The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) published two complementary assessments of the regulatory coverage of crypto-assets under existing EU legislation and also set out their advice to the European Commission on potential policy initiatives in the future.Read More
Following the rapidly increasing use of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) issued two statements to warn investors on ICOs’ risks and to encourage companies involved in ICOs to comply with the relevant European legislation.
ESMA defines an ICO as “an innovative way of raising money from the public, using coins or tokens”. In an ICO, businesses issue tokens and sell them in exchange for traditional, or more often, virtual currencies like Bitcoin or Ether. The tokens are created and disseminated using distributed ledger or blockchain technology (DLT).
The European Commission (EC) has published the summary of contributions to its ‘Public Consultation on FinTech: a more competitive and innovative European financial sector’. The consultation, conducted in spring 2017, sought stakeholders’ input to further develop the EC’s approach towards technological innovation in financial services. More than 200 respondents provided their views on FinTech’s legal, regulatory and policy aspects.
Respondents favoured a European Union (EU) policy approach to FinTech guided by the principles of technological neutrality, proportionality and integrity, as well as “same service, same risk, same rule” to ensure a level playing field among market players. The need to maintain an open dialogue between regulators, supervisors and the industry was emphasised. Most respondents expressed broad support for an EU framework for crowdfunding and peer-to-peer financing and convergence across the EU on how supervisors handle licencing, outsourcing, and support for innovation (e.g. innovation hubs).
By Judith Rinearson and Rizwan Qayyum
On July 27 2017, the European Banking Authority (EBA) published the Final Guidelines (the Guidelines) on major incident reporting under the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2). The Guidelines were developed in conjunction with the European Central Bank (ECB), and are addressed to all payment services providers and competent authorities within the 28 European Union Member States. With the expected implementation of PSD2 in January 2018, the Guidelines further contribute to the objective of the PSD2 aiming to minimize disruption to its users, payment service providers and the systems.
A senior official at the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has given a speech on “The Adoption of RegTech within the Financial Services”. Patrick Armstrong is the Senior Risk Analysis Officer, Innovation and Products Team at ESMA and gave the speech on 16 May at a RegTech conference in London.
Mr Armstrong identified three risks of RegTech:
- Disintermediation – when collaborating with RegTech firms, financial institutions cannot delegate responsibility for their compliance and risk management activities. Instead, the ultimate responsibility remains with the regulated financial institution. While greater specialisation brings efficiency gains, it means there is a risk that full oversight does extend all the way down the value chain. Additionally, while established financial firms have experienced compliance staff, this may not be true of all new entrants in the sector, who may be unaware of exactly how far their responsibility extends.
- Digital Security – a major concern across sectors, and of course security needs are especially acute in the financial sector. One can argue that the migration to a digital centralized data infrastructure increases a firm’s vulnerability to attack, theft and fraud. We must develop mind sets in which client data is viewed with the same level of security as that given to money placed in secure vaults. To achieve this, we may need to promote increased real-time collaboration between financial sector institutions on cyber security matters.
- Migration Risk – the differential adoption of new technology. Failure on the part of market participants to adapt to the newer digitalized infrastructure presents business risk that may separate winners from losers in the coming years. As well, failure to adapt to a more automated regulatory compliance process may leave participants with platforms ill-suited for the current regulatory framework. For their part, regulators must migrate to a digital based supervisory process, only then can they cope with the volume of data they will soon receive.
Just as FinTech is introducing changes to the way in which market participants offer their services, so too Mr Armstrong saw that RegTech may alter the way in which financial institutions and regulators comply and supervise. Implemented correctly and monitored effectively, Mr Armstrong recognised that RegTech has the potential to improve a financial institution’s ability to meet regulatory demands in a cost efficient manner. Similarly, as a regulator, ESMA is constantly looking for tools to improve the way in which it can better supervise market behaviour. Provided both parties manage this process of change suitably, he thought they can work towards putting in place an effective, fair and transparent financial services sector that stimulates growth and benefits society as a whole.
The European Commission recently announced that it is working on setting up an EU blockchain observatory. This will be a pilot project to build up technical expertise and regulatory capacity on topics related to blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT).
The EU blockchain observatory is being developed under the framework of the European Commission’s Task Force on FinTech, which was established following the adoption by the European Parliament of an own-initiative report on virtual currencies on 26 May 2016. Co-chaired by the European Commission’s Directorate Generals on Financial Services (DG FISMA) and on the Digital Single Market (DG CONNECT), the Task Force was set up in November 2016 to explore policy responses to FinTech. It is expected to deliver its final recommendations in the course of 2017.
On 23 March 2017, the European Commission launched a public consultation on FinTech, seeking feedback on how to create “a more competitive and innovative European financial sector”. This represents an important step in the Commission’s work to define a European policy and regulatory framework for FinTech, after the set up of an internal Financial Technology Task Force in November last year.
The European Commission outlines three core principles that will underpin its FinTech approach: i) technological neutrality; ii) proportionality; and iii) market integrity.
Australia’s equity crowdfunding reforms have been delayed due to the Australian federal election. After passing the House of Representatives back in February the Corporations Amendment (Crowd-sourced Funding) Bill 2015 lapsed in May when Parliament was dissolved. As the Turnbull Government was returned to power at the election it is likely the Bill will be reintroduced shortly. While crowdfunding changes have stalled in Australia developments have been continuing in the rest of the world .
Easier crowdfunding for FinTech start-ups in the USA has moved a step closer. The Fix Crowdfunding Act and the Supporting America’s Investors Act easily passed through the US House of Representatives on 6 July 2016 with bipartisan support and will now be introduced in the Senate. The Fix Crowdfunding Act will increase the maximum amount of money that a start-up can raise through crowdfunding from US$1 million to US$5 million. The Supporting America’s Investors Act increases the number of people allowed to invest in a qualifying venture capital fund from 100 up to 500. Read More
By Tyler Kirk
On June 21, 2016, some of Europe’s largest financial institutions announced they had entered into a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) under which they would work together to develop a blockchain-based settlement procedure for over the counter (“OTC”) transactions. According to the MOU, several European legislators are concerned that small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”) do not have adequate access to capital. The MOU seeks to solve such concerns by bringing together European exchanges and investment banks under a common mandate to reduce the cost for SMEs raising capital in the OTC market. Blockchain may be the solution they are looking for.
Generally, blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger, and its creation established a new class of digital ledgers called, distributed ledger technology (“DLT”). Unlike current financial settlement systems, DLTs are more efficient because all transactions are mathematically provable and do not require a multi-day verification process. DLT protocols use encryption combined with distributed copies of the ledger to replace the need for a third-party to serve as the ledger’s custodian. In short, DLTs create an immutable record of the truth arrived at through distributed consensus.
The focus in marketplace lending appears to be shifting to small business loans recently and it is clear that small business loans are big business. The European Investment Bank has agreed to make a £100 million investment in small business loans originated through Funding Circle in the UK as part of its priority to improve access to finance for small and medium businesses. In the US marketplace lenders originated around US$1.9B in 2015 up nearly 60% from 2014.
The increased volume of small business loans has not escaped the notice of US federal regulators. There are concerns that sometimes small businesses are essentially individual entrepreneurs and may not have any more tools than consumers to assess the terms of loans offered to them. The US Treasury’s recent white paper, Opportunities and Challenges in Online Marketplace Lending, made a number of recommendations including that more robust small business borrower protections and effective oversight be introduced for online marketplace lenders. A number of regulators including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission were contributors to that paper.