Financial Regulatory Forum

U.S. SEC warns brokers over market access, sub-accounts in debut “risk alert”


By Stuart Gittleman and Brett Wolf

NEW YORK, Sept. 30 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an unexpected warning to broker-dealers to supervise trading by customers with direct market access, especially customers that trade using master- and sub-accounts.

The notice came in the first in a continuing series of risk alerts the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) staff expects to issue. The staff did not say whether OCIE found related deficiencies, or at what level, in recent exams, or in reviewing the findings of recent exams by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  (more…)

from Christopher Whalen:

The cure for higher ATM fees is competition

Why are Bank of America and other large US banks increasing fees for the use of debit cards and other services?

The short answer is regulation. The Fed's low interest rate policy has a big effect on how banks price all services. Specific to ATM fees, Congress has decided to regulate the fees charged to vendors by banks on electronic transactions, essentially cutting this profit center in half for the largest banks that have $10 billion or more in assets. This fee is still far more than the actual cost to the bank providing the service, but such is life in America’s less-than-free market. Like airlines, the “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF) banks are not really profitable, thus pricing of one product is often skewed to make up for shortfalls in another.

When you look at the TBTF banks, which dominate the industry in the U.S. today, all of them feature business models where monopoly pricing power and the much abused free market operates. The reasons for this are complex, but the power of the TBTF banks – Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup – largely stems from the fact that they remain heavily regulated and protected by these same captured regulators led by the Fed. Thus there is no competition for the services these large banks provide.

Advice for Chelsea Clinton: How to be a good board member

By Lucy P. Marcus
The views expressed are her own.

The high profile appointment of Chelsea Clinton to the board of IAC/InterActiveCorp comes at a time when the individual and collective performance of board directors is being scrutinized more thoroughly and more publicly than ever before. A good board can be rocket fuel or it can be rocks in an organization’s pockets. But what does a  new board member need to be active, engaged, and dynamic?

The principles are the same regardless of whether this is somebody’s first or tenth appointment, and their significance does not diminish with every new appointment either. Every boardroom has its own personality, its own cadence, and its own means of getting things done, and there is no way of knowing for sure how that works till you are around the table. But every board deserves the best from each of its members—long-serving and new alike.

The sooner new board directors are comfortable and familiar with the landscape in which their organization operates, with the challenges it confronts, the sooner they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization and help it deal with its current challenges as well as future-proof it.

The compliance lessons, so far, arising from the UBS rogue trader

LONDON, Sept. 23 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – UBS’s loss of $2.3 billion has hit the headlines worldwide, and while full details of what went wrong are unlikely to be public in the near future there are already compliance lessons for other firms. UK and Swiss regulators have launched an investigation into:

    the details of the unauthorised trading activity;
    the control failures which permitted the activity to remain undetected; and
    the overall strength of UBS’ controls to prevent unauthorised or fraudulent trading activity in its investment bank.

Although the investigation is ongoing, and the regulators have expressly stated that they do not, as yet, have an expected timescale, there are a number of lessons or steps for other firms to consider. (more…)

U.S. SEC finds a new asset class for insider trading: ETFs

By Stuart Gittleman

NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – In its first such action involving exchange-traded funds, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged a former Goldman Sachs employee with trading on confidential information about the firm’s trading strategies and plans he learned while working on its ETF desk.

An SEC official said the facts of the case may be unique. But the element of arbitrage in underlying components of the ETF echoes mutual fund trading probes in 2003 that rocked the industry.  (more…)

Rolling the Dice: Carlyle filing discloses private equity IPO risks

NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (Business Law Currents) - As a turbulent IPO market continues to flail, The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s great private equity houses, is going public. With $153 billion in assets under management (AUM), the guys at Carlyle are no dummies. So when so many companies are pulling back, why go public now? A look at Carlyle’s risk disclosures may yield some clues. The timing of the offering, while superficially curious, may at its core be linked to uncertainty over the partnership’s ability to maneuver in ever-shifting tax and regulatory regimes.

(more…)

Dead man walking: The FSA’s aggressive stance with financial services firms

Pedestrians through Canary Wharf business districtBy Christopher Elias

LONDON, Sept. 20 (Business Law Currents) – If the death sentence of the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) was to earn a last request then it may well have been to introduce a new era of aggressive enforcement as it prepares to hand over power to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

It may have slept through the worst financial crisis in living memory and be about to be put to death but this seems to have only invigorated the FSA in its enforcement actions, as it introduces increasingly tough measures on financial firms. Dead man walking? Perhaps. But beware of those boots, as the FSA toughens up its enforcement actions. (more…)

Banker-author warns overseers to keep ‘extreme money’ in check

By Stuart Gittleman and Emmanuel Olaoye

NEW YORK, Sept. 19 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – The “extreme money” and “voodoo banking” that are dominating the global financial system are too smart, too fast, too greedy, too self-absorbed and far too dangerous for traditional legislation and regulation, a veteran banker told Thomson Reuters.

Efforts to prevent another financial crisis are likely to fail unless lawmakers and regulators understand that the forces that drove the crisis of 2008 go back several decades. While keeping an eye on the past, the overseers should also look for the potential risks of proposals claiming to promote growth, and how they are disclosed, Satyajit Das says in his book, Extreme money: masters of the universe and the cult of risk (FT Press, August 2011). (more…)

Rogue traders will always pose risk to compliance controls, says industry

Traders work at their desks in front of the DAX indexBy Martin Coyle and Alex Robson

LONDON/NEW YORK, Sept. 16 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – The $2 billion rogue trading incident at UBS demonstrates that determined individuals will always be able to circumvent internal systems and controls despite the recent regulatory scrutiny on this area, industry officials said. The case also highlighted the need for banks to think about their reward structures, they added.

UBS yesterday confirmed that 31-year-old London-based trader Kweku Adoboli had lost the bank around $2 billion in unauthorised deals. The director of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and “Delta 1″ was arrested on suspicion of fraud at his desk by City of London Police at 3:30am. (more…)

Tiger Asia case has exposed Hong Kong regulator’s enforcement reach, say lawyers

The latest edition of Hong Kong dollar notes during an exhibition in Hong KongBy Ajay Shamdasani

HONG KONG/NEW YORK, Sept. 15 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – The Hong Kong securities regulator’s legal troubles in bringing disciplinary action against New York-based hedge fund Tiger Asia Management has shown the limitations of its regulatory reach and signalled that funds may be safer operating from offshore, according to a source close to the proceedings. The source, a senior local financial lawyer close to the case, said that his advice for foreign funds that did not need to be licensed and regulated in Hong Kong was to forgo doing so in order to reduce the risk of disciplinary action by the territory’s Securities and Futures Commission.

The SFC is locked in a legal battle over its disciplinary action against Tiger Asia and three of its officers — Bill Sung Kook Hwang, Raymond Park and William Tomita — first taken in August 2009. The SFC alleged the hedge fund and its senior management breached local market misconduct and insider dealing rules during a placing of China Construction Bank shares in Hong Kong in early 2009, earning itself a profit of $29.9 million.  (more…)

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