There was standing room only at Cabot Hall, the venue for Finextra's annual City Technologies conference and exhibition Finexpo, which took place in London's Docklands, Thursday. Delegates from major investment banks, asset management firms and hedge funds crammed in to hear the latest viewpoints on key industry issues and to try out the latest technology on a sold-out exhibition floor.
Visitors to the show were urged to take a more proactive approach to information gathering and collaborative working, to prepare themselves for changes in the competitive and regulatory landscape, and to improve operational resilience to prepare for pandemics, natural disasters or possible attacks on the financial infrastructure. With so many things to worry about, it's perhaps no surprise that the busiest sessions were those presented by the likes of HSBC, DrKW and the London Stock Exchange, as delegates looked to learn from the experiences of their industry colleagues and infrastructure providers.
One of the big unknowns discussed at the event was the impact of the looming EU Directive on Markets in Financial Instruments (MiFID), which was touched upon in many presentations. One question was how many organisations trading off their own account would be categorised as systematic internalisers under the new regulation, and as a result, what the total cost would be to the industry. Also, because there is a lack of central definition, a possible scenario was raised where each national regulator may interpret the criteria for internalisers differently, and so there may not be a level playing field across nations.
But this lack of central direction might not expand across all features of MiFID. Bob Fuller, IT director, IT strategy, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein and co-chair MiFID JWG IT subject group, says: "There have been a lot of calls to make MiFID a directive rather than a regulation, so each marketplace can do its own thing. It hasn't worked. The battle seems to have been lost. It will be a regulation. It will be more costly and much more difficult to implement. But from an IT perspective it may be easier eventually because we'll have the same systems across 28 countries.
There will be enforcement too, he warned: "From a regulation point of view, circumstantial evidence points to it being the European Commission or European Court of Justice that imprisons or fines. [European Commissioner] Charlie McGreevy has more ability to put your CEO in prison than Tony Blair does."
The payments industry, also, has its own regulatory concerns in the form of the EU-wide push to create a Single Euro Payments Area (Sepa). Here, the unknowns include the future of existing national ACHs and card infrastructures.
"By 2010 all of the clearing houses and direct debit structures in Europe will be ripped apart," says Chris Skinner, research director, TowerGroup Europe. "They'll be replaced by new ones that are able to do seamless cross-border payments, acting as a pan-European clearing house (PE-ACH) or pan-European direct debit (PE-DD). But between 2006 and 2010 there will be EUR10 billion spent by banks on connecting to evolving infrastructures that might not be around post-2010."
But one impact of Sepa that is known is the major margin erosion that banks face. ABN Amro for example expects EUR29 billion in margin erosion, just from the eurozone, as a result of the changes.
Another area that delegates were keen to get a progress report on was the Giovannini Protocol. A framework is being put together by financial co-operative Swift to support the European Commission's wider drive to harmonise cross border clearing and settlement for cash equities, fixed income and exchange traded derivatives.
In its 2003 report, the Giovannini Group, as advisor to the European Commission, published a report identifying 15 barriers to efficient EU cross-border clearing and settlement. Barrier 1 cites national differences in information technology and interfaces used by clearing and settlement providers as a major hurdle to harmonisation of clearing and settlement across Europe.
Swift's draft publication of a framework for a standardised common communication protocol was published in October 2005 and feedback on this is due on 27 January. Andrew Douglas, director of market reform initiatives at Swift, said in his presentation on the topic that the feedback so far indicates good progress in addressing the first barrier. But there is a general perception that less progress has been made on the barriers that fall into the public sector's sphere of influence.
Dr. Alberto Giovannini, who chaired the original advisory group and was participating in a a panel discussion at Finexpo, had a different view: "This is not a continuous process, it's a step process. You might see no progress for a year, and then you might see tremendous change. My own perception is that if you include the nature of these steps in your estimate, there has been tremendous progress. Particularly in the case of clearing and settlement there have been well controlled information flows to all actors in the game, including parliament. I think progress is there, but we have to wait and see. Of course this does increase uncertainty because of waiting for the next steps."
When asked what next steps he would next like to see from the public sector towards addressing the barriers to pan European clearing and settlement, Giovannini said: "We'll see which way generalised remote access will be implemented. That certainly requires legislative changes. But what form the legislative changes will take, it's too early to tell. We're also very keen on securities ownership laws."