Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Still miffed by MiFID?

I stole the title for this post from a panel discussion at Complinet's Compliance Conference in London today.

Judging by the number of people in the room (it was half full) they may not be that miffed about MiFID, or perhaps as most of the audience were risk and compliance officers, having to comply with non-prescriptive regulations is par for course.

Admittedly I walked in halfway through the debate, but judging by questions asked by the audience, it would appear that the Financial Service Authority's (FSA) principles-based approach to regulation, including MiFID, is causing consternation amongst risk and compliance officers, who would prefer a more prescriptive rules-based approach.

One compliance consultant chipped said that if firms went out and said what they think the rules mean (as they pertain to MiFID, then that would create a "stake in the ground," which is the safe way to develop compliance in a principles-based world.

Deborah Sabalot, a regulatory consultant, begged to differ however. She reminded the gathered risk, compliance and audit staff that the great thing about MiFID is that it was not non-prescriptive - in other words it gave firms the flexibility to design their own systems instead of being locked into something that was not of their making.

Still it didn't sound like that was what compliance officers wanted to hear. It seemed to be more a case of give us a set of rules we need to comply with and we can work with that, rather than making it up as we go along.

That may be the view of MiFID across the board, however, in the front office where the trading that MiFID regulates is executed, some firms clearly see MiFID as an opportunity to set their own benchmarks particularly around aspects of the regulation such as best execution.

However, for those that prefer the certainty of a prescriptive rules-based world, some form of best practice appears to be emerging, albeit slowly. Although it may take 12 to 18 months before firms' application of best execution under MiFID beds down, one spokesperson from UBS investment bank said any firm that takes a simplistic approach to execution by executing all of its trades on a single venue, are likely to find themselves under regulatory scrutiny.

That is pretty much a 'no brainer,' but other investment bankers raised concerns about additional taping requirements from CESR and the FSA and the extension of MiFID to commodities.

Lyndon Nelson, head of risk at the FSA, conceded it had been a difficult time for the organisation, particularly in view of the Northern Rock affair which it has received considerable flack over. Non-believers of a principles-based approach to regulation are likely to say that Northern Rock highlights the pitfalls of a principles-based approach to regulation.

However, Nelson said the FSA intended to stick to its non-prescriptive guns, albeit gaining some valuable lessons along the way from the Northern Rock Affair, and where requested, he said the FSA would provide market guidance by publishing more information gleaned from its risk assessment of firms, which could then be used by their peers to benchmark themselves against.

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