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: Governance: FCA and PRA publish statements on their expectations for regulated firms under SMCR (UK)

[This post was last updated on 11 May 2020 to reflect the latest FCA publication on SMCR for solo-regulated firms]

The PRA and FCA have published two statements setting out their expectations on UK-regulated firms under the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR).

A joint statement from the PRA and FCA has been published for dual-regulated firms (the Joint Statement), while the FCA have separately published a statement for solo-regulated firms (the FCA Statement).

There are also some differences in expectations as between solo and dual-regulated firms to be aware of, which we highlight below in Key expectations.

Next steps

In line with the expectations set out in the statements, firms should:

  • Ensure responsibility for the response to COVID-19 disruption is clearly allocated to an appropriate Senior Manager(s) (SM).
  • Document internally all decisions relating to interim re-allocation of Senior Management Functions (SMFs) and Prescribed Responsibilities (PRs) as a result of temporary absences during this period. Firms should be prepared to share these internal documents with the regulators on request.
  • Communicate material temporary changes to the appropriate regulator promptly (this may not need to be by way of usual SMCR notification forms).
  • Keep contingency plans under review to ensure they remain up-to-date.
  • Take reasonable steps to complete any annual certifications that are due to expire while restrictions are in place.

Key expectations

Allocating responsibility for COVID-19 response

  • Firms are not required to allocate a single SM to be responsible for response to the disruption caused by COVID-19. No “one size fits all” approach is being mandated (with the exception of requiring the responsibility of identifying key workers to be allocated to SMF1 (Chief Executive Officer) – see the FCA and PRA statements for more information).
  • In the Joint Statement, the PRA also recommends that dual-regulated firms consider how they respond to unexpected changes to contingency plans, given the possibility of SMs becoming temporarily absent. Solo-regulated firms should consider doing the same.

Temporary arrangements for SMFs and PRs


  • Where an SM is unexpectedly absent due to illness (or other COVID-19 related circumstances) firms may choose to allocate SMFs to existing SMs. In addition, under the existing ‘12-week rule’, firms may permit an unapproved individual to perform an SMF role where such arrangements are temporary.
  • For solo-regulated firms, the FCA has issued a Modification by Consent to the 12-week rule to support firms using temporary arrangements for up to up to 36 weeks. This extended period is not currently available for dual-regulated firms (although this position remains under review).


  • The FCA and PRA expect PRs (for both solo and dual-regulated firms) to be allocated to existing approved SMs wherever possible. Where this is not possible (for example due to other SM absences), the PR can be allocated to an unapproved individual performing an SMF’s role on an interim basis.
  • All temporary changes to SMFs or PRs throughout this period should be clearly documented on internal records, including in Statements of Responsibilities (SoRs) and Responsibilities Maps (where appropriate). These records will need to be available to the FCA and/or PRA on request.

Furloughing staff

  • Both statements confirm that furloughed SMs will retain their approved status during their temporary absence and will not need to seek re-approval.
  • Certain ‘required’ functions (such as Compliance Oversight and MLRO) and/or ‘mandatory’ functions (such as the CEO, CFO and Chair of the Governing Body for CRR and SII firms) should only be furloughed “as a last resort”. Firms must arrange cover for those SMFs during the individual’s absence.
  • Firms have greater flexibility in furloughing SMs whose function are not mandatory. However, in the Joint Statement, dual regulated firms are cautioned to think carefully about the implications of furloughing non-mandatory SMFs (such as SMFs responsible for business continuity). Solo-regulated firms should also consider the implications of furloughing key senior staff.

Notification requirements during this period

All firms

  • All firms should update the FCA (and, where relevant, the PRA) by email or by telephone where:
    • unapproved individuals are acting as SMFs under the ‘12-week rule’; and/or
    • SMs have been furloughed.

Firms are not required to submit Forms C, D or J in connection with these temporary absences.

Solo-regulated firms

  • Solo-regulated firms will not be required to submit an updated SoR for approved SMs if a temporary change is made to their responsibilities. However, solo-regulated firms will still need to notify the FCA of the detail of any changes (by email or by telephone) that would normally be included in updated SoRs.

Dual-regulated firms

  • Dual-regulated firms are still required to update and submit SoRs if there are significant changesas soon as reasonably practical”. It is acknowledged in that this may take longer than usual due to current operational challenges.

No change to the obligation to certify staff as fit and proper

  • Dual-regulated firms should take reasonable steps to complete annual certifications due to expire during this period. What might constitute reasonable steps may be altered given the current situation, and certification policies and procedures may need to be adapted.
  • While not specifically addressed in the FCA Statement, in the absence of any new regulatory guidance, the FCA’s expectation appears to be that solo-regulated firms should also take reasonable steps to continue with annual certifications during this period.

Our blog post on the PRA and FCA’s guidance on key workers in financial services is available here, and our general briefing on COVID-19 – Key Issues for Employers is available here.


Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Patricia Horton
Patricia Horton
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2789
Emma Reid
Emma Reid
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2633

FCA highlights its areas of concern in financial services markets in Sector Views 2020

On 18 February, the FCA published its Sector Views for 2020.  Described as its view of how the markets it regulates are performing, this “performance” is inevitably framed by its role as the UK’s conduct regulator.  Sector Views also looks at how the financial environment is changing, through a range of different lenses – the FCA’s objectives, macroeconomics, the political environment, and societal and technological developments. Continue reading

FCA publishes Dear CEO letters to asset managers and alternative investment firms

The FCA this week published two template ‘Dear CEO’ letters, one to asset managers and one to alternative investment firms, highlighting the FCA’s views on the key risks posed to customers and markets, and setting out its supervision strategy for the coming months.

The FCA’s asset management portfolio comprises firms that predominantly directly manage mainstream investment vehicles, or advise on mainstream investments (excluding wealth managers and financial advisers), whilst its alternatives portfolio is comprised of firms that predominantly manage alternative investment vehicles (such as hedge funds or private equity funds) or alternative assets directly, or advise on those types of investments of investment vehicles.

The FCA’s key concern is that standards of governance in both sets of firms are below what it expects, and progress is needed in both sectors to protect the best interests of customers.

Next steps:

The ‘Dear CEO’ letters make it clear that the FCA will be very active in the asset management and alternatives sectors in the coming months, and firms should expect increasing scrutiny. It will be important for firms to look at the areas identified by the FCA and consider any changes they need to make.

Supervision strategy:

The FCA’s supervision strategy addresses the key issues in each sector, with specific priority areas set out below. Whilst the areas of focus are split between the two sectors, the FCA recognises that there will be overlap between the two.

Asset management:

The asset management supervision strategy will focus on the following key areas:

  • Liquidity management – Authorised Fund Managers (AFMs) are responsible for ensuring effective liquidity management in funds but the FCA warns that there can be a liquidity mismatch in open-ended funds between the terms at which investors can redeem and timescales needed to liquidate assets. The FCA expects firms to take necessary action following recent publications from the FCA and the Financial Policy Committee. This has been a continuing theme in light of the issues experienced by some real estate funds after Brexit and the collapse of the Woodford fund.
  • Firm’s governance – Following the extension of SMCR at the end of 2019, the FCA expects firms to have refreshed their approach to governance and taken the steps necessary to improve it in line with SMCR requirements. The FCA intends to carry out work in H1 2020 focussing on the implementation of SMCR across asset managers.
  • Asset Management Market Study (AMMS) remedies – The FCA published its AMMS Final Report in June 2017 and the consequential rule changes are now in force, including requirements around governing body structure and value assessment on funds. In H1 2020, the FCA plans to undertake work on how effectively firms have undertaken value assessments, with more work envisaged in the future given the breadth of the AMMS reforms.
  • Product governance – Following the introduction of new product governance requirements under MiFID II, the FCA has begun reviewing how effectively these requirements have been implemented by asset managers, and expects to complete this work in early 2020. In parallel, the FCA is also reviewing arrangements whereby funds are managed by ‘host’ Authorised Corporate Directors (ACDs) (AFMs that are not within the group structure of the delegate investment manager), as there are concerns that the ‘host’ ACD may not be undertaking their responsibilities effectively in some cases.
  • LIBOR transition – The FCA is currently gathering information from some asset management firms to enhance its understanding of business models, including their specific exposure to LIBOR risk, and intends to provide further communications on its expectations for LIBOR transition in due course.
  • Operational resilience – Operational resilience remains an area of focus for the FCA for financial services firms as a whole. In the asset management sector specifically, the FCA is conducting technology reviews and ad-hoc reviews of firms’ arrangements and expects to undertake further proactive work in this area. The FCA reminds firms of their obligations under Principle 11 to notify it of any material technology failures or cyber-attacks. For more information on operational resilience in the asset management sector, please see our blog post here.
  • EU withdrawal – With the UK’s exit from the EU approaching, the FCA expects firms to consider how the end of the implementation period will affect both the firm and its customers, and take action to be ready for 1 January 2021.

Alternative Investment Firms:

For alternative investment firms, the FCA’s supervisory priorities are as follows:

  • Investor exposure to inappropriate products or levels of investment risk – Significant levels of investment risk are inherent in alternative investments, so the FCA expects firms in this sector to carefully consider the suitability or appropriateness of these investments for their target investors. Where investors are allowed to ‘opt-up’ to elective professional client status, firms should robustly assess the client’s suitability to be opted-up. The FCA plans to review retail investor exposure to alternative investment products offered by alternatives firms, with a particular focus on firms being aware of who their clients are and acting in their clients’ best interests.
  • Client money and custody asset controls – As part of the retail investor exposure, the FCA also plans to assess whether firms which have client money or asset custody permissions are exercising them in accordance with the Client Assets Sourcebook (CASS) rules.
  • Market abuse – In the FCA’s view, market abuse control across the alternatives sector has “significant scope for improvement”. To that end, the FCA has recently conducted an assessment of the adequacy of market abuse controls in the sector and may invite firms to participate in a similar exercise in future. The FCA reminds firms that it may consider enforcement action for those firms which are found not to comply with Market Abuse Regulation (MAR).
  • Market integrity and disruption – With scope to take significant investment risk in managing their products (ie. credit risk and market risk), the FCA expects alternatives firms to operate robust risk management controls to avoid excessive risk-taking and effectively mitigate against potential harm or disruption to markets. The FCA may choose to undertake in-depth assessments of firms’ controls in future.
  • Anti-money laundering and anti-bribery and corruption – Alternatives firms face a risk of being used to facilitate fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing and bribery and corruption. The FCA intends to review firms’ systems and controls to mitigate this risk, with particular focus on the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • EU withdrawal – As above, the FCA expects firms to take steps to be prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU at the end of the implementation period on 1 January 2021.


Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
+44 20 7466 2278
Nish Dissanayake
Nish Dissanayake
+44 20 7466 2365
Stephen Newby
Stephen Newby
+44 20 7466 2481
Tim West
Tim West
+44 20 7466 2309
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 7621
Katie McGrory
Katie McGrory
+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.

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High Court finds terms of English law Facility Agreement allowed borrower to withhold interest payments given risk of US “secondary” sanctions

In a recent decision, the High Court has found that the terms of a Facility Agreement governed by English law allowed the borrower to withhold payment of interest instalments where there was a risk of secondary sanctions being imposed on the borrower under US law, notwithstanding that the Facility Agreement had no connection with the US: Lamesa Investments Limited v Cynergy Bank Limited [2019] EWHC 1877 (Comm).

At first sight the decision is surprising because English law does not generally excuse contractual performance by reference to a foreign law unless it is the law of the contract or the place of performance (and these exceptions did not apply here). However, the court noted that parties can contract out of this general rule, which is precisely what happened in this case. The relevant clause of the Facility Agreement permitted the borrower to withhold payment of interest instalments “in order to comply with any mandatory provision of law, regulation or order of any court of competent jurisdiction”.

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The new regulatory regime for insurance intermediaries in Hong Kong – are you ready for 23 September 2019?

On 23 September 2019, the new statutory regime for the regulation of insurance intermediaries will take effect.

This represents the final stage of implementation of the insurance reforms which established the Insurance Authority (IA) as Hong Kong’s independent insurance regulator. The IA assumed the regulatory responsibilities of the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance in June 2017 and will take over the regulation of insurance intermediaries (agents and brokers) from the three self-regulatory organisations (SROs) on 23 September 2019. On the same day, the requirements relating to the intermediary management function, one of the control functions of an authorised insurer, will also come into effect.

The IA will be responsible for all aspects of regulation of insurance intermediaries, including issuing rules, codes and guidelines, approving licences, monitoring compliance, conducting inspections and investigations, and imposing disciplinary sanctions where breaches have occurred.

In the lead-up to 23 September 2019, authorised insurers and insurance intermediaries should conduct a final review (if they have not already done so) to ensure that they are ready to comply with all relevant requirements under the new regime.

In this e-bulletin, we provide an overview of the new rules, codes and guidelines which will apply under the new regime, as well as the transitional arrangements relating to licensing, approval of key persons in the intermediary management control function, and ongoing complaint and disciplinary cases.

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Herbert Smith Freehills launches updated guide to cross-border financial services investigations

Financial services firms conduct their business activities across markets and borders, often performing services and holding data in locations other than those in which they interact with their clients.  Over a decade after the financial crisis, their regulators remain under sustained public and political pressure to improve customer outcomes and punish poor conduct.  When issues arise, those regulators frequently need to seek assistance from their global counterparts to be able to unravel what has occurred, irrespective of where it took place.

Understanding how and when regulators interact with each other and with firms across borders, how firms are required, or expected, to respond, and how to handle multiple proceedings in different jurisdictions, is more critical than ever.

This fourth edition of “The Long Arm of Regulation: Responding to Cross-Border Financial Services Investigations”, Herbert Smith Freehills’ guide to cross-border financial services investigations, gives an overview of how to approach these issues, and aims to assist firms in navigating the differing regimes across 15 key jurisdictions, including, for the first time in this edition, South Africa. The guide covers a range of important topics, including the regulators’ breadth of powers, mechanisms for obtaining – and withholding – information, consequences for failing to comply, and the management of competing confidentiality and reporting obligations.

In producing this publication, we have drawn on the expertise of our financial services regulation practice across our international network of offices and through our formal alliance with Prolegis (Singapore). In addition, we are enormously grateful for contributions from law firms Anderson Mori & Tomotsune (Japan), Stibbe (the Netherlands) and Homburger (Switzerland).

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