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Squaring the circle of banking regulation and capital markets in Europe
17 Jan 2020
Banks’ investment and trading activities are fundamental for the functioning of European capital markets. They assist governments, corporates and businesses to raise funds through the issuance of new securities and use their balance sheets to support these fund-raising activities by making secondary markets in the securities issued. This facilitates liquidity by lowering the borrowers’ initial funding costs in the process. Through their capital markets activities, banks also provide hedging solutions to a wide range of corporates and institutions, facilitating access to investment and saving opportunities across the globe which lowers risk through diversification. Banks which provide these important services are often amongst the largest, internationally active ones, as these are the players with the scale and resources required to access global pools of capital. Such scale is also needed to invest in the infrastructure, technology, trading expertise and risk management skills required to conduct such activities efficiently and soundly. Yet banks’ capital market capacity has decreased significantly since the crisis. As the EU prepares to reinvigorate its plans to develop the region’s capital markets via its Capital Markets Union (CMU) project, a closer look at how banks’ market intermediation and market-making functions are impacted by global regulatory initiatives will be key to ensuring the deepening of market-based financing in the EU. Banks have retreated from capital market activities - but does it matter? In January last year, a report from the Committee on the Global Financial System (CGFS) examining structural changes to the banking system following the crisis, observed that global banks had shifted away from trading activities. In April 2018, AFME and PwC issued a report looking at how the balance sheets of 13banks, representing 70% of global capital markets activity, evolved between 2010 to 2016. This study was able to quantify that these banks had reduced fixed income and equity assets by just under 40% during this period of post-crisis regulatory reform. Importantly, the study also looked at the reasons behind this reduction in capacity. It determined that changes to the prudential framework, and to risk-based capital requirements and the leverage ratio in particular, were responsible for about two-thirds of the explainable decline in capital market assets. Changes to prudential regulation were of course not designed by policy makers to be neutral in terms of impact, but to balance the requirement to strengthen the financial position of banks and the financial system against the need to preserve effectively functioning markets. In this respect it is legitimate to ask whether banks’ capital market capacity may have shrunk too far. Along these lines, the question also arises as to whether the EU has a banking system which, in addition to supporting direct lending to the economy, can also help improve the size and depth of its capital markets in line with the ambitions of its policy makers? At first glance, there may not be any visible cause for concern regarding the supply of financial services. Years of accommodative monetary policy have generally kept the cost of finance down and the non-bank sector, which operates without the same regulatory constraints that banks face, has stepped in to replace some of the capacity previously provided by banks. However, monetary policy and economic conditions can of course evolve, and the non-bank supply is untested and may not prove to be as resilient as that from banks in times of stress. Global dealer banks have in the past been able to use their large inventories of securities to help mitigate market volatility. But with shrunken levels of such assets, will they be able to do so in the future? The previously mentioned GCFS report also recorded worsening liquidity conditions in some market segments, particularly for assets which typically trade less frequently than others. Could this be an indication that banks are not able to provide liquidity as they were before, and that there are fewer alternatives for less frequently traded assets? Should we be concerned that banks’ post-crisis business model adjustments have given rise to capital market activities being increasingly concentrated in a smaller number of players, with European banks in particular having withdrawn from these businesses? A moving target: evaluating reforms while implementing further regulatory change More research needs to be done to answer these questions. Encouragingly, after a decade of regulatory reform, policy makers at both global and European levels have signalled they are shifting from rule-setting to monitoring and adjusting their reforms if necessary. In principle, this approach bodes well for the development of EU capital markets. We are however faced with a sequencing issue. Regulatory reform is in practice not yet finished andthe last piece of the prudential puzzle, known as the final Basel 3 agreement, is still to be implemented. With this critical aspect of reform outstanding, it is extremely challenging for policy makers and industry alike to evaluate the consequences of the full regulatory package. This is especially true in the context of banks’ capital market activities where there are multiple interactions between different parts of the regulatory framework and where prudential and markets policy makers often appear to work in silos without reconciling their objectives. In Europe, the process for implementing the final Basel 3 agreement will start with proposals from the European Commission for a 3rd Capital Requirements Regulation; possibly before summer next year. This will be followed by the usual negotiations between the European Parliament and Member States, which typically last two years. Therefore we are still a way off from knowing the final shape of the prudential framework and truly being able to assess how banks and their clients will ultimately be impacted. Especially in the context of depressed market valuations for European banks, uncertainty on the regulatory end-point is a significant challenge to manage and could lead to a further reduction in European capital markets capacity. It is therefore essential that this is carefully navigated. What might Basel 3 mean for European capital markets? A key feature of the final Basel 3 proposal is the so-called output floor, a measure designed to act as a backstop to capital requirements based on banks’ own estimates of risk weighted assets (RWAs). The output floor ensures that that internally modelled RWAs are not less than 72.5% of the corresponding amount calculated under standardised approaches for credit, operational and market risks. Contrary to previous rounds of regulatory reform where most market participants saw overall increases in capital requirements, the output floor is largely intended to capture outliers. This means it will affect banks unevenly, depending on their use of internal models and their type of business. Given the distribution of internal model usage, it is not surprising that initial impact assessments by the Basel Committee and European Banking Authority (EBA) show the output floor is likely to affect larger banks more than smaller ones and European banks more than their US counterparts. The EBA’s work also shows that 7 of the 8 European G-SIBs in the sample analysed will be bound by the output floor instead of capital based on internal measures of risk. This move away from a risk-sensitive capital framework is undesirable because when regulatory capital becomes increasingly separate from underlying risk levels, this can lead to sub-optimal capital allocation decisions within banks and investments in riskier assets, rather thana safer system overall. Additionally, over recent years, many European banks have undertaken considerable efforts to improve their models under regulatory and supervisory programmes of the EBA and the European Central Bank (ECB) respectively. . It is understandable that the banks that have invested in these changes do not welcome the limitations the output floor places on the use of their models. Nevertheless, the output floor is a key part of the agreement reached between the members of the Basel Committee, and European authorities have repeatedly stressed their intention to implement it faithfully, placing a high weight on the importance of maintaining their credibility at the international negotiating table. While the output floor is likely to lead to overall increases in capital requirements for European banks, the final Basel 3 package includes other changes which will specifically affect their capital market activities. For instance, the new rules for calculating capital requirements for trading activities (known as the Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB)), will result in higher capital levels for market risk than today and becoming binding under the Commission’s CRR3 proposal. Banks will also no longer be allowed to model credit valuation adjustment (CVA) risk which reflects losses arising from changes in the credit quality of a counterparty to a derivative contract. Beyond the treatment of market risk, the final Basel 3 package also includes a new standardised approach for determining the capital that banks must set aside to deal with counterparty credit risk, or the risk of loss arising from a counterparty defaulting before it is able to meet its obligations under a derivative contract. Not only does this new approach intervene in the determination of the standardised output floor constraint, it is also relevant to several other areas of the prudential framework, leading to cumulative impacts on the availability and pricing of hedging solutions which have not yet been considered holistically by policy makers. Given that risk weighted assets for market risk make up a relatively small fraction of European banks’ total RWAs on average, the potential effects of these changes could appear to be comparatively small. However, as capital market activities are largely undertaken by of a relatively small number of large firms, these banks will be much more impacted than the average. Appreciating the extent to which these banks’ market activities have already impacted as shown above, the final parts of prudential reform must be implemented with caution if Europe does want to see banks support the growth of its capital markets. What should Europe do when implementing Basel 3? It is well known that the global regulatory community struggled to reach a final agreement on the Basel 3 package, and it will be important for all jurisdictions to implement it consistently and within the spirit of the agreement. This will be particularly crucial for the parts of the proposals which relate to global market activities where banks compete internationally. At the same time, the EU recognises that some of its banks will be the most heavily impacted by the proposals. European legislators should therefore ensure that their implementation of does not go beyond the intended impacts of the international standards. For instance, the output floor needs to be implemented as a true backstop measure. This can be achieved by basing its calculation on Basel minimum or Pillar 1 requirements and internationally agreed capital buffers rather than also including European and bank specific requirements as has been suggested by the EBA. Additionally, as with all Basel requirements which are calibrated at the group level, it is important that the floor applies to banks at a consolidated level rather than individual entity level to ensure that it does not distort or unduly impact specific businesses. It has already been stressed that that policy makers must reflect carefully on how the new changes to the prudential framework might further constrain banks’ market intermediation and trading activities. This should be done now, before the requirements are integrated into the rulebook. Without more joined up reflection between banking regulators, and those who wish to promote capital market development in Europe, there is the very real possibility that the reduction in capacity will continue. If this occurs, there is little hope that other CMU initiatives on their own can achieve the thriving capital markets Europe aims for and needs. The European economy will not benefit from the spare tyre function of having more developed market-based financing, nor it will it enjoy the much-needed private risk sharing and shock absorbing function that strong and integrated capital markets can bring. Beyond Basel 3, European policymakers should also examine how bank and market-based finance can be better linked. For instance, by enabling banks to make greater use of securitisation. In an economy that has been diagnosed with overbanking, banks need to be able to shift assets into capital markets. Not only will this reduce risk on their balance sheets, freeing up capacity, it will also provide investors with access to otherwise illiquid exposures. However, for banks to be able to engage in such transactions they need to make economic sense. This will only be the case if the cost of transferring risk to the market is translated into a commensurate reduction of the regulatory capital charge of the securitised assets. Policymakers should therefore also consider whether the rules governing regulatory capital relief, when risk is transferred outside of the banking system via securitisation, need to be revisited. Here, supervisory authorities, and the ECB, as the supervisor of the largest Eurozone banks, also have a key role to play to ensure that these rules can be operationalised as smoothly as possible. The new Commission and European legislators have a challenge to better integrate their approach to banking regulation and capital markets. By following the above recommendations, they can go a long way to building the capital markets Europe needs to retain a dynamic and sound economy. This article first appeared in Revue Banque on 10 January 2020 Structural changes in banking after the crisis, 24 January 2018, Committee on the Global Financial System  Impact of Regulation on Banks’ Capital Markets Activities: Anex-postassessment, 12 April 2018, AFME & PwC  Basel III Monitoring Report, March 2019, BCBS and Basel III reforms: impact study and key recommendations, 5 August 2019, EBA
What can Europe’s capital markets expect in 2020?
9 Jan 2020
As Europe enters a new year it does so with a brand-new Commission, a long list of regulation to review, and a complex relationship with the UK. While the past five years have been focussed on getting post-crisis regulation delivered, the next political cycle will be ensuring the regulation is calibrated so it works for markets and citizens. However, the new Commission also acknowledges a number of new challenges. While the Juncker Commission focused on boosting economic growth and post-crisis reform, the von der Leyen Commission is taking office with a focus on wider social priorities such as climate change, technology and globalisation. This will have a clear impact for the future direction of Europe’s capital markets. The new Commission has already outlined grand plans to ensure Europe is carbon neutral by 2050 in its EU Green Deal. However, in order to achieve this target clear definitions of green finance and sustainable assets will need to be clarified through the EU sustainable finance taxonomy. This will deliver a universal standard of what is considered “sustainable” across the EU and mitigate “greenwashing” – labelling products as “environmentally friendly” without a means of verification. For the EU to remain globally competitive and at the forefront of innovation, the Commission has also identified that a focused digitaltechnology agenda will be vital for the next political cycle. FinTech is transforming capital markets by introducing platforms and servicing solutions; increasing competition with the intention of increasing efficiencies, enhancing risk management, lowering costs and improving services for businesses and investors. However, the future success will depend on the EU’s ability to prioritise investment and a culture of innovation across the industry. Innovation in particular is an area where Europe will look for improvement next year. In contrast to the US and Asia, Europe doesn’t have a single digital champion in the mould of Amazon and Google. In order to increase the chances that the next digital unicorn is from Europe, more investment in smaller entrepreneurial companies is needed. This can be achieved by progressing the Capital Markets Union (CMU) project, with hopes that the Commission’s High Level Forum can recommend concrete, consensus-driven recommendations to take forward. Reducing fragmentation and encouraging greater investment across borders will be critical in improving Europe’s global capital markets competitiveness and ensuring it does not fall behind other global markets. However, the CMU project faces its greatest challenge yet in 2020 with the departure of its largest capital market, the UK. Brexit means there is more urgency than ever to complete the CMU project to ensure it can deliver on its objectives of creating deeper, more integrated capital markets which can support growth and investment for the remaining EU Member States. Following the outcome of the UK general election, it appears clear that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January. The forthcoming negotiations on the future relationship and the adequacy and equivalence arrangements for financial services will have significant implications for European wholesale capital markets. It is critical that the EU and the UK work together to developa future relationship which supports financial stability and minimises fragmentation in wholesale markets, ensuring an effective and stable relationship for the future. Equally, Europe will have to ask questions of its engagement with the rest of the world. Financial markets are global by nature and to be truly transformative the CMU must embrace globalisation. By supporting interconnected markets, investment will then be unlocked both within the EU and the rest of the world to drive economic growth. As Europe embarks upon a new year it can look back on 2019 as a period where the groundwork has been laid for progress in 2020. Despite having made some advances on climate change, technology and globalisation, 2020 is the period when wider change is expected. Crucially, with the rise of citizen activism in Europe, change will not only be expected, it will be demanded.
Europe was not built in a day – key takeaways from the FEBAF/AFME Rome Investment Forum 2019
17 Dec 2019
Rome was not built in a day, in fact, like the rest of Europe, it is still being built. Following the financial crisis, Europe has focused on attracting greater investment in the hope of strengthening its global competitiveness and supporting economic growth. However, this growth is yet to be felt equally across many of the EU’s Member States, with Europe as a whole lagging behind in key areas such as cross-border finance, infrastructure investment and digitalisation. These issues, among others, were discussed in early December at the 2019 Rome Investment Forum organised by FEBAF and with support from AFME, where senior figures spanning Italy and the broader EU economic and political landscape gathered, emphasising patience and persistence in the face of various challenges. Paolo Gentiloni, EU Commissioner for Economy, in his keynote address shared optimism regarding the change we could expect from the new Commission elected in November. He felt the new Commission has arrived at a more favourable time compared to the previous one. While the Juncker Commission took office in the aftermath of the financial crisis and had to overcome the challenges facing the single currency, the new Commission is taking office after years of moderate growth and relative stability. Gentiloni said this means, while there are complicated challenges for the Commission to face, there is a greater opportunity to tackle issues that are social and environmental. Similarly, Guest of Honour, Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy discussed the Italian roadmap for boosting investment through public and private partnerships, as well as investment in innovation and sustainability. Conte highlighted the challenges Italy faces in how to improve competitiveness amid increased globalisation. As part of the opening plenary session AFME’s Chairman, Michael Cole-Fontayn, emphasised the key topics for discussion, “Competitiveness”, “Sustainability”, and “Growth”. He said Europe must continue its push to become more competitive than other regions by increasing cross border investment which in turn will help progress the Capital Markets Union Project (CMU). Earlier in the year AFME published its key performance indicators report measuring the progress of the CMU, highlighting how the flow of capital continues to be fragmented along national lines and capital markets need further scale and depth to support economic growth and innovation. Cole-Fontayn highlighted the report findings for Italy, which show that while it is a leader in disposing of non-performing loans, representing 53% of the EU total in 2018, it is lagging behind other EU Member States in certain areas of the CMU project, such as providing funding for Fintech companies and making risk capital available for SMEs. In order to achieve the goals of the CMU, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, the Vice President of the European Parliament spoke of the need for carefully designed industrial policy. Roberto Gualtieri, Italian Minister of Economy and Finance, concurred saying there is a need to define a new single industrial strategy that allows EU companies to reduce emissions, develop digitisation and leadership in tech. Speaking on the panel, David Wright, Chairman of Eurofi, warned that if the EU continues to go down the same route, where there has been fragmentation and a lack of decision-making, in five years’ time the EU will be discussing the same unresolved issues. Highlighting the recent progress made in sustainable investing, Mario Nava, Director of Horizontal Policies, DG FISMA at the European Commission, said we are now seeing conversations surrounding sustainable investments become more nuanced. He said while the questions posed to firms previously revolved around what they were doing to help the environment, today the questions are more specific around how the nature of the market will affect their assets. On the topic of the future post-Brexit relationship between the EU and UK, David Marsh, Chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), optimistically said he thinks the UK could in fact become more European following its exit. He suggested that after Brexit the UK will no longer have the EU to blame for its domestic issues, giving more responsibility to UK politicians and a greater opportunity to appreciate the merits of the EU. The session concluded with panellists agreeing that like the historic city of Rome where the forum was hosted, the European Union is a project that cannot be built in a day, and it is on a long journey to fulfil its potential.
What are the regulatory implications for digital assets in Europe?
29 Nov 2019
As interest in “digital assets” and their potential benefits has grown, so too has the regulatory focus and the variety of use cases being adopted. Technological innovations, such as cryptography and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), are also closely associated with digital assets, and many different definitions and terms are being used across the industry today to describe this broad concept. On November 22nd, five panellists from Europe’s capital markets discussed this important topic for Europe at the AFME’s 2nd Annual Capital Markets Technology & Innovation Conference in Paris. Richard Hay, Linklater’s UK Head of Fintech, moderated the panel and opened by asking the panellists to help unpick the complexity surrounding the digital assets space. Teanna Baker-Taylor, Executive Director of Global Digital Finance, started the discussion by describing a digital asset as something that has been tokenised, emphasising that this wide scope encompasses a range of products, from crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, to traditional securities (e.g. tokenised securities). When asked about his firm’s journey into the digital assets space, Teunis Brosens, Lead Economist for Digital Finance and Regulation at ING, said that there has been various stages of acceptance and denial in the market. Having a clear separation between the various terms that encompass digital assets was important for ING to increase acceptance of blockchain technology within the firm. Brosens emphasised that having regulatory clarity and delineation on the different types of digital assets will help market participants reap the benefits of the underlying technology (e.g. DLT) and move discussions beyond Bitcoin. Regarding the regulatory treatment of digital assets, Adrien Delcroix, a Market Infrastructure Expert at the European Central Bank (ECB), confirmed that digital assets would have to comply with relevant financial regulation. He also underlined that, since the innovative nature of those assets often lies in their built-in transfer arrangement, the application of the CPMI-IOSCO Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures (PFMIs) needs to be considered in parallel with the regulatory classification of the asset. In this regard, operational resilience of DLT networks is a key concern. He noted that the distributed nature of DLT arrangements could improve resilience by reducing single points of failure, while increasing the surface of attack from a cyber risk perspective. In his view, fully decentralised systems with no accountable entity are not a desirable feature and such arrangement would not be permitted under current regulation. Swen Werner, Managing Director and Global Product Manager at State Street, said that overall regulation currently allows for the adoption of new technologies to support digital assets, but specific requirements ought to be reviewed. For instance, he noted the European Central Securities Depository Regulation (CSDR) should be adapted to fit to the transaction lifecycle of digital assets, where it may not be necessary to have a settlement agent or a Central Securities Depository (CSD). Adding to this, Daniel Heller, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Fnality International, noted that the issuance of regulatory guidance helps market participants get a better understanding of how to apply the current regulatory framework, clarifying or even resolving certain issues with regulatory compliance. The panel concluded by emphasising the encouraging discussions currently taking place between financial services firms, and regulators, in identifying areas of the current regulatory frameworks which require additional consideration in a DLT environment. Panellists agreed that it will be crucial to maintain an open dialogue across the industry in order to mitigate risks and better realise the benefits that digital assets and DLT can deliver. In a report published earlier this month, AFME called for greater supervisory convergence in the regulation of crypto-assets in Europe, and provided five recommendations for regulators in delivering this convergence. This included recommending that regulators establish a pan-European taxonomy in order to harmonise the classification of crypto-assets. The report is available to download on our website here.
Europe’s Unfinished Business – what is left to do on CMU?
25 Nov 2019
As the EU gears up for another 5-year political cycle, there is an increasing sense of urgency around the need to deliver the Capital Markets Union (or CMU) project. Some have recently called for the project to be rebranded. For example, the finance ministries of Germany, France and the Netherlands (known as the Next CMU High-Level Group) have recently called for the project to be renamed the “Savings and Sustainable Investment Union” to make the project more accessible for citizens and companies. But it will take more than a new name to get this epic project over the line. The new Commission will need to prioritise and focus on the “big ticket” CMU initiatives. And there is a need to focus on fewer, but more impactful, priorities and to set clear timelines. As the newly appointed Commission prepares to relaunch the CMU project, there are a number of key areas to focus on. First, Europe needs to make its markets more efficient. A fundamental challenge is to ensure that all the elements of the securities market structure are interoperable, can communicate with each other, and can function in a cost-efficient manner, so that EU savers and investors can achieve the benefits of a single market. Here a review of the sweeping EU markets regulation, MiFID 2/R is required, as well as addressing the long-standing barriers to an integrated post trade system. Second, for the CMU to be successful, Europe needs to expand the size, capacity and liquidity of its capital markets. Owing to market uncertainty, there is a scarcity of companies in the EU deciding to take the plunge and undertake an Initial Public Offering. To encourage companies, particularly SMEs, to go public, the EU needs to strengthen its public markets and ensure there are no unnecessary regulatory burdens or costs that might act as a deterrent. Third, the EU needs to catch up with other nations on facilitating FinTech innovation. FinTech provides opportunities to lower costs and provide more efficient services, while offering greater access to finance to a wider range of consumers. However, EU27 FinTech companies have benefited from a mere $7.2bn in investment since 2009, compared to a huge $120bn in the US, $23.8bn in China and $20.3bn in the UK. Going forward, the CMU needs to focus on this important sector in order to make the single market fit for the digital age. For this to happen, regulation and supervision need to be tailored to the fast-evolving digital challenges to ensure that innovation is not quashed. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bigdata also present opportunities for disruption and revolutionising financial services, which should be explored in full, while closely monitoring the potential risks. Fourth, Europe must continue to strengthen its global lead in sustainable finance. As a percentage of global issuance, the EU28 remains ahead of the US and China by a significant margin due to the rate of growth of sustainable bonds issuance. For example, the EU issued 43% of global sustainable bonds in 2018 compared to 18% by China and just 16% by the US. Now the challenge for the EU is to further build on its leadership by providing clarity on assets that can be considered sustainable. Having clear labels and standards for sustainable products would allow investors to make informed choices which is key for the transition towards a climate-neutral economy. Finally, Europe needs more capital markets and less lending. According to AFME’s annual report which tracks the EU’s progress against the CMU’s objectives, European companies received 88% of their new funding in 2018 from bank loans and only 12% of funding came from markets-based finance (such as bonds and equity). In fact, Europe’s reliance on bank lending has increased since 2013-2017. Therefore, Europe needs to broaden its funding options to increase the share which is delivered by capital markets, allowing borrowers to access the full range of funding opportunities appropriate to their needs and the maturity of their businesses. In this respect, more investment from retail investors could help to put savings to more productive use in the capital markets. Deep pools of capital help to channel investment into the real economy, supporting company growth and job creation. Another way to unlock Europe’s growth potential is through the creation of a powerful financing union consisting of integrated banking and capital markets. The Banking Union and Capital Markets Union projects are intrinsically linked and mutually reinforcing. A fully functional and integrated Banking Union can help achieve a more integrated capital market in the EU – supporting economic growth and helping to diversify risk. The next five-year political cycle needs to be bolder and more decisive on CMU. Simply rebranding the project won’t take the project to the next level. There are a vast range of issues to be tackled which will require strong political leadership and a renewed focus on the top priority issues. This opinion was originally published in Revue Banque on 22 November 2019
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in capital markets is picking up the pace
21 Nov 2019
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is increasingly widespread in capital markets. Banks are investing in AI/ML to rationalise cost-intensive manual processes such as KYC (know-your-client), fraud detection and regulatory compliance, as a paper by the ACPR (French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority) outlined last year. AI/ML is also powering data analytics in areas from risk management to client engagement and is being used by supervisors to perform market surveillance, according to a Bank for International Settlements (BIS) report. Regulators look to get a grip on AI/ML risk While AI/ML could help banks improve services or streamline costs at a time of unprecedented margin pressure, its impact on market integrity and consumer protection is increasingly being monitored. Authorities in several EU Member States (including France and Germany) have issued consultations or analysis of key risks. In addition, the ethics (e.g. fairness) of AI/ML in capital markets is also being examined. The Dutch Central Bank has been first out of the blocks with suggested guiding principles. But the biggest area of interest is the technology’s impact on market stability. This includes the possible emergence of new systemically important financial services providers, who can quickly adopt such technologies, unencumbered by legacy systems, but who may fall outside the scope of existing regulations. Finding the right regulatory balance Even though the risks posed by AI/ML must be understood, regulators cannot be too prescriptive, as this risks slowing down innovation. Fortunately, regulators have generally managed to strike the right balance by adopting a policy of technology neutrality, at least when overseeing innovations like distributed ledger technology (DLT). We hope to see an equally measured approach on AI/ML. At the most basic level, regulators need be confident that firms are applying their existing regulatory obligations, such as treating clients fairly, to their use of AI/ML. This should start with firms mapping out the stakeholders in an AI project (e.g. programmers, management, control functions and clients) along with an analysis of the levels of transparency that they will need. The focus should then be on delivering that transparency. Firstly, the assumptions made in the development of the model should be clearly defined and justified – from the methodologies used to the way that the results of the model will be measured. Secondly, testing the model, both before and during deployment, is critical. Such testing might include analysing the model’s behaviour against real and hypothetical market conditions, or the interaction between the model and other systems. All of the testing processes – along with the results – should be documented and shared with the regulators if required. The problems with explainability Explainability – namely the extent to which complex internal mechanics of an AI/ML model can be expressed is a key issue. Just as the proprietary code shaping computer-based trading strategies are rarely – if ever - shared with institutional investors, it should not be a requirement for the coding of an AI/ML model to be made available, as it will not be comprehensible out of context. If specific levels of technical explainability were mandated, use of AI/ML would be severely restricted to only the simplest models, which would come at a cost to their accuracy. The documentation of assumptions and testing is therefore a better way to deliver transparency into an AI/ML model, while retaining full accountability. Creating a proportionate regulatory framework Regulators need to pursue a risk-based approach when determining the transparency requirements it will demand from financial institutions, based on factors such as criticality and scale. For instance, an AI/ML-enabled trading algorithm might need more scrutiny than, say, an AI/ML tool used to deliver back office efficiencies. As a minimum, organisations should document how they use AI/ML and provide evidence, when required, that it is being used appropriately and safely to internal and external stakeholders. There may also be circumstances where transparency needs to be actively curtailed. Banks using AI to detect and combat fraud could find their systems being compromised if they are forced to disclose too much. If the benefits of AI/ML are to be maximised, the regulation guiding it needs to be pragmatic and carefully thought through. This blog was first published in L’AgeFi Hebdo on 21 November 2019
FX is transforming rapidly, and so is its talent
2 Jul 2019
A diverse range of skills and people are needed to ensure the success of the FX industry for the future In the past, a career in foreign exchange was often synonymous with busy trading floors, where whoever shouted the loudest was the most likely to be noticed. While this kind of environment may have served the markets of the past well, the overriding message from AFME and GFMA’s NextStepFX event last week was that the industry has changed dramatically over the last decade. Whether that’s through new technology revolutionising how trading is done, a revamped approach to conduct and culture in the wake of the financial crisis or a greater focus on working collaboratively to achieve the best outcomes both for firms and their clients. Our speakers had several different perspectives on this issue. For Robbie Boukhoufane, aportfolio manager at asset manager,Schroders, it was clear that despite the fact that the vast majority of trading now takes place electronically, human interaction and relationship building is still hugely important. For him, the key factor is that “we all strive to be more efficient and to get better outcomes for our clients”, but that you won’t join the FX industry and be “sat next to a robot”. Hanna Assayag,a Managing Director in FX at HSBC agrees and said that while, of course, “technology and data are important” facilitating effective interaction between data and analytics teams and sales, and having the skills to effectively do that, is also vital. Thalia Chryssikou, Co-Head of Global Sales Strats and Structuring at Goldman Sachs, said that for her one of the biggest changes has been the difference in what she spends her time doing day-to-day, with her role today much more varied than in the past. A lot of her focus is now dedicated to developing digital platforms and client solutions. Diverse skills needed All of this means that today’s FX industry needs, and is looking for, a whole host of different skills - from the more technical side, with expertise in coding and data analytics, to softer skills in communications and creative thinking. Diversity of talent in the broadest sense is hugely important. As the Bank of England’s, Executive Director for Markets, Andrew Hauser argued in his opening remarks, diverse teams make better decisions as they have “more ways to approach problems, and are better at self-challenge” and diversity also “improves a firm’s connection to, and empathy with its customers”. And as David Hudson, Co-Head CIB Digital & Platform Services at JP Morgan, pointed out, diversity of talent, where you recruit people with different backgrounds and prior careers, brings new ideas into your organisation. There is a hard business case too, research by McKinsey, looking at the economy more broadly, has found that the most diverse firms at an executive level are 20 – 30% more likely to outperform their peers. Attracting women into an FX career Our event last week in particular focused on why this exciting and fast-changing industry could be an appealing career path for greater numbers of women. I was pleased by the positive response we received from attendees and I had the opportunity to speak to a range of people during networking - some were currently working in a different area of financial services, others were considering a return from a career break - but common to them all was a newfound appreciation of the fact that FX was an industry where their skills and experience were in high demand. The importance of building networks Continuing to create connections between industry and the diverse talent that it wants to attract, must be a priority. As Sian Hurrell, Head of FICC Europe and Global Head of FX atRBC argued, “in this industry in particular, people will find their careers through their network” and one of the most important things that industry can do is “to create more opportunities to build networks” such as through events, structured programmes or via social media. For Robin Savchuk,International Treasurer at BNY Mellon, individuals should also feel confident to reach out and make connections. She says these contacts “don’t have to be in a formal programme, I would encourage people to seek out people you respect, want to emulate or whose opinion you value and talk to them, get their advice. With that advice echoed by Emma Norman, Director, Head of e-FICC, Europe and Americas at Westpac. It is clear that both firms and individuals should be cultivating new networks and connections, so that we can all take advantage of the opportunities innovation in FX is creating.
Europe’s economic future depends on better integrated financial markets
21 Jun 2019
After the 2008 financial crisis, policy makers and regulators worldwide took steps to strengthen banks against future shocks. As a result, banks today are much less likely to fail and, should a failure occur, it is very unlikely they will be bailed out with taxpayers’ money. While these are extremely positive developments, European banks’ profitability remains low, with the average return on equity (RoE) for ECB supervised banks only just above 6% at the end of 2018. This is partly due to overcapacity in the banking system, but is also caused by the effects of ultra-low interest rates, poor cost efficiency, as well as ongoing and cumulative regulatory demands. The performance of the banking sector matters as profits are the first source of additional bank capital, which is necessary to support lending to the wider economy. As outlined by the ECB, banks need to earn returns above their cost of equity – and a 6% average RoE is not enough to outweigh this cost. We also have yet to see cross-border banking activity in the EU resume to the extent is has in other jurisdictions post-crisis, be it in terms of the provision of finance directly across borders or via cross-border merger and acquisitions activity. Even in the Eurozone, where there is a single supervisor and resolution authority, national authorities continue to limit cross-border capital and liquidity flows within banking groups by putting up national “fences”. They do so as a means of dealing with the “European in life, national in death” experience of the financial crisis. While understandable, particularly when national authorities are accountable to their own parliaments, this approach disregards the significant improvements in banks’ resiliency and ignores the system-wide capacity that has been built up to absorb losses if they do occur. And while there may be a protective advantage for a single state to act in this way, when all states do the same, the entire system becomes brittle and inefficient, and everyone loses. At a recent AFME conference, delegates heard that at least an estimated EUR180billion of liquidity is “trapped” locally in Member States. This results in increased costs to end users of financial services who also pay different prices for the same service, depending on which country they are in. This is not an optimal allocation of resources and negatively impacts banks’ end customers and profitability alike. Restoring, and pursuing, EU financial integration since the crisis has clearly been a challenge. While the recent European Parliamentary elections were far more positive than some had expected, with the anti-European vote being fairly limited, many national governments still struggle to see, and deliver, the benefits of European financial integration. As evidenced by the recent report of a high-level group of national experts, Member States have reached an impasse in taking the steps we need to move forward. European Commission officials have noted the lack of ambition of Member States. And international and market observers, including those who are fully aware of the complexities of European decision-making, wonder why progress is not being made. Yet it is clear that it is precisely by moving forward with the well-known steps identified by the European Commission to complete the Banking Union and build up our capital markets that economic progress will be made which will benefit all. For instance, by promoting deeper capital markets, EU economies will not only reduce their reliance on bank financing, thereby opening up a wider range of financing options, especially for new or smaller growth companies which need equity financing, but it will also allow risk to be diversified and shared more widely. This is something which is currently lacking in the EU compared to other more integrated markets, such as the US and will further reduce the need for any public risk sharing. Moving forward with the European Deposit Insurance Scheme, which guarantees the protection of EU depositors’ money in the event of bank failure, is also necessary to create the trust required to overcome fragmentation and achieve an integrated banking market in Europe. This will be key to enabling the efficient allocation of capital and liquidity across banks, avoiding ring fencing and enhancing the safety and growth potential of the entire European economy. Unlocking Europe’s growth potential through the creation of a powerful financing union consisting of integrated banking and capital markets is long overdue. We urgently need better integrated markets that are serviced by strong, profitable financial institutions, capable of meeting the borrowing and investment needs of all Europe’s population. The goals are clear. But we cannot afford to wait for another 10 or even 5 years for this to become a reality.
Simon Lewis OBE
What's next for Europe's capital markets?
15 Apr 2019
This topic was at the top of the agenda recently when I was in Romania for the Eurofi regular gathering of European finance ministers, financial services policy makers and industry representatives. As the current EU legislative cycle winds down before the European Parliament elections in May, Europe is facing some urgent structural and institutional changes. This year there will be new leaders at the helm of the main EU institutions, including the EU Commission, Council and the ECB. Meanwhile, the EU’s largest capital market, the UK, will have to decide what form of Brexit it wishes to pursue, which will likely cause structural disruption to Europe’s capital markets, whatever the final outcome. In Bucharest, the mood was sombre but focussed. The EU is planning for the worst, while still hoping for a better outcome than a no-deal Brexit scenario. At a time of such change and uncertainty, the incoming Commission must breathe new life into the Capital Markets Union (CMU) project. There is universal agreement that Europe needs deeper capital markets to increase financing in the wider economy and to provide a broader range of funding options for businesses to invest, innovate, grow and create jobs. Steady progress has been made on the project during the Juncker Commission, but the next phase needs to be even more ambitious. Now that the CMU’s foundations have been laid, the question on policymakers’ minds is, what next? Certainly, advancing the CMU won’t be without its challenges. But there is clear commitment from the French and German central banks and finance ministries. While Brexit may have slowed down some of the project’s implementation as attention has inevitably shifted towards managing the future relationship with the UK, it certainly won’t derail the project. In fact, the case for the CMU is stronger and more urgent than ever as other European cities such as Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan and Amsterdam step up to play an enhanced role in funding Europe’s future economic growth. However, the departure of the UK from the EU does raise the question of how to avoid increased fragmentation of financial markets. To be truly transformative, the CMU must support globally interconnected markets and be able to unlock investment both from within the EU and the rest of the world to drive economic growth. It may be that in due course the UK and Switzerland can re-connect to the project via a pan-European capital market, which will benefit the 500m savers and investors across the whole of Europe. A reinvigorated CMU will also have to tackle the well-known challenge of Europe’s slow recovery following the global financial crisis and its over-dependence on debt financing. At the heart of the problem is a culture in the EU, which feels far more comfortable with bank debt than with equity. In the US, equity represents 160 per cent of GDP, while the figure in the EU is only 80 per cent. We need to narrow this gap by a change in attitude to equity and risk in the EU. Other new opportunities and challenges are also emerging in the form of rapid technological change and disruption, as well as climate change, which mean that the EU will have to be nimble and adapt policymaking to support investment, research and innovation in these areas. Of course, some key structural reforms remain, such as the harmonisation of corporate insolvency and withholding tax rules across Europe, as well as further incentives for private pension investment by EU citizens. Without strategies to tackle these fundamental issues, the flow of capital both from within and outside Europe will remain restricted. There is also the need to make Europe’s capital markets more integrated by completing the Banking Union and linking it to the CMU. This would promote a more resilient and efficient financial system which underpins economic growth and helps to address the divergence that currently exists. However, this integration could be threatened by the potential introduction of an EU Financial Transactions Tax, for which proposals in Europe currently seem to be gathering momentum again. Such a tax would, if implemented, drive up the cost of capital throughout Europe and run directly counter to the EU’s economic growth agenda – affecting jobs and investment, as well as damaging the prospects for a Capital Markets Union. Whoever succeeds presidentJean-Claude Junckerneeds to have a clear plan for taking forward the CMU project in a post-Brexit world. This is their chance to redefine the vision for Europe in order to ensure that it can continue to deliver investment opportunities for innovation and growth. This article was originally published in City AM on Monday 15th April
Upgrade Europe’s anti-money laundering framework to effectively tackle financial crime
9 Apr 2019
In September 2018, against a back-drop of high profile banking collapses and concerns about insufficient anti-money laundering (AML) oversight at a national level, the European Commission published bold and ambitious proposals to strengthen EU-wide AML supervision. If these proposals can be implemented successfully, this would mark a significant improvement in the AML regulatory framework and would represent a major step forward in the fight against financial crime. A key aspect of the proposals is to strengthen the AML supervisory powers of the European Banking Association (EBA); making it a ‘datahub’ responsible for the collation and analysis of suspicious transaction reports and giving it new investigatory and enforcement powers. The Commission also wants to see improved cooperation and information sharing between AML national supervisors, as well as greater coordination with prudential supervisors too, such as the ECB. For the EBA to be effective in its enhanced role it will require a considerable degree of additional funding and resource. AFME has previously called for the resources of the ESAs to be increased appropriately to develop and acquire the necessary skills to perform their expanded roles. There will also need to be careful coordination between the EBA and other relevant stakeholders. This requires a detailed plan and a realistic timetable for how the ESAs review proposal will be implemented in practice. In December 2018, the European Council published an action plan which set out what steps are required to achieve the Commission’s objectives. This is a welcome step, but further detail is still required. Quick changes to AML practices could make a big impact Once a new Commission begins its term in autumn this year it is likely that the pace of work on the AML proposals will increase; but in the meantime, there are three areas where relatively quick changes could have a dramatic impact on the fight against financial crime. Suspicious transaction reporting Estimates vary, but it is thought that up to 90% of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) are not useful to national AML supervisors. That is because the money laundering reporting officers within organisations feel pressure to overreport, for fear of enforcement action or personal liability if they omit information. The result is that regulators are normally swamped with information of questionable relevance, do not have the resources to analyse the information received and the most important information will not be shared between Member States. In short, the underlying threat is not addressed. If the industry is to improve the quality and usefulness of its STRs, the current reporting cycle needs to be reset. A more collaborative approach is required. Organisations must be encouraged to report much more selectively, and regulators must provide feedback on the quality of the reporting. Use of technology There are several areas where technology can help in the fight against financial crime. Technology could be used to improve the efficiency of the client onboarding process for financial institutions. Rather than firms managing the full ‘know your customer’ (KYC) checking process, specialist information providers could gather information electronically from clients and then share this information with financial institutions when they need to undertake checks. Whilst there may be data protection concerns, if these can be overcome, this could significantly reduce the cost associated with client onboarding and help to target resources more effectively. We have been pleased to see the Commission’s expert group on electronic identification and remote KYC processes looking at this topic. Technology could also be used to help address the issue of inefficient suspicious transaction reporting, already outlined. A single system could help to gather STRs in a secure central repository, analyse the information and allow for the effective and targeted sharing of information between Member States. Financial institutions could also use technology to enhance their monitoring and surveillance of money laundering risk. Many financial institutions are already employing artificial intelligence and machine learning systems to spot complex patterns of behaviour which may not be discernible by compliance teams. Harmonised AML practices At present the AML rules and their enforcement vary significantly across the EU. For example, the format and practice for suspicious transaction reporting, the customer due diligence checks performed on clients and the application of penalties for AML breaches is different across Member States. This is inefficient and costly for businesses and makes it harder for Member States to fight money laundering effectively. A harmonised approach is crucial. Whilst the Commission’s proposal (particularly the role of the EBA) aims to increase harmonisation across the EU, one quick and effective means to address this inefficiency would be to transform the Anti-Money Laundering Directive into a Regulation. This would remove any latitude for varying implementation of the rules across Member States and could create significant administrative savings. AML will continue to be a priority AML is already an important area for compliance teams in financial institutions. This looks likely to continue and indeed become an even bigger priority in the coming period as the EU’s proposals develop further, and public interest in this area continues. While this may pose challenges to businesses there are also potentially significant benefits to organisations in the form of cost savings and more effective AML procedures.