OFSI releases its third Annual Review for 2019-2020

On 9 October 2020, HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) published its latest Annual Review for the 2019-20 financial year. The publication marks the third report which OFSI have published and provides an overview of the work undertaken by OFSI in the financial year 2019-20 (April 2019 to March 2020). It also looks ahead to sanctions implementation in the future with a particular focus, this year, on how sanctions will be enforced at the end of the Brexit transition period. Points which may be of particular interest to readers are set out below. Continue reading

HMT announces relaunch of UK Fintech Strategic Review

HM Treasury has announced the relaunch of its independent Fintech Strategic Review (the Review). The Review, originally announced in March (but delayed due to Covid-19), will aim to identify key priority areas for focus by the industry, policymakers and regulators in order to support the continued growth and mainstream adoption of Fintech solutions in the UK. The Review will be led by Ron Kalifa OBE (the former CEO of Worldpay).

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HMT consultations on financial promotions: approving promotions and promoting cryptoassets

HM Treasury has announced two consultations on possible changes to the UK financial promotions regime:

  • a consultation on limiting the scope of firms that can approve financial promotions of unauthorised persons; and
  • a consultation on extending the financial promotions regime to include unregulated cryptoassets.

The deadline for responses to both consultations is 25 October 2020.

These consultations reflect the continued focus by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on marketing and the related risks to consumers, particularly following the mini-bond scandal, as well as the continued focus on the regulation of fintechs and cryptoasset technologies. Continue reading

First steps taken on new UK prudential regime for investment firms

On 23 June 2020, the FCA published its long-awaited Discussion Paper on a new prudential regime for MiFID investment firms, to be based on the EU Investment Firms Directive and Regulation (“IFD” and “IFR” respectively), which are due to be implemented in June 2021 (see our blog post).

On the same date, HM Treasury published a related Policy Statement on prudential standards in the Financial Services Bill, which complements and sets the parameters for the FCA’s approach as outlined in the Discussion Paper. Continue reading

The month ahead in financial services regulatory developments…

In this blog post, we round-up forthcoming developments in the UK and at EU and International levels in financial services regulation which are expected for May 2020.

In response to COVID-19, many regulators have announced delays to planned activities and/or have revised response deadlines for open consultations. It is possible that further such announcements may be forthcoming. This note reflects the circumstances as at 1 May 2020.

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COVID-19: Pressure Points: FCA issues ‘Dear CEO’ letter with update to retail firms (UK)

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued a ‘Dear CEO’ letter (the letter) with an update on key issues in light of COVID-19 to firms providing services to retail investors. In addition to the measures it has taken with the Bank of England (BoE) and HM Treasury (HMT), the FCA has considered many requests for forbearance and regulatory adaptations from firms and trade associations, some of which are discussed further below. The FCA has implemented a “significant package of reprioritisation and deprioritisaion of regulatory work” to allow firms to concentrate on their COVID-19 response efforts and protecting their consumers and has indicated that it will continue to update its approach in response the crisis.

The FCA will generally look favourably on forbearance requests for changes which support firms and consumers (some of which it will have the power to make immediately; others which may require co-ordination between the FCA and other UK Government or European agencies), and will only consider requests where there is a genuine need to help consumers or which, for example, would support the FCA’s response to the crisis.

Next steps for firms:

  • In light of the impact of COVID-19 on firms’ operational resilience, the FCA re-emphasised its expectations for firms to focus strongly on supporting and serving consumers and small businesses during this time. The FCA also expects firms to be actively managing their own financial resources/resilience (and in particular liquidity), with firms notifying the FCA immediately if they expect to face financial difficulties.
  • Where firms are re-directing resources due to reduced levels of staff, they should have regard to the FCA’s strong focus on consumer protection. Firms should consider documenting how these decisions are made, with the aim of allocating resources to achieve consumers protection as far as possible during this time.
  • Firms should keep up-to-date with developments by regularly checking the FCA’s website to ensure they are aware of the regulations and rules which continue to apply to them. Firms should also remain vigilant of scams which are increasingly prevalent during the COVID-19 crisis; both the FCA and National Crime Agency have released warnings on rising fraud levels and firms have a responsibility to ensure that consumers are protected.
  • Firms may also wish to consider making use of dialogue between trade associations and the FCA where appropriate to raise prevalent operational challenges with the FCA.

Key areas of focus:

In addition to the above, the FCA sets out in the letter its approach to a number of key issues to help firms manage their response to the crisis:

  • Financial resilience – The FCA has already published guidance on financial resilience and prudential issues. Importantly, the FCA has clarified that government loans cannot be used to meet capital adequacy requirements as they do not meet the definition of capital. Firms therefore need to ensure that they have other appropriate funding available to meet their capital adequacy requirements, if necessary.
  • Flexibility for client identity verification – Whilst firms must continue to comply with their obligations under the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (MLRs) to verify clients’ identities, they can be flexible with how they achieve this. The MLRs and Joint Money Laundering Steering Group guidance already provide that client identity verification can be carried out remotely, and outline appropriate safeguards and checks which firms can implement to assist with verification – some examples are given by the FCA. Firms can also consider seeking additional verifications once restrictions on movement are lifted.
  • Flexibility over best execution reports – The FCA and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) have both published clarification for firms on best execution obligations in the current climate (the ESMA public statement is available here). The FCA expects firms to continue to meet their best execution obligations, including on client order handling, taking into account current market conditions when determining the relative importance of execution factors. Firms may wish to consider using different types or orders to execute client orders and manage risk during market volatility.

Following ESMA’s guidance, the FCA will not take enforcement action where a firm:

    • does not publish its RTS 27 report by 1 April 2020, provided it is published no later than 30 June 2020; or
    • does not publish RTS 28 and Article 65(6) reports, provided they are published by 30 June 2020.
  • Flexibility over 10% depreciation notifications – Firms will not be required to inform investors in every instance where the value of their portfolio or leveraged position falls by 10% or more in value. Instead, until 1 October 2020, the FCA has confirmed that it will not take enforcement action provided that a firm:
    • has issued at least one notification to retail clients within a current reporting period notifying them that their portfolio has decreased in value by at least 10%; and
    • subsequently provides general market updates online, through other public channels, and/or generic, non-personalised client communications; or
    • chooses to cease providing 10% depreciation reports for any professional clients.

In what is currently a highly volatile market, firms may wish to think about adopting this new approach which could ease the impact of repeated communications on consumers and the operational burden on themselves, or using email or phone calls to notify clients as opposed to written notifications.

  • Pause on implementation of measures – The FCA’s policy statement on pension transfer advice has been delayed until Spring 2020 and follow-up work on assessing the suitability of retirement income advice has been paused. Rules on investment pathways and platform switching provisions have already been made; these have been referred to the FCA Board for further consideration. Ongoing work with firms providing defined benefit transfer advice will continue.

 

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Susannah Cogman
Susannah Cogman
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2580
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
Cat Dankos
Cat Dankos
Regulatory Consultant, London
+44 20 7466 7494

HMT to retain Temporary Transitional Powers for UK Regulators for two years from 1 January 2021

It was confirmed yesterday by HM Treasury (HMT) in a statement to Parliament that it will retain the UK regulators’ “Temporary Transitional Power” (TTP), which was introduced as part of the UK Government’s no-deal contingency planning legislation, and shift its application such that it is available for use by the regulators for a period of two years from the end of the Transition Period.

HMT’s statement reminded Parliament that:

  • while, in general, the same laws and rules [as apply presently in relation to financial services] will apply at the end of the Transition Period, HMT recognises it will be important, irrespective of the agreement that is reached between the EU and UK, for the regulators to have the flexibility to smooth any adjustments to the UK’s regulatory regime for financial services at the end of the Transition Period; and
  • the purpose of the TTP is to allow the Bank of England (BoE), the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to phase in changes to UK regulatory requirements so that firms can adjust to the UK’s post-Transition Period regime in an orderly way, in line with the objectives already set by Parliament.

While this outcome is in line with market expectations, it is nonetheless reassuring for UK firms and other market participants to have confirmation, at a time of particular uncertainty, that the UK regulators will retain this flexibility for the medium term. There is no indication of any extension to the separate Temporary Permissions Regime (TPR) for EU financial institutions currently passported in/into the UK.

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

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