As the Jan 2018 deadline for full implementation of MiFID II approaches, US broker-dealers and their EU counterparts remain vexed by looming regulations that seek to parse buy-side client payment for research content and commission payments tied to actual trade execution. In an effort to distill the confusion, ESMA, the UK regulator has provided a recent update to the new regulatory scheme, including a highlight of topics such as how/where global macroeconomic research, FICC markets corporate access, RPA and CSA arrangements and the distinction between ‘free research’ and paid-for research.
Courtesy of insight from Rebecca Healey of Liquidnet, the equities trading platform that connects buyside and sell-side traders from across the globe, “the latest FCA summary, published on March 3, 2017, highlights just how far the UK regulator believes firms are falling short of expectations in unbundling research and execution services. The regulator’s opinion is that poor market practice remains commonplace despite rules that have been in place for more than a decade. In particular, firms are still failing to adequately assess and budget for substantive research that is of value to their end clients’ investments.” Ms. Healey’s coverage is excerpted below, with a link to her recent posting in Tabb Forum.
ESMA is of the view that arranging a meeting itself is not providing material or services which “explicitly or implicitly recommend or suggest an investment strategy and provide a substantiated opinion as to the present or future value or price of such instruments or assets.” (Recital 28) As such, Corporate Access is not to be considered “research” but as a separate service to be paid for commercially.
However, ESMA notes that it is important that the Corporate Access provider prices services at commercial levels and any access provided is not linked to or dependent on payments for research or execution services. Under Article 13(9), each benefit or service an investment firm provides must be “subject to a separately identifiable charge.”
ESMA is of the view that corporate access such as arranging meetings or field trips could involve the allocation of valuable resources by the provider and could influence the recipient’s behavior (Article 12(3)). As such, ESMA expects firms to assess whether corporate access services facilitated by an investment firm are material or of minor non-monetary benefit, and therefore, whether these services can be accepted. If the investor “road show” is freely and publicly open to analysts from investment firms and other investors, it could be considered acceptable minor non-monetary benefits under Article 12(3).
However, to avoid any conflict of interest, an investment firm wishing to meet a corporate issuer can approach the firm directly and/or pay for a third-party corporate access service provider that does not provide other MiFID investment services.
In ESMA’s opinion whether macro-economic analysis can be considered research should be weighed against the criteria set out in Recital 28. In particular, whether the research in question “informs views on financial instruments, assets or issuers within that sector or market” and whether “this material or service explicitly or implicitly recommends or suggests an investment strategy … could be used to inform an investment strategy.”
In ESMA’s view most macro-economic analysis is likely to suggest an investment strategy, unless it is sufficiently general to fall outside the definition of research. If it is considered research, it is then capable of being received (and paid for) by an investment firm, under Article 13.
If not, it does not automatically classify as a minor non-monetary benefit, and portfolio managers and independent advisors would need to make a commercial decision either to pay for this or not accept the service.
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No Carve Out for FICC
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