Questions, Coffee and Ghosts.

imagesAre we now being regulated by international organisations and their regulators rather that our own regulators?  Is our regulatory framework becoming a secondary consideration to the regulatory frameworks and group policies of international organisations that finance our community?  Is this leading to the stagnation of Guernsey as a whole where compliance cost rise to meet these external influences rather than our own bespoke regulatory framework? Is our competing and partaking in business in the international or developing world inhibited? Are the policies of the international regulatory community focused on large organisations, with a one size fits all attitude to the detriment of our smaller bespoke financial service providers? Even looking outside of our Financial Service Industry have international organisations, regulators and governments lost contact with local industry and people making them unproductive, uncompetitive and restricted?

Our businesses whether in finance or outside must adhere in some degree, to the requirements of committees and boardrooms far flung from our Island, and the whims of persons who lack connection understanding or appreciation of our island economy and value. Are these institutions aware of our idiosyncrasies as they strive to achieve a mythical norm presented by scoring sheets, algorithms and public opinion of their home countries? Has the international community lost the ability or the want to differentiate between the size nature and complexity of their own and other communities, businesses and financial centres?

A thought struck me while handing over my Guernsey one pound notes for my coffee today, if we print money why can’t we loan money? Why can’t we create a bank of the Bailiwick or other funding enterprises, regulated to our own standards that are acceptable international standards and set up for the needs, development and innovation of our local businesses?  Could we run a bank for the good and development of our community and its financial and non-financial businesses, lessening compliance expense faced by our businesses by focusing achieving the requirements of our regulations? Are we not best placed to understand, develop, innovate and realise the hopes and dreams of our Island community? Could we provide this as yet another string to our bow allowing us to partake and compete effectively in the international community? Rather than fit in to a box could we provide the bespoke solution tailored to our needs and requirements?

WilliamLeLacheurLooking into the last of my coffee as the rain began my mind was taken back to the ocean that I love so much, and yes we are but a drop in the ocean. The ocean has allowed us to raise some of the earliest taxes known, an anchor tax no less for the benefit of our Island and the development of our harbour in the 1400’s.  The ocean was mastered by our forefathers, and none other than William Le Lacheur who imported coffee and went on to influence economic and spiritual development in South America, as I walked through the Arcade I recalled how it was financed by Guernsey ingenuity and innovation.  I headed home past the Thomas De La Rue Public House, named after a Guernsey man who went from humble beginnings to founding De La Rue, who having adapted over the centuries and who have continually innovated while still printing bank notes today. These are but a few of the great historical figures that this Island has had and I could not help but wonder what these ghosts would suggest the same today, what would they think of my thoughts, would they see the potential of such ideas or a necessary to bring the development and innovation required to make the reality of tomorrow?

The ocean is vast and bountiful with a diversity of species and opportunities leading to competition and equilibrium, the loss of the equilibrium leads to the destruction of these unique habitats and species. Could the ripples of this idea radiate out to the benefit of our Island both domestically and internationally or will we be bound by the strangling nets of direct and/or indirect extra-territorial international regulation and policy? We need to look and focus on tomorrow while reflecting on the lessons of yesterday to achieve the dynamic solutions and adapt to the changing world as our forefathers did.

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The need for effective reporting at Board level

The current financial crisis has brought many failings to the forefront, none more so than the failings of the Corporate Governance framework in businesses. The Corporate Governance framework allows for both business objectives and ethical drivers to be incorporated into a business whilst seeking to protect both the Business, its stakeholders and investors or customers. Are failings in Corporate Governance solely as documented in the newspapers and media reports down to the Board’s greed and disregard for its stakeholders, or was the compliance framework in these businesses defunct by opaque reporting by key functions?

We have been lucky in Guernsey to have been insulated from the crisis at large, but I know from experience and we all know from the Commissions industry presentations that Corporate Governance is a key regulatory theme that will be assessed on their regulatory visits to licensees, to assess the risk and reward culture of a business and assist in mitigating these risks successfully. While it has been acknowledged by the Commission that they believe that this is a healthy area, could there be licensees that have put together a good document but the statements made by them do not resemble their Business or their Business’s current prudential business plan or their current regulatory compliance status?

What must be remembered is that any Corporate Governance assessment undertaken by the regulator on a licensee will look at a multitude of documents and reports that make up the core of any Board meeting, such as compliance reports, risk mitigation, internal audit as well as the business plan. These reports must be factual, clear and concise and encompass the whole status of the business in order that the directors can evidence their oversight and rationale for their understanding of the business. Theses documents and reports must all fall into the Corporate Governance assessment by the Board of the Business.

Has the Board questioned the effectiveness of its compliance framework, from the Compliance monitoring programme to the actual board reports it receives? Has the Board allowed the compliance function and other key functions to provide an independent review or are these key functions in fear of upsetting the Board and reporting only what they deem the Board should know or focus on? The importance of independent, full and factual reporting by these key functions is of the up most importance. It is vitally important that those of us who undertake these key roles provide effective reporting on all areas of the Business so that the Board can discharge their obligations successfully. We must not be in fear of providing reports that show areas that require action or gaps as by doing so we only assist the Board in becoming ineffective.

I have been privileged to have worked for and with Boards who have proactively sought to allow their key functions to independently report to them allowing the Board to successfully document and encompass their key functions in to their Corporate Governance framework. This has assisted the Business in the formulation of strategy, goals and effective work practices. For those licensees who I have assisted in remedial work in this area, though it has been hard to start off with the end result has been commented on by these Boards as being beneficial to their Business, optimising understanding and discussion on current and future business opportunities, obligations and assisting in evidencing of why certain opportunities were not followed up.

In my experience the failings in a Business’s Corporate Governance framework are down to opaque and ineffective reporting by the Business’s key functions leading to the blind following the blind. Where ineffective compliance reporting or monitoring has been identified during a regulatory visit the Board are often criticised and this is generally reported by the Commission as a failure in Corporate Governance. While the business of the Business is vital the understanding of the Board as to its current regulatory compliance is as important and cannot be underestimated. If the Board are aware of issues that require to be enhanced or remediated it can deal with them, most of the time hand in hand with fulfilling its business objectives, but to be effective the Board must have the oversight by effective reporting.

The culture of Corporate Governance must not be seen as a tick box exercise or as a regulatory obligation that serves no practical use to a business. I would advocate that a good culture need not be expensive in time or cost but rather a tool to optimise the Business for all stakeholders. As stakeholders move from being passive the need to document and show your culture of Corporate Governance becomes more of a focal point in the overall success of your Business and its cost effectiveness, and in the next few blogs I will go more in to detail on this. An effective Corporate Governance framework adds to safeguarding a business by requiring effective reporting from the key functions allowing for the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit that has become part of our industry to be exercised by the Board in the continual development of its products and services.

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.