EU digital finance and retail payments strategies: understanding the big picture

Last month, the European Commission (“EC”) adopted a new Digital Finance Package, which it published together with a communication entitled “A Retail Payments Strategy for the EU” containing specific policy measures needed in relation to payment services given their key role among digital financial services. The European Parliament (“EP”) subsequently adopted a nonbinding resolution on the EC’s Digital Finance Package on 8 October 2020. Continue reading

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

Webinar: A cyber and data security perspective on Operational Resilience in Financial Services

Financial services regulators are expecting firms to prevent, respond to, recover and learn from operational disruption. As Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, has warned, a combined cyber attack on important banks could trigger financial instability.

In this webinar our experts in financial services, cyber and data security, data privacy, outsourcing and digital disruption, together with Deloitte’s Customer Breach Support team, share their experience of operational disruption.

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IOSCO proposes updated Outsourcing Principles as Covid-19 drives operational resilience to the top of the agenda

Having initially delayed its planned consultation exercise to allow the financial services sector to focus on responding to Covid-19, the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) subsequently found the pandemic a catalyst to proceed. Therefore, at the end of May, IOSCO launched its consultation on proposed updates to the 2005 Outsourcing Principles for Market Intermediaries and the 2009 Outsourcing Principles for Markets; feedback on the proposed new Outsourcing Principles (OPs) is requested on or before 1 October 2020. The decision to proceed reflects the acknowledgement that outsourcing is a key element for consideration when assessing operational resilience across the sector.

This post gives a high level summary of the consultation, with a link to our briefing that focuses in more detail on: the scope of application; IOSCO’s definition of outsourcing; intragroup arrangements; concentration risk; and access and audit rights. To provide additional context to IOSCO’s proposals, the associated briefing also catalogues relevant proposals and initiatives which are running concurrent to the consultation exercise.

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Megan Butler on the FCA’s response to Covid-19 and expectations for 2020

On 4 June 2020, Megan Butler, Executive Director of Supervision – Investment, Wholesale and Specialists at the FCA, delivered a speech on the FCA’s response to Covid-19 and expectations for 2020.

Addressing a virtual audience at PIMFA’s Virtual Festival, Ms Butler explored the FCA’s priorities and longer-term expectations, in particular for the wealth management and advice industry. Continue reading

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

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

Building Operational Resilience: UK regulators launch consultations

** This post was updated on 17 March 2020 to reflect the FCA’s publication of information for firms on Coronavirus (Covid-19) response  and further updated on 23 March 2020 to reflect the Bank of England’s press release regarding supervisory and prudential policy changes **

On 5 December 2019, the Bank of England (BoE), the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released a number of publications on operational resilience, marking the launch of a consultation phase which will inform how the UK authorities seek to embed the consideration of operational resilience into the regulatory framework.

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