The (Ever) Evolving Regulatory Landscape
We approach the 100th edition of the Alchemist in strange times. In the midst of a global pandemic, coupled with Brexit, regulatory change appears to be ‘up for discussion’ once again. Good or bad, regulatory reform is a ubiquitous topic in an ever-evolving landscape. We must stay agile to the changes around us. Reflecting on the last 25 years since the Alchemist was first published, much has catalysed financial regulatory reform – be it direction from the central banks, government policy, financial crisis, European legislation or G20 calls for consistency – the list is endless. Each time, we learn something new about the markets within which we all operate.
Overview of Regulatory Reform
The most notable and talked about period of reform followed the global financial crisis in 2007/08. This was the biggest shock to the markets since the 1930s. The financial institutions that were considered ‘too big to fail’ did simply that. The result was, alongside huge personal losses to many around the world, a trigger for regulatory reform. Regulators quickly rolled out controls aimed to protect the consumer and institutional investor. For the latter, this brought the introduction of capital requirements intended to restore confidence in the financial markets.
The European Regulation, MiFID1, and perhaps the one that elevated the role of the compliance department, though in force from 2007, did little to prevent the crash later that year and the years that followed. It did however implement a standardised approach to European financial regulation. For example, it provided a consistent regulatory framework and determined what was
considered a financial instrument.
AT THE TIME OF THE FIRST ALCHEMIST IN 1995, A CAREER IN COMPLIANCE WAS ALMOST UNHEARD OF. FAST FORWARD TO 2021 AND IT IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO DO BUSINESS WITHOUT YOUR COMPLIANCE COLLEAGUES’ APPROVAL.
The development of MiFID emphasised the importance of the compliance department and its respective experts. At the time of the first Alchemist in 1995, a career in compliance was almost unheard of. Fast forward to 2021 and it is near impossible to do business without your compliance colleagues’ approval. Under the watchful eye of the compliance department, firms responded to the spotlight through transparency measures, including good corporate governance. Yet, to mitigate the risk of a repeat crisis, more needed to be done. Surveillance measures, designed to prevent the systematic failures experienced in the years leading up to 2007, were also introduced around the world. The G20 summit in 2009 sparked the implementation of EMIR2 in 2012, on the back of the US Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. These regulations aimed to increase the transparency of the OTC derivatives markets by using central counterparties for clearing purposes. The number of regulatory acronyms was growing exponentially.
MiFID was later overshadowed by the implementation of MiFID II3 and MiFIR4. MAR5 was then implemented in 2016, seeking to manage market abuse behaviours, including insider trading and market manipulation.
BMR6, aiming to address the risks of benchmark price manipulation, came in 2018. SFTR7 followed in 2020. The NSFR8 requirements under Basel III have recently been implemented in Canada
and Australia, with the EU, UK and US to follow. Lest we forget REACH9 (admittedly, I had to Google this familiar acronym to remind myself of its true meaning and I am sure I am not alone).
Overall, the aim of these regulations has been to provide market stability and promote confidence from consumers and institutional investors. Commodities, and more specifically precious metals, had historically been untouched by regulation. They were soon under the lens for transparency, reporting and behaviours around price discovery, which led to demands for firms to comply or face penalties.
There has also been an increased regulatory focus on supply chains, human rights, the environment and climate change – all directly impacting the commodities market.
THESE REGULATIONS MEANT THAT CORPORATES, NOT JUST FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS, WERE ENCOURAGED TO DO THE RIGHT THING AND PROVIDE TRANSPARENCY OVER THEIR BUSINESS PRACTICES.
For example, when section 1532 of the US Dodd-Frank Act on conflict minerals was introduced in 2010 (Alchemist 59, July 2010, ‘International Regulation – Conflict Gold’), governments co-operated to support the development of the OECD framework on due diligence. More recently, the EU implemented its Conflict Minerals Regulation. Together, these regulations meant that corporates, not just financial institutions, were encouraged to do the right thing and provide transparency over their business practices.
We also have seen the development of legislation to tackle bribery and corruption globally. All aspects of business now require strong controls to be in place to tackle such risks. In the UK, we saw the implementation of the Anti-Bribery and Corruption Act in 2010. Firms are expected to gather information on each counterparty, be it a small supplier or large institution, and also demonstrate that robust due diligence has been performed on each counterparty. KYC is now commonplace throughout all business types, and phrases such as PEPs are part of our daily vernacular. We have an expectation to help to stamp out bribery and corruption globally, and to conduct business responsibly.
Precious Metals and Regulatory Reform
The LBMA Annual Conference in Vienna 2015 was the first conference that dedicated a whole session to regulation. My challenge was not how to fill the time, but rather how to encourage anyone to attend. Surprisingly, on the day, the conference room was bustling. It was clear that the regulatory change within the precious metals market was piquing the interests of many.
Contrasting this with the first LBMA Annual Conference in Dubai (whilst I was studying law at university and not thinking about regulatory reform), I’m sure the market was oblivious to the tsunami of regulation that was to arrive the following decade. Perhaps one of the most notable dates for the global precious metals market was 2014, when faced with the potential risk of a market disruption without an international silver price. The market saw the transition of the silver benchmark from the former fix to the new auction platform.
This was unprecedented change for the market. Yet, we managed to transition a 114-year-old benchmark onto an electronic platform within three months (not without many long nights –negotiating a legal contract at 3am was not much fun). However, despite the challenges, the market came together and LBMA greatly enhanced its standing in the market (Alchemist 75, October 2014, ‘No More Fixings’).
While this may have seemed like the beginning of what was to come, the market was already reacting to what the US Dodd-Frank Act had established. In 2012, LBMA’s Responsible Sourcing Programme was launched, making it a mandatory due diligence requirement for all Good Delivery gold refiners to undertake in order to maintain their LBMA accreditation (Alchemist 68, October 2012, ‘Regulation Update’). In the years that followed, this grew in both significance and scope, with its eighth update in 2018 introduced to continue to address the regulatory demands but also stakeholder expectation.
The plethora of regulatory requirements can be a little daunting. Due to the very nature of the precious metals markets, where gold and silver are traded globally, with the UK at the heart of this, LBMA believes it is fundamental to work together to shape the consistent approach to regulation and ensure confidence in these markets. The regulations referred to earlier have all impacted the precious metals market in some way. We made it our responsibility that the overarching objectives of the regulators were also met through self-regulation. This included LBMA taking the lead on drafting and implementing in May 2017 the Global Precious Metals Code, as well as improving market transparency by initiating the publication of trade reporting data in November 2018.
LBMA HAS HELPED TO INFORM MEMBERS OF REGULATORY DEVELOPMENTS BUT HAS ALSO HELPED REGULATORS UNDERSTAND THE CONTROLS ALREADY IN PLACE IN THIS MARKET
LBMA has helped to inform members of regulatory developments but has also helped regulators understand the controls already in place in this market. We have also seen a shift in our work on Responsible Sourcing requirements and ensuring the provenance of precious metals. Alongside rigid due diligence requirements and audit measures, LBMA holds member firms accountable for improving their reporting requirements.
Returning to the earlier points of this article, we should acknowledge that change and development are always present. The pandemic has rocked us all but, again, we will come through it having learnt something. We will be more adaptable to home working within the industry, particularly so for the financial services sector. New ways have been developed to ensure compliance, albeit remotely, with regulatory requirements. Furthermore, we are now in the post-Brexit UK and await the government’s decision on which European rules to onshore.
Similarly, we have seen the ongoing debate over crypto-currency and how this will fare in comparison to gold, as well as gold-backed tokens. Is there a role for the regulators in this futuristic sphere?
Innovation will certainly test the regulatory agenda, but also perhaps support it through new technologies and platforms that could help with greater transparency, more data and therefore more accountability. What the outcome will be, we shall wait to see. One thing for sure, the regulatory demands are not going away.
1. Markets in Financial Instrument Directive I. 2. European Market Infrastructure Regulation 3. Markets in Financial Instrument Directive II 4. Markets in Financial Instrument Regulation 5. Market Abuse Regulation 6. Benchmark Regulation 7. Securities Financing Transactions Reporting 8. Net Stable Funding Ratio 9. Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation