanding existing reporting obligations on regulated firms. The COVID-19 situation is unprecedented and has already caused significant impacts on the financial system globally. It is encouraging that the FCA appears to be taking steps to assist firms, and themselves, to prepare for any future uncertainty arising from this situation.

The information published includes guidance on the following key areas:

  • Regulatory change – The FCA is reviewing its own work plan so that it can delay or postpone activity which is not critical to protecting consumers and market integrity in the short-term. Immediate actions include: extending the closing date for responses to open consultation papers and Calls for Input until 1 October 2020; rescheduling most other planned work; and scaling back the programme of routine business interactions. The FCA does not elaborate on other areas of impact, so we will have to wait and see whether this includes, for example: enforcement investigations, processing day-to-day authorisations or change in control approvals, and issuing market studies etc.
  • Impact on consumers – The FCA welcomes the flexibility some firms have introduced to support customers. Firms should notify the FCA when going beyond usual practices to support their customers so the FCA can consider the impacts and offer support as appropriate. The FCA also reminds firms of their obligations to deal with customer complaints promptly.
  • Mortgages – The FCA is encouraged by the actions of some lenders in granting flexibility on mortgage repayments to protect customers, and will be discussing with the industry and updating the approaches which mortgage providers may take for assisting customers in the coming days.
  • Unsecured debt products – Firms are encouraged to show greater flexibility to customers in persistent credit card debit. In light of the challenges customers are currently facing, until 1 October 2020 these customers should be given longer to respond to communications from their providers, which means their card will not automatically be suspended if escalation measures are offered by their provider (and not responded to) after 36 months of persistent debt.
  • Access to cash – Firms should ensure vulnerable customers are protected when accessing their banking services online or over the phone, particularly for the first time, and should remind customers to be aware of fraud and protect their personal data.
  • Insurance products – The FCA supports firms offering travel insurance in making consumers aware of the scope of their cover and any exemptions which may apply. This information should be made available online in a clear and concise way and consumers should have access to call centres. For health insurance, the FCA expects firms to make clear any time period restrictions when consumers take out a new policy.
  • Operational resilience – The FCA expects all firms to have contingency plans in place to deal with major events and that the plans have been tested. Firms should consider whether their contingency plans are appropriate to the conditions which are currently unfolding and that these have been tested appropriately. Firms should also take all reasonable steps to meet the regulatory obligations which are in place to protect their consumers and maintain market integrity. For example, if a firm has to close a call centre, requiring staff to work from other locations (including their homes), the firm should establish appropriate systems and controls to ensure it maintains appropriate records.
  • Market trading and reporting – As firms are moving to alternative sites and working from home arrangements, the FCA wants them to consider the broader control environment in these new circumstances. Three particular areas are highlighted:
    • Call recording: Firms should make the FCA aware if they are not able to meet call recording requirements; and take mitigating steps (eg enhanced monitoring, or retrospective review).
    • Submission of regulatory data: If firms experience difficulties with submitting their regulatory data, the FCA expects them to maintain appropriate records during this period and submit the data as soon as possible. Where firms have concerns, they should contact the FCA as soon as possible.
    • Market abuse: Firms should also continue to take all steps to prevent market abuse risks (including enhanced monitoring or retrospective reviews). The FCA will continue to monitor for market abuse and, if necessary, take action.

Other considerations:

Short selling

On 17 March 2020, the FCA also temporarily prohibited short-selling of 129 financial instruments under Articles 23 (1) and 26 (4) of the Short-selling Regulation (SSR), following a decision made by another EU national competent authority (NCA). This prohibition lasted until the end of yesterday’s trading day and followed a similar prohibition which took effect during the trading day of 13 March 2020.

The FCA has also confirmed that it will lower the thresholds for the notification of short selling positions under the SSR. This follows the decision of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) on 16 March 2020 to temporarily require the holders of net short positions in shares traded on an EU regulated market to notify the relevant NCA if the position reaches or exceeds 0.1% of the issued share capital. The amendment will require changes to be implemented to the FCA’s technology so firms should continue to report according to the previous thresholds until further notice.

Senior managers / conduct

In light of the unprecedented nature of the current situation, the senior management of firms may find themselves having to make immediate and difficult decisions. Therefore, senior managers will want to pay close attention to being able to show that “reasonable steps” were taken and ensuring that appropriate records are maintained which document decisions and the rationale.

Clive Cunningham

Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278

Benedicte Perowne

Benedicte Perowne
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2026

Mark Staley

Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621

Katie McGrory

Katie McGrory
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2669

Patricia Horton

Patricia Horton
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2789

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

FCA asks banks to explain new overdraft rates

The FCA has today written to the UK’s major retail banks, asking them to provide evidence of how they have arrived at their new overdraft interest rates, which have all been set at around 40%. The FCA also asked the banks to clarify how they will deal with customers who could be worse off following the changes, and expects firms to take “positive steps” to helps these customers – for example, by reducing or waiving interest, or offering a continuation of overdraft borrowing at current rate of interest.

The FCA’s letter comes after it introduced wide-spread reforms to the “dysfunctional” overdraft market to end harmful unarranged overdraft charges. From April this year, firms are required to charge a simple annual interest rate, without additional charges for using an overdraft.

Today’s letter is perhaps an acknowledgement from the FCA that its overdraft changes have not been implemented quite as expected, and a warning to banks that the FCA will be “keeping a close eye on the market” and will take action should it “see continued harm”. The banks have until 10 February to voluntarily respond to the FCA’s letter, following which we should expect more communications and possibly further action from the FCA.

Clive Cunningham

Clive Cunningham
Partner
+44 20 7466 2278

Mark Staley

Mark Staley
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 7621

Katie McGrory

Katie McGrory
Associate
+44 20 7466 2669

Regulation in Focus Podcast Episode 1 – November 2019

In October, we launched a brand new podcast channel, Financial Services Disputes & Regulation, providing regular bite-sized broadcasts covering both litigation and regulatory developments for banks and other financial institutions. You can subscribe to the new channel here, or on all the usual platforms including Apple and Spotify.

We are pleased to announce the release of the first episode of Regulation in Focus, our podcast series of short, sharp insights into regulatory issues that matter to you. Our first episode, a bumper cross-border edition featuring partners Hannah Cassidy (Hong Kong), Natalie Curtis (Singapore) and Chris Ninan (London), focuses on information flows in cross-border regulatory investigations.

Continue reading

EUROPEAN COMMISSION ANNOUNCES “NO DEAL” CONTINGENCY ACTION PLAN

The European Commission has announced that it has started implementing its Brexit “no deal” Contingency Action Plan given the continuing uncertainty regarding ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK. This follows the Commission’s communication of 13 November 2018 which provided details of the types of contingency measures that it intended to take in a variety of areas, as well as the 78 preparedness notices from Commission departments on how Brexit will change law and policy. Continue reading

Brexit Final Political Declaration: Nothing [new] to see here?

On financial services, the final political declaration contains essentially the same three points as in last week’s outline political declaration (the implications of which were discussed in our blog post of 15 November, available here), although there is some limited further clarification.  The three points on financial services are copied below with new substantive additions underlined: Continue reading

Herbert Smith Freehills edits and contributes chapters to Getting the Deal Through – Financial Services Litigation 2018

There has been a significant rate of global growth of litigation in the financial services sector following the 2008 global financial crisis. While the existence of financial services litigation is truly a global phenomenon, it has become apparent that the law and procedures in relation to such disputes have evolved in different ways across the jurisdictions.

The recently published third edition of Getting the Deal Through – Financial Service Litigation, edited by Damien Byrne Hill and Ceri Morgan, compiles chapters dedicated to financial services litigation from jurisdictions across the globe, including those contributed by a number of our offices.

The text charts the growth of litigation in the financial sector worldwide, with expert authors answering key questions in major jurisdictions. Topics include: common causes of action; powers of regulatory authorities; alternative dispute resolution; specialist courts and procedures; disclosure requirements; data governance issues; remedies and enforcement; and changes in the regulatory landscape since the financial crisis.

Please find attached a copy of the publication, also available on the Getting the Deal Through website.

Contributing offices

AustraliaAndrew Eastwood, Tania Gray and Simone Fletcher

FranceClément Dupoirier and Antoine Juaristi

GermanyMatthias Wittinghofer and Tilmann Hertel

Hong KongGareth Thomas, William Hallatt, Hannah Cassidy, Dominic GeiserJojo Fan and Valerie Tao

IndonesiaAlastair Henderson and Emmanuel Chua

South AfricaPeter Leon and Jonathan Ripley-Evans

United Arab EmiratesStuart Paterson, Natasha Mir and Sanam Khan

United KingdomDamien Byrne Hill, Karen Anderson, Ceri Morgan, Ajay Malhotra, Sarah Thomas and Ian Thomas

United StatesScott Balber, Jonathan Cross and Michael R Kelly

Accreditation: Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research Ltd. Getting the Deal Through – Financial Services Litigation 2018 was first published in August 2018. For further information please visit www.gettingthedealthrough.com.