Introducer Certificates the Pro’s and Con’s

Does anyone else find it so frustrating to constantly provide client due diligence when accessing financial services products or even when accessing legal services?  Is this constant due diligence treadmill stopping us and potentially our clients from accessing products and services?  I personally feel that this is unfortunately the case and in some cases I am aware that this has caused clients to utilise other jurisdictions or miss out on investment or business opportunities.  I believe that there is a solution to this which could add to the attraction of Guernsey as a place to do business as well as allowing clients greater access to the products and services that can be offered.

The current solution is that the regulated or registered business can if the introducer meets the requirements of an Appendix C business, utilise the introducer regime as stipulated by the Guernsey Financial Services Commissions (GFSC).  This allows the registered or regulated business to rely on a certificate confirming identity while promising that the due diligence they hold and maintain meets the Guernsey requirements and will be provided when requested from the regulated or registered business.  The regulated or registered business then has to test the introducer throughout the life of the business relationship, to ensure that the introducer can meet the obligations of the introducer certificate and that the due diligence does meets the Guernsey standards. The unfortunate downfall of this system is that sometimes an introducer won’t adhere to the obligations of the introducer certificate or requirements of the rules governing due diligence in Guernsey leaving the regulated or registered business with quite a headache, and remedial work to undertake.

Where an introducer provides clients to regulated or registered business by the use of introducer certificate, for example an IFA providing 300 clients to invest in various Funds at a Guernsey Fund provider, the introducer can become disillusioned with Guernsey and the regulated or registered business when year on year they receive requests to provide the copies of due diligence for a selection of these clients introduced by them.  This is a burdensome process for the introducer, taking them away from their business, only to provide documentation for which they can not necessarily recover the cost from their client.  Unfortunately some will not want to or be willing to keep their obligations, leading to problems for the regulated or registered business.  The solution to this problem is to undertake a 100% testing programme where copies are provided to the receiving regulated or registered business with the introducer form.  There is only the need to periodically on a risk based approach go back to the introducer to confirm that the clients details have not changed during the life of the business relationship, such as the address, and if the details have changed that the copies of the updated due diligence are provided.  Undertaking this approach allows the regulated or registered business potentially less risk as the due diligence will already have been assessed and deemed suitable at the start of the business relationship and less risk of the introducer not subsequently meeting or adhering to their obligations by not providing the required due diligence. This allows for beneficial relationships to develop between the regulated or registered business and the enhancement of Guernsey as a place to do business.

Where clients have a business relationship with a regulated or registered business that is over a period of years, rather than a one off legal transaction where the business relationship is only for a matter of days or weeks.  If the introducer sells these clients during the course of the business relationship to another provider or is taken over, new introducer certificates will have to be obtained by the registered or regulated business or the clients will need to provide due diligence in order that the rules of the GFSC can be met.  Therefore I would always recommend for these longer term business relationships that due diligence is obtained rather than relying on the introducer certificate.

The rules issued by the GFSC state that clients who are introduced cannot then be introduced again by the regulated or registered business e.g. no introducer chains.  This can lead to the issues of a regulated or registered business unknowingly becoming involved in an introducer chain and having then to obtain the client due diligence, which can have an adverse effect on the business relationship with the client and the relationship with the introducer.  This also has the potential for higher cost to the client or loss of earnings by not being able to access an investment product to take advantage of price and in the worst case scenario the client may miss the investment opportunity altogether.

But what if Guernsey could offer a due diligence depository overseen by a regulating authority subject to stringent audits? Just think if clients provided their due diligence to this depository who then ensured that it met the regulatory standards, could this avoid altogether the need to obtain copies of due diligence or have a testing programme?  This depository could then provide registered or regulated businesses with an introducer certificate which would be more reliable and there would be less potential of unknowingly becoming part of an introducer chain or finding out the introducer was unable to meet its obligations. Could this reduce compliance cost to a regulated business and make Guernsey more competitive, the Jurisdiction of choice? Clients would be able to access products and services offered by other regulated or registered business with ease and certainty without suffering from the due diligence treadmill. Why stop at just offering this service to local registered and regulated businesses why not take an international approach and service other jurisdictions.  This could then lead to an enhancing of our economy while diversifying it at the same time.  We have all the right ingredients in Guernsey to undertake this opportunity we just need the political want to do this. But until my utopia happens please think carefully about the use of introducer certificates, sometimes it is actually easier and more beneficial for a registered or regulated business to get original due diligence and can save time money and cost in man hours to undertake the monitoring and any remedial work.

The Compliance Conundrum

A topic of conversation that often comes up is about “how compliance has become a monster”, sapping the dynamism of a business while slowly choking the new business streams by making the business over compliant. Has the compliance function gone too far and are they now holding Boards and Directors to a compliance and regulatory ransom leading to a loss in commerciality of the Guernsey Finance Sector?

Directors constantly berate me about having board packs that have compliance reports running to some 40 pages or more, how they spend more resources on compliance matters then on the direction of the business and that the compliance function does not assist them in achieving their business objectives. To my mind there is a balance that needs redressing in order that businesses can achieve high standards of compliance, while also achieving the businesses purpose and providing products and services to their clients that are competitive in cost with other jurisdictions.

The relationship between the Board and the compliance function must be one that is symbiotic, both assisting and nurturing one another. The compliance function must undertake suitable and sufficient monitoring of its business and report its findings effectively and efficiently to the Board. This is normally done by either an exception report or in a traditional report style over 40 pages and both have their own benefits and problems.

While using an exception reporting format this allows for immediate notifications of compliance and regulatory issues to the Board. The exception report though can fail to provide the assurance to the Board that the compliance function is suitable or sufficient due to its lack of content and oversight of the business.

The traditional compliance report of 40 pages or more will ensure that the Board can assess the suitability of its monitoring programme and compliance function. The problem with the traditional Compliance report is that its size may lead to regulatory or compliance issues being lost in the pages of the document. I am also aware that in some cases the traditional report format provided so much content but actually lacked the substance required to be provided to the Board in assessing the compliance status and function, a failing for the compliance function and a regulatory failing for the Board.

The compliance function must ensure that it has a suitable and sufficient Compliance Monitoring Programme and the Board must review this document annually to ensure that they are satisfied that it meets the Business and the regulatory requirements for the risks of the business being undertaken. The Compliance Monitoring Programme is the working paper of the compliance function, it shows the testing and findings of the compliance function and allows for suitable and informative compliance reports to be generated for the Board. The compliance report’s to the Board need to be a hybrid version of the traditional report and the exception report becoming more a précis of the Compliance Monitoring Programme, allowing the Board to see the matters of concern while also being assured of the compliance status of the Business.

The compliance function is the adviser to the Board in respect of the regulatory framework, providing advice and solutions to the Board in order that they can achieve the chosen business direction. This is where the business can become choked and the dynamism and competitiveness lost due to the gold plating of a business’s policies and procedures. The compliance function must always remember that it is the Board who decide the level of risk that they are satisfied to work with and that the compliance function is there to mitigate the risk by insuring that suitable and sufficient policies are in place. The compliance function must assess the regulatory requirements applicable to the business being undertaken and ensure that the Business is meeting these minimum requirements. The compliance function must never seek to direct the Board or the Business but to inform the Board what is required and expected of them in respect of the risks that the Board have deemed as acceptable.

I do believe that in some cases the compliance function has gone too far and seeks to control the business due to their own personal views or prejudices. It must always be remembered by all stakeholders in the finance industry in Guernsey that without the business there is no compliance function and without a compliance function there can be no business. It is vital that the compliance function is able to provide the required regulatory information to the Board in a succinct and effective manner in order that the Board can discharge their regulatory duties effectively and efficiently.

It is important that the compliance function provide the Board with first class regulatory advice that is free from their own personal prejudices. This is required in order that the Board can ascertain what the minimum regulatory requirements are and how best they can meet these requirements and make business decisions that will not endanger the Business or its clients. The Board must assess on an annual basis the suitability of its compliance function, if it is not providing the Board with the required information or are making the business lack commerciality by over compliance of the policies and procedures the Board must address these matters as they are ultimately responsible for the compliance function and its suitability and effectiveness.

Getting the right fit for the BRA

Being the holiday season its time to sit back relax and take stock of all that has happened in 2013. Time for any Compliance professional to take stock of the year and to review the key business documents of a licensee and assess if they remain fit for purpose or need to be enhanced.

One such document that requires to be reviewed at least annually is the Business Risk Assessment (BRA) to ensure it is fit for the regulatory framework and the Licensee.  The BRA though is a document  that licensees struggle with and the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (Commission) constantly find as deficient. What lessons can we learn that will allow our 2014 BRA’s to be fit for the licensee and for the rules and regulations?

Essentially the BRA is a high level overarching document that the Board of a licensee must have in place. It evidences what the business is about, identifies the risks associated with its products and services, clients and the jurisdictions that it undertakes business in or through. The Commission have commented on how these documents tend to fall short of the mark, being generic, over simplified and not representative of the licensee.

Whenever I re-draft or assist a licensee with a BRA I take the approach of creating a document that tells the story of the licensee ensuring that it flows into the policies, procedures and forms. I use the BRA to create the framework from which the licensee’s policies and the procedures enlarge upon and stipulate the full requirements of the licensee requirements and the regulatory framework.

My BRA’s look at what the licensee business plan is, the Money Laundering, Bribery and Corruption and Terrorist Financing (ML/BC/TF) risks that the business is exposed to from following its business plan. I then look at how the licensee will mitigate the risks by the implementation of its policies, periodic reviews and training. How it will differentiate its high risk’s from its low risk’s to ensure that a risk based approach can be applied successfully and cost effectively. My BRA’s look at how the Board will be kept informed of the ML/BC/TF risks and what their responsibilities are, from ensuring policies and staff are sufficient to  how they will review the existing and new business.

Licensees often complain that I am stating the obvious in my BRA’s, that the BRA will not stop a criminal or terrorist and so add little to no value to a business. The BRA is not about stopping criminals but assisting in their identification and prevention of a licensee being an unwitting conduit for them, criminals will always seek to abuse the financial system to their own ends. Unfortunately though licensees will be unknowingly utilised by criminals and they, their clients and insurers may suffer reputation loss and in the worst cases material loss. A licensee can never negate these risks in all cases, though the BRA does allow a business to protect itself, and so adds value.

We live in a contentious and litigious society, it is now not the case that a crime has to have been committed, but has a licensee done enough to reduce the possibility of a crime occurring or to protect against being a conduit in a crime as required by the regulatory framework.  The Commission whether on a regulatory visit or dare I say it, when things have gone wrong and Lawyers and Advocates are involved they will review the BRA intently to assess if a licensee has acted recklessly by not assessing or identifying the risks posed by their business. It goes without saying that a licensee who has considered in-depth the risks posed by the business activities and the preventative measures that they have employed (stating the obvious) is going to be treated more sympathetically than a business who did not evidence their consideration of the risks that they faced.

There have been numerous regulatory cases over the last few years that were not about ML/BC/TF having occurred but that licensee’s did not have suitable and sufficient policies or information at hand for the Board or the MLRO to consider and mitigate the risks posed and inherent in their business.  If you need help in assessing or redrafting your BRA the Commission has guidance on what they deem are the minimum requirements. You can ask Consultants to review your BRA and provide suggestions if required. You can simply ask around your fellow peers to see if they can assist or provide guidance.

It must be remembered that the Board of a licensee must take full responsibility and can’t contract out of their responsibility for having a suitable BRA. The Board and the MLRO must ensure that the BRA is fit for purpose and identifies and mitigates the risks while evidencing the preventative measures, and most importantly meets the regulatory requirements. The Compliance professional is only there to suggest what they believe is suitable in how the Licensee has evidence the consideration of the risks that it faces.

Over the course of 2013 a licensee’s business, the risks posed by clients,  products and services it offers inclusive of the jurisdiction that they are associated with or their clients are associated with will have changed.  Now is the perfect time to take stock of the current status of the licensee, its future intentions and go forward in to 2014 with the risk duly considered and mitigated.

Merry Christmas one and all.

The Dark Art

To the uninitiated the Compliance officer is an alchemist who from his Compliance Monitoring Programme (CMP) allows a licensee to reach a gold standard. It is essential that a licensee understands their status in the regulatory framework and environment at anytime in order to protect client, investor and themselves. What are the elements of this dark art of compliance monitoring? How can such a programme assist a licensee achieve a gold standard without the process becoming resource and cost intensive?

From the recent Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC) industry presentations there was a theme running through that for Boards to achieve high standards of Corporate Governance and regulatory compliance had to be aware of the risks that they faced. The detecting of breaches of regulation needed to be identified at the earliest opportunity and appropriate action taken to remediate. The tool to identify the risks and detect the breaches is the CMP.

The Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC)has released this week a “Dear CEO” letter that details the benefits and requirements of an effective CMP.  Though there are many documents and articles on how to create an effective Compliance Monitoring Programme though I believe the guidance as issued by the JFSC  would benefit any licensee in Guernsey.

The Compliance Officer when undertaking the creation or review of their CMP must ensure that all the applicable rules and regulation that the licensee must be compliant with are identified.  The controls of the licensee then need to be matched to these rules and the regulations. It is essential that a licensee can evidence that they can manage the risk of non-compliance by having suitable controls that meet its identified regulatory framework.

The Compliance Officer needs to assess the impact and the probability of non compliance with the regulatory framework.  From this assessment the frequency of testing the licensee’s controls to the identified regulatory framework can be established.   It goes without saying that what is assessed as high impact and has a  high probability must be reviewed more often, allowing the Compliance Officer to effectively place resources to the risk of non-compliance.

It is essential that the Board review the CMP and if satisfied of its suitability formally adopt it.  The Board should periodically assess the suitability of the programme to its applicable regulatory framework to ensure its continued suitability.

In undertaking the monitoring process utilising the CMP the Compliance Officer must not place over reliance on verbal assertions, reports or assurances from other business units.  The Compliance Officer must find the evidence that the controls are satisfactory and that the applicable regulatory framework applicable to the licensee is being met.  The findings of the monitoring must be recorded and the supporting evidence to the findings documented in the CMP.

The results of the CMP findings must be reported to relevant persons at the Licensee and also the Board.   The findings must be presented to the Board and relevant persons in a concise and effective manner confirming the compliance status, areas where enhancements are required and the details of any remedial actions.  This will allow the licensee to assess and consider where areas of non-compliance are identified the seriousness of the non-compliance, remedial action to be undertaken and whether the GFSC should be notified.

The CMP process is cyclical allowing the effective monitoring and risk based monitoring while adapting to the changing regulatory framework. The CMP helps to establish a culture of compliance and assists in providing the gold standard that any client, investor or regulator will want to see.  Not necessarily a dark art but one, when done well will certainly add value to any licensee while providing comfort and assurance to any board allowing them to continually work to a gold standard.

Is Guernsey’s Finance sector in trouble?

There has been a lot said this week of the reduction in the Finance sector here in Guernsey, but is this just the musings of the pessimist? I agree that the sector in Guernsey has shed jobs and lost some businesses and clients since 2008, but taking in to account the conditions of the world economy I think it has performed extremely well and remained stable and safe. The reduction of the Finance sector in Guernsey outside of the world economic situation is down to Guernsey Licensees working smarter, information technology and the use of outsourcing for the traditional labour intensive tasks. The human cost that has occurred has been pushed in to the media and it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the benefits that this streamlining has brought to Guernsey and the optimism we can move forward with.

We have a regulatory system that is respected worldwide and a selling point for Guernsey. New licensees have been and continue to be attracted to Guernsey due to the strength of the regulatory framework. The regulatory system is further enhanced by the ability of the industry and individuals to meet with the regulator on formal and informal basis with ease. We live in an environment where the regulator knows licensee’s and officers personally and understands their business allowing few chances for scandals or poor practice to manifest while allowing good practice and development of products to be at the forefront.

The continuing stance of the Guernsey regulator to engage with industry and to allow us to develop practices and products and remediate our business where appropriate, is beneficial in allowing business to grow while reducing the fear factor of enforcement and creating an open and honest environment. This engagement and regulatory framework allows trust to develop and creates an environment where innovation and creativity can flourish. This has allowed Guernsey to develop itself as a centre of knowledge and excellence that is the envy of many other international finance centres.

I believe that Guernsey is ahead of the curve in respect of ensuring our Compliance cultures and Corporate Governance cultures are fit for purpose for the new world order post 2008. This has assisted The Guernsey licensees to continue to provide consistent high standards in corporate behaviour. There is no doubt that this enhancing of the Guernsey culture was painful at first but this has placed Guernsey ahead of our competitors who will undoubtedly have to go through the same pain as we did, but potentially at greater cost to themselves than we had to endure.

Guernsey in some cases can be more expensive to do business in because of the changes that have been adopted, but should we be concerned? We are now in a world where price reductions are common and consumers want more for less, but do they want a reduction of services or client care? We are now in a society where we need to provide progressive and innovative products and services to the client, where client care and service is primarily the focus rather than aggressive products. Clients are out for value for their money and while maybe not the cheapest jurisdiction available, Guernsey licensees have continued to develop and enhance there services and products, but it does cost money. Clients will justify the expense on the value that can be added to their business by locating to Guernsey, yes we need to be concerned but not paranoid of cost.

The sun has set on marketing a jurisdiction solely on its cheapness, aggressive products or clandestine activities and the new dawn has risen on openness, professionalism, innovation, value for money, while upholding compliance standards with international expectations to safe guard our clients and their businesses. The Guernsey finance sector is well place to continue to develop and be a player in the international finance sector and is in great shape now for 2014 and the future.