FCA Fines Aberdeen £7.2m for Client Money Breaches

On 3 September 2013, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published a press release announcing the final notice it has issued to Aberdeen Asset Managers Limited and Aberdeen Fund Management Limited (“Aberdeen”), fining the firm £7,192,500 for breaches of the FCA’s client money rules.  This fine included a 30% discount for early settlement by Aberdeen.

Over a three year period from 31 August 2008 to 31 August 2011, Aberdeen breached Principle 3 (management and control) and Principle 10 (protection of client assets) of the FCA’s Principles for Businesses.  The firm failed to recognise that money held on behalf of clients in Money Market Deposits (MMDs) with third party banks were subject to the FCA’s client money requirements set out in Chapter 7 of the Client Assets Sourcebook (CASS).  As a result, Aberdeen breached rules 7.3.1R, 7.3.2R, 7.6.1R, 7.6.2R and 7.8.1R in CASS.

Under the client money requirements, firms are required to protect money held on behalf of its clients in the event of firm failure.  Aberdeen failed to:

  • Provide appropriate trust letter notifications to the banks and did not obtain acknowledgements confirming the client money trust status of the deposited monies from those banks;
  • Provide consistent account naming conventions when setting up accounts, creating uncertainty over ownership of those accounts.

The net result was that an average daily balance of approximately £685 million had been at risk but no actual loss of client money was suffered.  However had the firm become insolvent, severe delays and complications in the distribution of client money would have resulted.

Aberdeen’s failings highlight the importance of identifying and protecting client money.  In this regard, a CASS Resolution Pack (CASS RP) represents a useful and readily available compliance tool.  In providing a convenient snap shot of the state of a firm’s CASS compliance, not only does it assist an Insolvency Practitioner in locating and returning client money, but it also highlights immediate and ongoing deficiencies in a firm’s CASS procedures.  Implementing prompt remedial action with respect to CASS deficiencies highlighted during the creation and maintenance of a CASS RP will help avoid the high price, both in terms of monetary fines and reputational damage, that was experienced by Aberdeen in this case.

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FCA Update on RRP and CASS

On 26 April 2013, the FCA published Policy Development Update No 157.  This summarises the anticipated publications dates for various pieces of regulatory guidance.  Of note are the following:

  • a policy statement (PS12/5) to CP11/16 on recovery and resolution plans, due for publication in Q2 2013;
  • a policy statement to part 2 of CP12/22 on the client assets regime (multiple client money pools), due for publication in Q2 2013 (had previously been noted as “TBD”); and
  • a policy statement to CP12/20 on client money rules for insurance intermediaries, due for publication in Q3/Q4 2013.

Webinar on CASS RP for Insurance Intermediaries

On 16 April 2013 I am a guest speaker in a webinar being given by the Forum for Regulatory Change.  The presentation will focus on the future requirements for insurance intermediaries to prepare and maintain CASS Resolution Packs.  It will summarise the law in this area as it applies to insurance intermediaries and will leverage off the practical experience we have derived from implementing CASS Resolution Packs for banks and investment firms.

The event is free and you can register here.

CASS Resolution Pack Compliance: Don’t Expect Sympathy From the FSA

On 20 November 2012, the FSA published a speech given by Richard Sutcliffe, Head of the Client Assets Unit at the FSA on the background and purpose of the unit he leads and its future policy initiatives.

The speech underlined the priority given by the FSA to improving the client assets regime.  Mr Sutcliffe noted that there are over £9.7 trillion of custody assets within the UK, the protection of which is crucial if the FSA is to meet its objectives of protecting consumers and enhancing the integrity of UK markets.  In his words, CASS compliance is “not a regulatory fad, it is a fundamental duty” owed to customers.

The Client Assets Unit was created in the wake of the Lehman collapse and since that time has initiated a number of policy reforms, including:

  • the stratification of firms into “small”, “medium” or “large” based on the value of their holdings;
  • the requirement for all medium and large firms to submit a monthly Client Money & Assets Return; and
  • the introduction of the CF10a role – the dedicated control function with responsibility for client money compliance in all medium and large firms.

Mr Sutcliffe made clear that the FSA actively uses all of the material generated by firms and takes the issues of quality and accuracy of data very seriously.  Whilst acknowledging that progress has been made, he noted that concerns regarding CASS compliance remain – particularly the continuing failure of firms to properly document trust arrangements.  In light of these concerns the FSA will intensify its supervisory approach in the future, visiting more firms and returning to other firms to cover different issues or check on progress.

On the subject of CASS Resolution Packs, the FSA is aware of the costs involved in creating and maintaining a CASS Resolution Pack and the tight compliance deadlines.  However, it is not particularly sympathetic to the concerns of firms in this area on account of the fact that it is only asking for documentation which, in the main, should have been available to firms before the introduction of the CASS Resolution Pack requirements.

A CASS Resolution Pack provides a convenient snap shot of the state of a firm’s CASS compliance, which can be requested by the FSA at any time.  Given this, the particular concerns that that the FSA has regarding trust notifications and acknowledgments (which are required to be an immediately available component of every CASS Resolution Pack) and the stated intention to increase the intensity of future supervision, firms would be well advised to ensure that their approach to CASS Resolution Pack compliance is on a firm footing before the FSA next come knocking.

Congratulations on the Completion of your CASS Resolution Pack! Now comes the hard part…

Introduction

Today marks the deadline for completion of a CASS Resolution Pack with respect to every investment firm to which CASS Chapter 6 (custody rules) or Chapter 7 (client money rules) applies.

The CASS Resolution Pack regulations are documented in PS12/6, published by the FSA in March 2012.  They require a firm to collate certain information regarding its handling of client money and safe custody assets that would be of use to an insolvency practitioner in the event of the firm’s failure.  The purpose of the rules is to facilitate the return of client money and safe custody assets to clients more quickly than is currently the case.

The Burden of Maintenance

At least in theory, the creation of a CASS Resolution Pack is a reasonably simple exercise.  However, in practice, the CASS Resolution Pack requirements imply a significant ongoing maintenance burden on firms due to the nature of the documentation forming part of the pack and the requirements regarding retrieval and updating of the pack’s contents.

The ’48 Hour Rule’

The documentation forming part of a CASS Resolution Pack must be capable of being retrieved within 48 hours of (a) the appointment of an insolvency practitioner or (b) the request of the FSA, irrespective of whether the firm in question is a going concern or has entered into insolvency/resolution.  It is worth noting that the 48 hour period continues to run whether the days in question are business days or non-business days. Moreover, where documents are held by a member of the firm’s group, the firm must have adequate arrangements in place to ensure that documents are still delivered within the 48 hour timescale.

The ‘Immediately Retrievable’ Rule

Certain documentation must be capable of being retrieved immediately so as to assist an insolvency practitioner in identifying and freezing client assets.  Additionally, firms should note that the FSA may rely on the inability of a firm to provide ‘immediately retrievable’ documentation as tending to establish that the firm is in contravention of the general requirement that documents be retrievable within 48 hours.

Inaccuracies and Corrections

Firms must ensure that the contents of a CASS Resolution Pack are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the pack remains accurate.  In addition, material inaccuracies in the content of any new documentation required to be produced as a result of the CASS Resolution Pack rules must be corrected within 5 business days of the inaccuracy arising.

The Future

To date, many firms have put in place a tactical, rather than strategic, solution to the issue of CASS Resolution Packs.  These first generation CASS Resolution Packs are generally created in MS Word or MS Excel.  Whilst easy to create and being fully compliant with the regulations, these products suffer from multiple user and data integrity issues.  Moreover, they are likely to come under further strain as recently proposed changes to the CASS regime, in particular the ability to create multiple legally and operationally separate client money pools and sub-pools, increase yet further the burden associated with maintaining a CASS Resolution Pack.  As a result, they are not well suited to being the foundation stone upon which an efficient and robust CASS Resolution Pack maintenance policy can be built.

However, the future is almost upon us.  We are already starting to see the emergence of second generation CASS Resolution Packs in the form of bespoke CASS RP databases.  In terms of speed and efficiency of updating, multiple-user access and data integrity, the longer-term advantages of these products is clear.  However, the main driver behind this development is not primarily the question of maintenance, but rather the appreciation of the value of a robust CASS Resolution Pack as a risk management tool, used to identify weakness in existing client money processes.  Indeed, discussions are already turning to the creation of third generation CASS Resolution Packs – being CASS Resolution Packs the contents of which are drawn automatically from existing systems and update, at least in part, on a semi-automatic basis.  It is at this point that the true value of the CASS Resolution Pack, as a competitive advantage tool demonstrating the robustness of client money systems and used in the marketing of a firm to new and existing clients, will be fully realised.

CASS Resolution Pack Seminar

I will be presenting a half-day workshop on CASS Resolution Packs on 29 November 2012 as part of the Infoline Client Assets & Client Money Protection Conference.  The workshop will address a number of topics, including:

  • The background to CASS RP;
  • The CASS RP regulations;
  • Implementing a CASS RP;
  • The form of a CASS RP;
  • Future FSA initiatives and their effect on CASS RP planning; and
  • The extension of CASS RP regulations to insurance intermediaries.

Finally, we will also be demonstrating a CASS RP database, and discussing the advantages of this solution over more manual forms of CASS RP.

As a speaker, I am entitled to offer a 20% discount to contacts, colleagues and clients.  Please just drop me a line at michael.beaton@drsllp.com if you would like to take advantage of this.

Hope to see you there.

Michael.

Recent Developments Highlight the Importance of the CASS Resolution Pack

Introduction

The FSA regards the protection of client money and assets (CASS) as one of the fundamental issues facing the financial services industry.  The failure of Lehman Brothers and MF Global served only to force the subject of CASS compliance yet higher up the FSA’s list of priorities.  Two recent events have brought CASS issues back into the news and highlighted the importance of creating a robust and scalable solution to the issue of CASS Resolution Pack (CASS RP) maintenance, as well as the role which the CASS RP can play in ensuring general CASS compliance.

CP12/22: Client assets regime

On 6 September 2012, the FSA published CP12/22, a combined Consultation Paper and Discussion Paper on changes to the CASS regime necessary to comply with the segregation and porting requirements of EMIR as well as the wider review of the CASS regime which is currently under way.

Under current CASS rules, the failure of a firm triggers a “primary pooling event”, following which all client money held by that firm is pooled pending distribution.  In an effort to comply with the requirements of Article 48 of EMIR, which requires segregation of client assets so as to facilitate porting, the FSA intends to allow firms to operate multiple legally and operationally separate client money pools and sub-pools.  In the event of insolvency, each pool would be distributed rateably to its particular beneficiaries.  All client money not held in a pool would form part of a general client money pool, in accordance with current CASS rules.

The FSA believes that multiple pools would allow firms to insulate clients from other clients with a greater risk appetite, or from the risks associated with more complex business lines.  As such, clients could be protected from exposure to delays in the return of client money and the potential for shortfalls in the general client money pool.

It is intended that there should be a great amount of flexibility in the way in which the pools are created.  So, for example, a firm could establish pools by reference to a business unit, such as Prime Brokerage.  Alternatively, a clearing member could operate separate pools of client money comprising (i) the margin held for a client in a client account at a CCP, and (ii) the client money held for that client by the clearing member itself.  If the clearing member subsequently became insolvent, the pooling would allow an insolvency practitioner to make the margin held by the clearing member available in order to facilitate porting.

BlackRock Fined for Breaches of CASS Rules

On 11 September 2012, the FSA published a final notice relating to the £9,533,1000 fine it had imposed on BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Ltd for failure to adequately protect client money in the period between October 2006 and March 2010.  This fine included a 30% discount for early settlement by BlackRock.

The specific failings of BlackRock related to the requirement to provide notification and obtain acknowledge of the trust status of client money placed on deposit.  The net result was that an average daily balance of approximately £1.36 billion had been at risk with the banks at which deposits had been made.

Conclusion

It is anticipated that the pooling arrangements proposed within CP12/22 will be finalised early in 2013.  Thereafter, it is expected that there will be a strong demand for segregated pooling from clients.  A rapid and large increase in the number of client money pools implies a degree of cost and administrative burden on firms providing this service due to the fact that they will be required to ensure that the segregation provisions of CASS 7.4 and the record keeping and reconciliation (both internal and external) requirements of CASS 7.6 apply to the general pool and to each sub-pool created.  Given that these requirements also track into a firm’s CASS RP, and the aggressive deadlines which apply to the updating of the information contained within a CASS RP, it is important to implement a robust and scalable solution to the initial form of a CASS RP and ensure that an appropriate amount of resource is committed to its maintenance.

The FSA press release accompanying the publication of the BlackRock fine reiterated that the identification and protection of client money should be at the top of every firm’s agenda.  In this regard, a CASS RP represents both a risk and a benefit to firms.  Risk arises from the fact that a CASS RP provides a convenient snap-shot of the state of a firm’s CASS compliance, which can be requested by the FSA at any time.  As such, in future, it will become far easier for the FSA to identify failings such as those affecting BlackRock and levy fines accordingly.  However, benefits arise if firms view the CASS RP as an internal risk management tool, highlighting areas of weakness or non-compliance with respect to CASS issues.  Being relatively self-contained, the CASS RP regulations are fairly easy to implement and yet provide good protection with respect to both client assets and a firm’s reputation.  In an environment of shrinking budgets, it is tempting to view the CASS RP as being of secondary importance.  However, if the BlackRock affair highlights anything, it is the price that can be paid for failing to heed the repeated warnings of the FSA regarding the importance of client money issues and the need to implement robust procedures with respect to all aspects of the client money process.