Examination of Witnesses

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:42 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Adam Farkas and Constance Underwood gave evidence.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton 3:14 pm, 17th November 2020

For this third afternoon evidence session—the sixth in total—we have Adam Farkas and Constance Underwood from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. It is our first panel in person. We have until four o’clock for this session. Adam and Constance, do you want to start by introducing yourselves for the benefit of the Committee, and for the record?

Adam Farkas:

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting us both. We are delighted that we decided to come physically. We did not know what the other invitees would decide. I am Adam Farkas, CEO of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. AFME is a pan-European trade group representing a broad array of European and global participants in the wholesale financial markets. Our members include banks headquartered in various jurisdictions, spanning from Japan to the United States, and inside and outside the EU. What they have in common is that they all do business in the UK and the EU. Our purpose is to serve as a link between capital markets, participants and policy makers across Europe.

My experience in the financial services sector spans over 30 years, covering both private and public sector bodies. Prior to joining AFME this February, I was executive director of the European Banking Authority for nine years, and before that, I acted as executive chairman of the Hungarian financial supervisory authority. In my capacity at the EBA, I also served on the Basel committee for eight and a half years. I should note that there are a few topics directly related to my prior position at the EBA that I am not permitted to address today because of my restrictions, but Constance will address those as appropriate.

Constance Usherwood:

I am Constance Usherwood, director of prudential regulation at AFME. My experience also covers both public and private sectors. I also worked at the European Banking Authority some time ago, and have worked for a globally systemically important bank. I am very grateful for the invitation to be here with Adam today to give evidence. I hope that that is helpful to the panel.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q Welcome to the Committee, and thank you for giving evidence. Adam, may I start with you? We have heard a number of references today to the role that the UK has played in the EU financial services legislation process. Given the wide experience that you have just mentioned, it would be useful if you could explain how you see the UK, in terms of the role that it has played. In the context of the investment firms review, do you think it is right that we should be implementing a more proportionate regime for investment firms?

Adam Farkas:

I will try to answer the first part of the question, but then I will leave it to Constance. because this is one area where I was personally involved, and I am not allowed to comment.

On the first part of the question, it is beyond doubt, and everybody in the public and private sector recognises it, that the UK as part of the European Union was playing a leading role in shaping and forming financial services regulations in the Union. That is clearly evidenced by the leading role of London and the UK more broadly as the financial services centre or hub of the Union. That is beyond any doubt. It was respected as such, and had a very strong voice in shaping the different regulatory initiatives. For the future relationship, it is important to have engagement and openness, and that a co-operative attitude, or co-operative setting, is retained, with two autonomous decision-making jurisdictions, in which the two sides can co-ordinate, exchange views and possibly even influence each other’s new initiatives or the evolution of their respective regulatory frameworks, with the potential aim of maintaining as much consistency as possible and practicable. On the investment firms regime, I pass the floor to Constance, because I was part of the development of the standards at the EBA, so I must refrain from comment.

Constance Usherwood:

With the investment firms prudential regime, the UK authorities have played a key role in the development of the prudential regime that is specifically targeted to the business models of investment firms and making sure that it is proportionate. In that respect, we fully support the approach that is being taken today. In terms of the application to the different prudential frameworks and of the regimes versus the CRR, the bulk of our membership will probably not be directly impacted by the regime due to their size and activities. That would also tally with the approach that the EU has taken.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q If I may probe just a little further, you are saying that this proportionate change for the UK is in line with your members’ expectations and does not offer any serious threat to the integrity and reputation of the UK in this area?

Constance Usherwood:

Yes, I would agree with that, absolutely.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q May I ask you about the LIBOR benchmark? This is a complex area, as we have already heard today. Do you agree with the approach that we have taken in the Bill? What would be the implications if we did not take this approach, and can you say what other approach we could take if you disagree with it?

Constance Usherwood:

I am going to apologise, but I think that Adam is probably best placed to come in on this one.

Adam Farkas:

We very strongly support the clear and oft-repeated message of the UK authorities that active transition by transaction parties to the new risk-free rate is the only way to achieve certainty of outcome in the transition. We have promoted this message regularly and we have developed market standard language to support it that can be used by investors to assist them in this process.

A very difficult part of the transition process relates to what happens to legacy contracts already in place that reference the old LIBOR rates that are being phased out. Within legacy contracts, there are the so-called tough legacy contracts, which are very difficult to repaper or change the reference in. They cause the most complex challenges for end users as well as for members of AFME or other financial services providers. We therefore very much welcome the provisions of the Financial Services Bill that give the FCA new powers to mitigate that risk by directing the administrator to change the methodology of LIBOR if doing so would protect the consumer and market integrity. That would enable the FCA to stabilise certain LIBOR rates during the wind-down period so that their limited use in legacy contracts can continue. The answer is yes, we are very supportive. None the less, we welcome the further clarity which, I think, will be forthcoming on 25 November from the FCA and the Treasury on what steps the authorities are planning to further this objective, because there are some outstanding questions that require clarification. I would be happy to go into them, but in the interests of time, I will stop there.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q Just to be clear, there is no substantively different path that you anticipate that we could have taken on this matter that would give us a better outcome than the one that we are headed for, notwithstanding the need for the further clarification that is in train?

Adam Farkas:

That is a difficult question to answer because we have not speculated on different outcomes, but certainly the path that the Bill is taking is something that we can very strongly support.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Thank you for coming today. I want to start with our current situation on equivalence, where we had an announcement from the Chancellor that the UK will grant equivalence recognition to companies based in current EU member states but we have not got a reciprocal equivalence recognition for UK companies selling into EU markets. What are the practical implications for UK-based financial services companies if that situation continues to exist for some time?

Adam Farkas:

Very briefly, equivalence determinations provide the major legal framework for different jurisdictions to provide access to service providers that are licensed and supervised in each other’s markets. To answer your question, if equivalence determinations by the EU are not forthcoming, or not brought forward at pace or with the width that is expected, that will put limitations on the access of service providers—financial services companies and firms—to the EU market. This is really an issue of market access.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Can you give us some practical examples of what kind of barriers companies could face and of what decisions they might have to take to overcome them?

Adam Farkas:

In very simple terms, if a company is licensed in the United Kingdom and does not have access, or loses access, to the EU—of course, that is completely free under passporting regimes—it will find limitations in serving clients or trading with counterparts in respect of the financial services that it provides in the other jurisdiction, which would be across the channel in this case. A lack of equivalence has been a risk throughout the process of the negotiations, so authorities have made significant efforts to prepare regulated entities—financial firms—and to force them to prepare for all eventualities. In other words, everyone is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

AFME members—of course, our membership is tilted towards the large players—have made extensive preparations over the years to get ready for the worst outcome, which would limit direct market access from the United Kingdom to the EU, by way of setting up entities, moving activities across the border and making all necessary arrangements to allow them to continue to serve their clients across the European market. Of course, if equivalence is granted and access is provided on that basis, it would improve the general situation of market access between the EU and the UK, so we welcome the Chancellor’s announcement and the UK Government’s determination last week to grant equivalence within a certain scope to third countries, including EU countries.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q So the main mechanism for preparation, as you put it, is to establish an operation inside the EU if you have not already got one.

Adam Farkas:

With a lack of equivalence. If no market access is provided on another basis, the main mechanism is to establish entities that are licensed, capitalised and supervised in the other jurisdiction, meaning that that entity can have access to the market, but that involves costs and operational implications.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Can I ask you about LIBOR? We have heard that the Bill facilitates a move away from LIBOR. The weaknesses and manipulation of LIBOR are well documented. The L in LIBOR stands for London—it is the London interbank rate. Are there any implications for London’s status as a global financial centre from a move away from LIBOR towards different kinds of benchmarks?

Adam Farkas:

It is a very difficult question. We all know the history of what happened. What is important is what happened afterwards and how the authorities decided to move away from the possibility of manipulating these rates. There is a global co-ordination effort and a long-standing global discussion on transitioning out of the old way of setting different financial benchmarks.

Regulations were put in place, changes to methodologies were put in place and public institutions took a stronger role to make sure that benchmarks are more robust and not prone to manipulation or potential distortions. I think, in that sense, this issue of reputation and the credibility of these benchmarks has been very strongly addressed by the authorities globally, and also in the UK by the authorities. I believe strongly that this will lead to a much sounder and more credible framework once the transition is completed.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Finally, I would like to ask if you a question about future direction. We have heard today about British influence on the EU directives that govern financial services—that there has been quite heavy British influence over the years in designing this set of regulations, which this Bill onshores back to the UK as a result of Brexit. That means that, come the end of the year, we will be very closely aligned with what has been developed over the years so far.

What is your view of what will happen on the EU side, absent a British influence, as financial services regulation inevitably evolves and develops? We no longer have one table, if you like. We have two tables—a British one and a European one. Does that mean, inevitably, that the two sets of regulations gradually spin off in different directions, or is that not the case?

Adam Farkas:

Before I answer the bilateral question, I think that there are other forms of international co-ordination of financial services policy. One is multilateral in the form of the FSB, IOSCO—that is on market rules—and the Basel committee, which deals with prudential rules. Both the EU and the UK are significant players and participants in this global co-ordination. In the interest of having open, transparent, and well-functioning financial markets and maintaining international flow in capital movement, allowing both banks and corporates to manage their risks cross-border, these multilateral engagements are extremely important. They actually provide a very good platform to co-ordinate the major direction of financial regulation globally.

Now, the bilateral co-ordination will change, because it will take the form of the so-called bilateral regulatory dialogue—or whatever similar term the EU uses—with third countries, which provide a platform. Inevitably, if two jurisdictions take a separate course in legislation, there will be some divergence between the rules. What is very important is that if that happens, it is transparent to this multilateral setting as well as in the bilateral context; it is well-explained and co-ordinated as much as possible; and it is only done if there is a real justification for it.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Thank you. Constance, do you want to add anything?

Constance Usherwood:

I would add that in the context of the Basel framework, that does allow for some adjustments or tailoring for jurisdictions when it comes to implementing that in law. That is certainly something that we would expect the PRA to look at, going forward—such things as mortgages and trade finance. There are little aspects of the Basel framework that already allow for some consideration of how that is best tailored to the market in which it is being implemented.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

We will now move on to the SNP spokesperson, Alison Thewliss.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q Thank you very much, Chair. I was having a look at the policy recommendations of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe for the EU-UK relationship. To what extent do you feel the Bill achieves those recommendations?

Adam Farkas:

The Bill provides the possibility to achieve those recommendations. It provides the framework for future UK financial regulation. It provides the possibility, delegated to the respective regulatory authorities, to shape the UK’s financial regulation. However, if it is going to be a transparent process, as it is expected to be under the Bill, that opens up the possibility of retaining co-ordination with the EU in a new setting. The Bill sets the foundation to meet the policy recommendations that we put forward, but it does not guarantee it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q So we are still some way from finding out what the building looks like.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q With regard to the point that you made about legacy contracts and LIBOR, to follow up on the questions I put to Chris Cummings of the Investment Association earlier, do you think that there is merit in having something in the Bill, rather than having FCA rules on this matter?

Adam Farkas:

I am probably not qualified to answer that. I am allowed, but I am probably not qualified. I think the FCA, as an authority, has been playing a leading role globally in the whole transition process and the whole global co-ordination process. The Bill’s intention to give a strong role for the FCA in defining the last steps of what happens with the legacy contracts and with LIBOR as a benchmark is pointing in the right direction, but I will not go further than that.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q That is fair enough. I was trying to get at whether there is stronger ground if it is in legislation, rather than dependent on rules, for any disputes that might arise.

Adam Farkas:

That is probably a legal question.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q Constance, if I am right, you have been responsible for working on some green finance work. Do you think that there should have been more in the Bill to look at those things, rather than waiting for a later stage? Is this a good opportunity to perhaps look at some of the green finance issues, rather than waiting until later?

Constance Usherwood:

The Basel 3.1 aspect, in particular, is about ensuring that banks hold capital commensurate with the risks that they take. As such, the Basel framework that it seeks to emulate in UK law does not consider climate risk as a risk. That is not to say that that work is not under way in international forums. The Network for Greening the Financial System is certainly looking at how to incorporate climate risk—or whether it can be incorporated—into prudential regulation. It is at a very nascent stage. I think the work that the PRA is doing in that forum is very positive, as well as such things as climate risk stress testing.

That is something that the PRA might want to open the door to later, once it is more considered and technically advanced. Certainly, the sustainable lending aspect is an important mandate that it has to look at. We remain interested in how it develops that mandate in its consideration of the rules.

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford

Adam, in your earlier comments you said that London is the financial services hub of the EU and that it has been a strong voice in shaping the EU’s regulatory framework. First, do you believe that we will continue to be a strong voice in global regulator-to-regulator discussions? Secondly, Q do you agree that the Financial Services Bill will increase the UK’s resilience to economic shocks, while meeting our international commitments on protecting the global financial system?

Adam Farkas:

Answering the first question involves a bit of speculation into the future. Given the importance of the City of London as a global financial centre, and given the weight and experience of UK authorities in global standard-setting bodies, I would be inclined to confirm that yes, the United Kingdom is expected to remain a strong voice in multilateral standard-setting bodies and in multilateral discussions on financial stability, as well as in micro-financial regulation, markets, insurance and prudential banking regulation.

There is probably no conclusive answer to your second question, but the Bill certainly opens up the possibility of creating a framework within the United Kingdom that will delegate a lot of rule-making powers to the respective authorities—the PRA and the FCA. It will provide a well-defined, clear and transparent framework, and it will also define an accountability regime with that framework. In my view, that will establish the possibility—subject to the detailed rules that will then be adopted—that financial regulation as a whole will continue to ensure financial stability in a global financial centre.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

My understanding is that the British Government have so far filled out something like 2,500 pages of questions from the European Union, all of them to strict deadlines. What do you think has caused the delay in the EU granting equivalence or making any public statement on that? Clearly the UK is equivalent, so what is causing the delay?Q

Adam Farkas:

I do not know. What I can say is that the equivalence determination process consists of two stages. One is a technical assessment that involves a detailed assessment of the rule book for the set of regulations, with questions and interactions. In every jurisdiction there is a second stage, which is the determination itself after the technical assessment. That stage is a much more political decision, or is a decision of a more political nature; it considers other aspects in addition to the interests of the jurisdiction making the determination. The answer probably lies there, but I have no information on why equivalence decisions have not yet been made on the EU side. It is not true to say that no equivalence decisions have been made; some have been determined and published, even if on a temporary basis.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Q But there is still the big question mark on overall equivalence for the United Kingdom. You hit the nail on the head when you referred to the potential for politicisation of the regulatory process. Looking at what happened recently with Switzerland, my understanding is that the Swiss stock market had its equivalence removed because the Swiss Government had the temerity to put Swiss citizens first in new Swiss labour laws. My fear is that the EU will politicise the process, and I would love your view on that.

Adam Farkas:

I do not think I would like to express a view. One point of correction I would make is that there is no such thing as overall equivalence; unfortunately, the equivalence decisions are very technical and made bit by bit. There are equivalence provisions in different parts of the EU legislation, and there are equivalence decisions possible in parts of the UK legislation. Looking at the announcements from the Chancellor, it is very specific and is focused on certain activities or institutions that are deemed equivalent to the domestic regime. There is no overall equivalence, and there will probably not be.

On the Swiss equivalence case, I will refrain from commenting, if you will allow that.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Dr Huq, can I ask one more question?

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

We have until 4 o’clock for the entire session, so you can ask a quick question.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Q Given that in your opening remarks you said the UK had played a significant part in the formation of regulation as a major financial centre, to what extent are you worried that the European Union will now take a more localised, protectionist stance?

Adam Farkas:

As an association, we are very strongly advocating the openness of markets, both in the United Kingdom and in the EU. We are very strongly advocating maintaining the co-ordination of dialogue and the consistent implementation of global standards. Of course, it is very difficult to speculate which way the EU will go. What I can say is that our members have a very clear view on this issue, and we are—

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Adam, can you please speak into the microphone? For the recording, you need to be in the right place.

Adam Farkas:

Yes, of course.

Our position on this issue is very clear, and we have been open and transparent about our members’ position on arguing for market openness, maintaining consistency and, on the basis of constituency, maximum market access and flow of capital and services between the UK and the EU.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Constance, do you have anything to add?

Constance Usherwood:

Generally, we hope that the EU and the UK will establish a close, co-operative and stable long-term relationship for financial services, and it is very important to underline that that should be the long-term goal. I think the Bill leaves the door open for doing that.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

Constance, when he was the interim chief executive officer of the FCA recently, Chris Wollard made the point that having the highest international standards of regulation and doing the best for the markets are certainly not mutually exclusive. You might even go further and say that they are actually vital for each other. To what extent do you feel that the Bill achieves those two objectives—having the highest standards and the best framework for the markets?Q

Constance Usherwood:

It is very clear that the UK Government’s intention is that the UK should maintain high, consistent and global standards. From my knowledge of interaction with the PRA, it is committed to doing that. That was also made clear last week by Sam Woods in his Mansion House speech—it is not about a race to the bottom. In so far as a jurisdiction maintains a predictable, open and transparent rule-making process—we expect the PRA to do that with consultation processes—and operates a high, globally consistent standard, that is a really good competitive base from which global banks can operate out of.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q Adam, I wonder whether there is anything that you would have liked to see in this Bill that is not there, given that it is an initial first step. Is there anything that you think should have been paid attention to and dealt with in this Bill that has not been?

Adam Farkas:

Given that it is providing a framework for the future regulatory architecture in financial services, I am not suggesting that these are missing, but I will list what is important for the industry: that the framework is predictable—that is key for the players—that the framework provides transparency, so that when the rule making is happening under the Bill, the process is transparent; that it is possible for the industry to engage, so when different rules or pieces of the rules are consulted on, there is sufficient accountability provided, but that is not for us to decide on; and that sufficient time is provided for implementation—that is always a critical issue for the industry.

I think that what is proposed in the Bill goes very far on all those points. In that sense, it is difficult to give a definite answer of what else would need to be in the Bill. Those are the points that we are looking at with great interest in relation to the final adoption of the Bill.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q We heard earlier today about the shift away from the LIBOR benchmark—which is obviously another part of the Bill—by the bond markets, and that they want continuity of contracts to be in the Bill, particularly for tough LIBOR contracts that cannot be phased into something else. They also want a safe harbour provision to minimise the possibility of legal challenges on how LIBOR is interpreted as it exists. Do you agree with that?

Adam Farkas:

I agree that this is an issue that will need to be addressed. There is a question as to whether it needs to be addressed in this particular Bill or in the context of the future rule making by the FCA, but the points raised are valid ones and we also agree with them.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q The Bill also contains powers for the PRA and the FCA to create a prudential regulation; an entire new system for credit institutions and investment firms. Do you represent such companies?

Constance Usherwood:

Yes, we do.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q So are you happy with the framework that has been set out in this Bill? Given that it is only a framework and you do not know the details yet, I am assuming that you think the details will be fairly similar to the European directives that the UK had so much input in forming.

Constance Usherwood:

Yes, I think we support it. One thing that I would note is that there are a lot of rules to implement; the Basel III framework that is going into this part of the Bill is over 160 pages long, so there is a lot of technical detail that will need to be considered. We hope that the full impact assessment is therefore done on that basis for the UK banking sector, and also that the consultation process allows the industry to have a meaningful input. I notice that there have been a couple of smaller consultations done recently by the PRA that have only required a month or two months for consultation, and certainly that is something we hope will be fully considered when they put the rules before industry.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q Is that what you mean when you are talking about accountability—to the companies that are regulated rather than the consumer? Clearly a great deal of detail will have to be decided by the regulatory authorities; we simply cannot do it in primary legislation. Do you think the Bill gets the balance right between setting a framework in primary legislation and allowing the regulatory authorities to do the detailed work?

Constance Usherwood:

Yes, I think that is probably the best way forward and I agree with the approach that has been taken. The other alternative is that it would all have to come before you and you would have to look at all these pages. I think that the regulatory authorities are best placed, and the most technically capable of really assessing it, and doing the impact assessment that will ensure that it is tailored to the UK banking sector.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q In what period do you expect the impact assessment to arise after the rules have been specified in a consultation period? Is that the kind of process that you would like to see the FCA follow?

Constance Usherwood:

Usually we would expect the impact assessment to be done before the rules are formalised, but it is a fluid process and I would not be certain what the PRA has in mind. We imagine it would take place at some stage prior to any finalisation of the rules.

Adam Farkas:

Normally when detailed rules are produced there is some sort of obligation on the authority to provide an impact assessment with it, on the basis of the draft rules. Then, typically, there is a consultation, so opinions are sought from different stakeholders, and then the rules are finalised. The impact assessment is clearly a key feature of financial services rule making, at EU level and at national level. It is part of the broader accountability, which is very important.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

If there are no further questions, I thank our two witnesses for their evidence.