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Navigating the financial storms with a legal lifeboat

A high level of regulatory change continues to buffet a financial services industry already trying as hard as it can to stay afloat in choppy economic waters. To describe the industry as overstretched in such conditions is probably an understatement at the moment.

While the bigger financial services firms have the benefit of in-house or on-call legal teams to lean on and guide the business through the regulatory change maelstrom, the smaller and mid-size financial firms have to catch up, and many are struggling to stay afloat and not fall foul of the tidal wave of regulation that continues to hit them.

Firms in the UK are busy with implementation of, and compliance with, regulation such as the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive/Regulation (MiFID/R) and the Market Abuse Regulation (MAR), with many contemplating the implications of MiFID II. Then there are the upcoming regulatory challenges of Brexit to contend with, the changes in regulation we might see from Donald Trump’s presidency, personal liability reforms rolling out this year, which will be scrutinised by the Financial Conduct Authority. So a lot of take into account, but what has surprised many is the extent to which the full force of regulation is rippling through so many parts of business and the economy.

For instance, the senior managers and certification regime (SMCR) initially intended to crack down on the behaviour of bank bosses is now to be extended to 47,000 firms including dentists, gyms and tool hire companies offering credit to customers. It is estimated this will cost firms £550m, with up to £190m of ongoing costs for the firms involved and it requires the responsibilities of top managers to be spelt out and for them to certify their key staff are suitable for their roles. The certification must now happen annually, whereas, unless they moved roles, originally FCA approved individuals were only supposed to be certified once. While the claims landscape of the personal injury market looked like it was settling down after absorbing changes brought about by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), a second round of reforms are due to come into play there. The Civil Liability Bill will raise the limit in small claims to £5,000 for road traffic accident (RTA) claims and £2,000 for all other personal injury claims. For anyone involved in motor and employers' liability, there are a whole range of issues to consider there.

How to stay on top of the regulation wave and not get swept under?  Automation is one route out of these problems, with more advice being made readily available online; individual advisors and lawyers also making themselves available for tailor-made guidance, large or small, another. In respect of the automated route, the FCA set up an Advice Unit in May 2016 to encourage the use of technology in the provision of financial advice, offering regulatory feedback to firms developing automated models providing low-cost advice on everything from investments to pensions to protection.

Law practices and lawyers around the world are experiencing these challenges – part regulatory, part digital - so are doing more to create a better range of services online, and to target the solo players and SMEs who are often baffled by the legal terrain, and yet have needs ranging from corporate requirements, intellectual property and patent advice, commercial law, workplace and dispute resolution, among others. In Australia, having come from a big firm background, Kevin Aldridge has set up Progressive Legal to offer transparent and tailored services across all those sectors, along with a determination to build lasting relationships with the smaller companies and individuals. Patrick Rogers and his partners at Support Legal, are offering a similar service to startups, having originated in the Middle East and Africa, and now launched into the UAE. In Lebanon I have set up Lexium (which has a global footprint, as I’m currently working in the UK with the government backed UK Lebanon Tech Hub to grow the business), an online hub offering free legal advice and access to approved lawyers who provide tailored quotes to represent clients, while offering savings on standard legal fees of around 40%.

Having helped over 10,000 people so far, ranging from startups and SMEs needing assistance with funding rounds, contracts, employment, IP, and disputes; to enterprise clients and General Counsels needing lawyers with deep sector and practice expertise, without the bells and whistles or baggage of a brand name firm, I’ve seen the full range of vicissitudes assailing the financial services industry. In essence, just as the transaction banking world grapples with the challenge of needing to be open and instant, but has been reinvigorated by fast-paced changes in regulation, rapidly evolving technology, more demanding customers and an increasingly competitive landscape enlivened by new entrants, so the rest of the markets can similarly benefit from this array of stimulus.

While regulatory and other legal challenges continue to test us, at least we have the reassurance of knowing there are sufficiently adaptive legal representatives with corresponding digital solutions now stepping up and being made more accessible and available worldwide to meet all these needs.


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Rami Alame

Rami Alame



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12 Sep 2017



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