H.M. Treasury yesterday published 86 proposed amendments to the Banking Reform Bill. The bill is due to enter its committee stage in the House of Lords on the 8th October 2013. The proposed amendments were widely-flagged and broadly mirror the 11th March 2013 recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Highlights are as follows:
- Payments: the introduction of a wholly new and distinct payment systems regulator, the intention being to stimulate competition by facilitating access to payment systems for new market participants, as well as decreasing the costs of account portability. A special administration regime to deal with cases where a key element in a payment fails or is likely to.
- Misconduct: an extension of the FSMA approved persons regime. If passed, the amendments will allow the regulators to: make the approval subject to conditions or time-limits, extend time limits for sanctions against individuals, impose “banking standards rules” on all employees , and to hold senior managers responsible for regulatory breaches in areas which they control. PCBS chairman Andrew Tyrie, (perhaps confusing Ford Open Prison with Guantanamo), had previously advocated putting “guilty bankers in bright orange jump suits”; as widely expected, the proposals introduce criminal sanctions for reckless misconduct in the management of a bank.
- Electrified ring-fence: proposed new powers to formalise and streamline the “electrification” power introduced at the Commons report stage. The electricity in the ring-fence is the regulator’s power to compel separation of a banking group which breaches the boundary between retail and investment banking. The effect of the new powers is to make the ring-fence into a “variable-voltage” device. Under the proposal, the regulator will:
- issue a preliminary notice, the affected party will have a minimum of 14 days to reply and 3 months to make necessary changes to its behaviour/structure
- failing this and with the consent of the Treasury, a warning notice will then be issued, itself triggering a minimum of 14 days for representations by the affected party
- a decision notice is then issued, which may be appealed before a Tribunal
- a final notice is issued which set s a dead line by which a bank must separate its activities
The whole process will take approximately 14 months and the various notices will be issued in accordance with general FSMA principles.
Bail-in: the introduction of a bail-tool as initially mandated by the European BRRD and recommended by the domestic ICB and PCBS. The Banking Act of 2009 will be amended to include a “stabilisation option” (bail-in), covering banks and investment firms and to be applied by the bank of England as lead resolution authority. The conditions for its use are identical to those of the Special Resolution Regime:
- the regulator must determine that the bank is failing or is likely to fail
- it is not likely that any other action can avoid the failure
- The BoE determines that application of the bail-in power is in the public interest
The bail-in option includes the right to modify existing contracts for the purpose of mitigating the liabilities of a bank under resolution. There are a number of liabilities which will be excluded from the provision: client money, FSCS protected deposits, employee pension schemes, payment system liabilities, debts to a creditor who is critical to the bank’s daily functioning etc.
In short- the electric ring-fence is reconnected to the mains and bail-in is set to become a reality. These and other less fundamental proposed amendments represent a significant extension of regulatory powers. It remains to be seen if they will be rigorously and consistently applied to their full extent.