Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 19th October 2022.
Q Order. We will now hear evidence from Adam Jackson, policy director for Innovate Finance. For this panel, we have until 4.40 pm. Will the witness please introduce himself, for the record?
I am Adam Jackson, director of policy and regulatory affairs at Innovate Finance. We are the trade association for fintech in the UK, representing, if you like, all of the new technology-based financial services that have emerged, maybe in the past 10 to 12 years, including payments, challenger banks, consumer credit and personal management tools—and crypto are part of that.
Q Thank you, Adam, for being with us this afternoon. The UK has much to commend it as a location for fintech and the other segments that you talked about. We have a supportive Government, a conducive framework and good liquidity in many markets. Let us take that aside for one moment, and the good work that Innovate Finance has done itself, and look at where there are opportunities to go further, or delve into the areas where you think there is a gap. Telling us how good things are does not take us very much further forward. When you look at this Bill, and at the overall behaviour and corpus of regulation, how are we doing, and how could we do better?
I think that is a good phrasing, Minister, of looking ahead. I think we have in the UK a great 10 years. We are No. 2 for investment in fintech in the world, and have been consistently. The question is, how do we maintain that at a time when we are on the cusp or in the middle of a new wave of financial technology?
The first wave of fintech was very much about consumer interfaces. I think what we are then seeing, and will see over the next 10 years, is the application of technology to the whole of financial services—to the financial systems—to the plumbing, if you like, of financial markets, not just that consumer interface. The question is, how do we build on our superb record until now to ensure that we are at the forefront of what will be digital financial markets? That then becomes not just, “How do we maintain our lead in fintech?” but “How do we ensure that we are a global leader in finance?”
If I then look at the Bill and think about what is needed, I tend to categorise it in three ways. First, is there regulation that needs updating? Is the regulatory rules system fit for purpose? Does it enable—or actually open up—innovation? Is how we regulate agile enough, particularly as technology and the economy move quickly?
Looking at the Bill and “fit for purpose”, the proposals, particularly on stablecoin, are really welcome. They tackle an issue that we have seen in the market this year and bring into scope that new technology.
Does it enable innovation? I think, there, the financial markets infrastructure sandbox is important for looking at how we support different ways of regulating. That gets into the agile regulators as well. Then, when we look at systemic stablecoin, that is about enabling innovation. We will only see stablecoin really developing as a fundamental part of payments systems, and therefore only see the UK maintain its lead in payment innovation, if we have new provisions around systemic stablecoins. The Bill covers all those.
Are there other areas that we would like to see? In terms of the regulatory behaviours, the competitiveness objective is very welcome. On the secondary objective, we would love to see it extended to the Payment Systems Regulator. We have heard quite a bit today about the Bill providing new powers to the PSR so there is a strong case for applying the competitiveness objective to them, as well as some of the other bits of the financial future regulatory framework.
On the question whether we could apply a competition objective to the Bank of England, when we think about things such as central bank digital currency, how that is implemented—as well as if—becomes really important. Central bank digital currency could crowd out innovation and stablecoin unless it is designed in a way that promotes competition. Sir Jon Cunliffe talked about how he absolutely sees a place for stablecoin and a CBDC alongside, but is thinking about some protections around that.
Then, two final pieces would be looking at whether there is scope to strengthen the competitiveness objective, moving from facilitate to promote, and finally, thinking about the Financial Ombudsman Service. A lot of our members raise concerns with us that they have agreed approaches with the FCA, only to find that FOS caselaw rules against things that they have already agreed with the FCA. So more to ensure that consistency, and if there is a way of ensuring that the FOS refers to the FCA for rulings on certain issues, that would help.
Q You have touched on this very briefly. I would like you to expand a bit more on the comparison between our approach and the EU’s approach to crypto regulation in general. You will be aware of the EU’s regulation deal, which effectively brings together cryptoassets and activity into regulations, whereas we, at the moment, are limited to stablecoins. Are we at some sort of risk of falling behind because we have not had that sort of regulation? Does it compromise our competitiveness in the fintech sector because we have not had that sort of regulation deal?
The other thing I wanted to ask about is investment in the UK fintech industry, which was down to £9.6 billion in the first six months of this year, which is three times less than exactly the same period last year. Do you want to comment on the reason for that decline? What should we be doing as politicians to try and help with that?
Taking your first question, it is worth looking at the EU MiCA regulation and possibly the approach of a territory such as Singapore. It links a bit to the investment. We did some analysis of investment in just crypto alone, looking at that as a vertical within fintech, and again, the UK has always been the second location for crypto investment in the world, after the US, until the first half of this year, when we fell behind to Singapore. That might be a blip, but when you then look at regulatory mapping, you will see that Singapore possibly has the most forward regulatory system, particularly for stablecoin. The EU has a very comprehensive approach, but is has not come into force yet. Singapore has an established system, so I think that shows that if you get it right and have a proportionate regime, you attract the industry and the investment.
Is the EU approach right? There are strong arguments to say that it is possibly too comprehensive, and we come back to the notion that trying to find something that works for all 27 does not fit our circumstances. The UK is right to take a more iterative approach. We obviously have a common law approach as well, which means there are certain things we can do through case law. It is absolutely right that we are focusing on stablecoin and that is where some of the biggest volatility in the market was this year. The Bill addresses that, which will be really important in providing confidence for consumers and, critically, for investors in technology firms in that space.
The EU rule applies to not just stablecoin but cryptocurrencies more generally and exchanges, so should we also have a regulatory regime for other cryptoassets? I think the answer is yes. The question is how it fits within the Bill. The Government have said that they will introduce proposals for wider regulation of other cryptoassets. We expect something at some point, possibly soon.
That begs the question whether the Bill already enables the introduction of regulations. We probably need to ask Treasury counsel about the definition of a digital settlement asset. The Bill allows for the definition to be changed. Do the rules enable it to cover other cryptoassets? If it does, the powers are there to enable regulators to introduce systems subject to the proposals. If not, will we have to wait another 20 years before regulators are given the powers to regulate cryptoassets?
On cryptoassets, the important things that our members, including exchanges and cryptoasset firms, emphasise are an authorisations regime, a set of rules for initial coin offering—essentially, clear guidance on what information should be provided to consumers about individual assets—and custody. The Bill provides for applying rules on custody for stablecoin. If we do not have a parallel system, we will start to see some question marks over why those custody rules do not apply to cryptoassets as well.
On investment, there are different ways of looking at the figures from the first half of this year. Some investment, particularly VC, has really held up, but we know that globally we can expect a fall in investment, and we are just starting to see that trickle through. It is therefore a question of how the UK holds up against other countries. We might even see more mergers and acquisitions. At the moment, the pound makes the UK a nice place to come to buy fintech firms, so there may be a bit of difference there. It comes back to maintaining that competitiveness. Our members tell us that the most important thing is to get the Bill through. It provides important powers. If we can strengthen it in some of the areas that I mentioned to the Minister, that is also critical.
The other thing that I would flag is that there are two other pieces of legislation that are either before the House or slightly in limbo. They are also important for the competitiveness of fintech. One is the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, introducing digital ID and open data, which will really transform the open banking we have into open finance. Australia already has that, so there is a risk of us falling behind. That Bill is also really important.
We have heard a lot about fraud. The provisions in the Online Safety Bill around making the places where frauds are advertised—the social media platforms and search engines—responsible for fraud, as well as requiring banks to reimburse, are critical. That is starting to be a factor in investment decisions. Whatever happens to that Bill, ensuring that those provisions are introduced as soon as possible is key.
Q Mr Jackson, you said earlier that Singapore had forward regulation. Some of us on the Committee might see that as meaning that it is less robust than what the EU is proposing. I have heard Singapore and offshore tax havens used as some kind of comparator for UK regulation. Do you think that it is useful for us to use, say, Singapore—a one-party state, effectively—and offshore tax havens as a comparator for good regulation?
I was not suggesting that we should necessarily compare the exact regulatory regime—the economy is a very different size—but I would take the wider point that a territory that has been seen to introduce some regulatory rules, as opposed to having none, is seeing increased investment.
The other place to look is the US. I was in Washington last month talking to policymakers, and the area where there is most likely to be a bipartisan Bill next year is regulating stablecoin. In terms of our international competitiveness, others are moving, and the Bill enables the UK to keep up.
I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. I thank our witness on behalf of the Committee.