Ensuring CCPs are not TBTF

Last month, ISDA issued Principles on CCP Recovery, a short paper that crystallizes and makes recommendations on the adequacy and structure of central counterparty (CCP) loss-absorbing resources and on CCP recovery and resolution.

These are, needless to say, very important issues in the global derivatives markets, particularly given the rapid increase in the volume of centrally cleared trades. The larger CCPs have become critical components of the financial markets infrastructure and are emerging as major hubs concentrating the vast majority of global OTC derivatives transaction flows and risk positions. Great care needs to be taken to ensure that CCPs are not the new ‘too big to fail’ institutions requiring public money to prevent their failure.

There are a number of important points in the paper. Chief among them: there needs to be more transparency with regards to the risk management standards and methodologies used to size CCP loss-absorbing resources. In particular, industry participants would like to see more disclosure on initial margin methodologies and the process for computing default-fund contributions (for instance, margin periods, stress scenarios used and assumptions made), and more detail on the risks faced by the CCP (for instance, the largest concentrations and exposures to clearing members). Without greater disclosure, it’s very difficult for market participants to accurately assess risks.

In addition, we believe standardised, mandatory stress tests should be introduced – again, to allow market participants to assess their risks and also to make like-for-like comparisons between CCPs. Regulatory input and action would be needed on this.

ISDA also makes an important recommendation on so-called CCP ‘skin-in-the-game’ (SITG). We believe CCP SITG plays a significant role in aligning the CCP’s behaviour with that of its clearing members by encouraging the CCP to maintain robust risk management practices. As such, ISDA recommends that SITG should be split into two tranches – one junior (to encourage good initial margin practices) and one senior to mutualised default resources (to encourage robust default fund sizing methodologies). Furthermore, for SITG to be effective, it should be material. Further quantitative analysis should be conducted to determine its optimal amount and structure within CCP loss-absorbing resources.

Crucially, there also needs to be a plan in place to address what would happen if CCP loss-absorbing resources prove to be insufficient. Regulators have suggested a variety of recovery tools, and in this respect, ISDA strongly recommends that recovery plans for each CCP are transparent and clearly defined. ISDA also strongly supports viable CCP recovery plans – a view that is consistent with regulatory objectives. Central to these plans is the notion that CCP recovery and continuity is likely to be less disruptive and less costly to the financial system than closure.

Another important ISDA recommendation is that recovery initiatives should only proceed so long as the default management process is effective. If it’s deemed to be no longer viable for any reason – for instance, the failure of an auction – then the CCP may have to consider closing the clearing service. Of course, it’s likely that resolution authorities would be evaluating which would be the most effective course of action in this situation.

ISDA’s paper joins several others that firms have written on an important topic that is of increasing interest and concern to policy-makers and market participants. It will be followed shortly by a longer, more technical paper that focuses specifically on CCP default management and recovery.

CCPs play a key role in the global derivatives markets and in the Group of 20 commitments to reform these markets. As a result, the adequacy of CCP loss-absorbing resources and the strength of CCP recovery and resolutions plans are important issues to consider and address. We hope our work in this area is a constructive step in the on-going process to build safe, efficient markets.

A big step in tackling too big to fail

Early next month, a group of 18 global banks will formally sign a new ISDA Protocol that will ensure the cross-border derivatives they trade with each other are captured by national resolution regimes. By knitting together these various statutory regimes, the ISDA Protocol is an important step in meeting a regulatory and industry objective to address the too-big-to-fail problem.

As I explained in a comment piece published by the Financial Times recently, a number of statutory resolution regimes either already exist or will shortly be introduced that suspend certain rights that allow derivatives counterparties to terminate outstanding transactions with a bank under resolution. The idea is that this ‘stay’ will give national authorities time to deal with the troubled bank in an orderly way and avoid the market instability that might occur should counterparties all close out their derivatives trades with it at once.

Those national special resolution regimes include Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act and the European Union Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive. Between them, they will ensure a large share of the derivatives market is covered by stays should a bank counterparty enter into resolution. The risk, however, is that cross-border trades might not be captured by any single regime. If a US bank enters into resolution, for example, there is doubt over whether the stay under Title II of Dodd-Frank would apply to any English law or other non-US law contracts it might have agreed with its counterparties.

Recognising this might hamper regulatory efforts to resolve the failing institution in an orderly way, 18 global banks last month agreed to adhere to ISDA’s Resolution Stay Protocol. The Protocol, which essentially changes the terms of derivatives agreements to opt adhering parties into certain foreign resolution regimes, will be signed by those firms early next month and will come into effect on January 1, 2015. The Protocol also includes a stay that could be used when a US financial holding company becomes subject to proceedings under the US Bankruptcy Code – although this will only become effective once relevant rules are issued by US regulators.

By adhering to the Protocol, the 18 banks will extend the coverage of stays to more than 90% of their notional derivatives outstanding, and this will increase as more institutions sign the Protocol.

Additional banks are expected to adhere during 2015, but not all firms will be able to sign up to this initiative voluntarily. Buy-side institutions, for instance, have fiduciary responsibilities to their clients that mean they cannot voluntarily give up contractual rights. Regulators have acknowledged these concerns, and declared they will implement new regulations on a country-by-country basis in 2015 to encourage broader adoption. In a report published in September, the Financial Stability Board outlined some potential regulatory options, covering both direct and indirect measures.

The first step, however, is get the 18 global banks on board. That in itself represents a big piece in the too-big-to-fail puzzle, and will help put financial markets on a sounder footing.

Cross-border Concerns Are an ISDA Priority

CEO Scott O’Malia reflects on his first weeks at ISDA

It’s now been some five weeks since I joined ISDA.  I have participated in two regional meeting and have had the opportunity to meet with or hear from a number of members in North America, Europe and Asia.

I have been very impressed with your level of commitment to ISDA and your depth of knowledge on key derivatives issues. I have often heard that ISDA’s ability to harness the collective expertise of its members sets it apart. I now see for myself just how true this is.

I am also seeing first-hand how vital ISDA’s work is for its members and for the derivatives markets. Whether it’s the development of a standard margin model for non-cleared swaps, the Basel III capital rules, new documentation definitions or issues around bank resolution, ISDA works to add value in a myriad of important ways.

I know there are a number of issues that you are concerned about and I assure you that the ISDA board and staff are focused on providing timely solutions.   In the near term, ISDA will focus on the completion of a new “resolution stay” protocol that will address the concerns of key regulators, who are intent on putting in place an alternative to the past practice of bailing out too-big-to-fail banks.  I am also pleased to report that ISDA has delivered a single, standard initial margin methodology to regulators worldwide for their input and approval. We will remain focused on achieving a workable timetable to implement the OTC margin rules and provide timely comments on the draft rules that have been recently released.  ISDA’s staff is also working to develop principles around clearing house resolution and recovery in order to be prepared to contribute to the debate that is beginning worldwide.  While our objective is to prevent the possible default of a clearing house, we must have a strong understanding of the recovery or resolution process in the event of failure.

Perhaps the biggest concern I have consistently heard over the past month or so is the importance of cross-border harmonization.  In the medium and longer term, ISDA will remain focused on providing solutions to global regulators to resolve their differences and create an outcomes-based regulatory regime that relies on substituted compliance.  ISDA will continue its advocacy for more consistent data reporting standards across jurisdictions; trading protocols and platforms that aggregate liquidity, rather than fracture it; and consistency in rules surrounding clearing mandates and OTC margining.

Regulators are very much aware of this issue. In fact, the Financial Stability Board in mid-September published a paper stressing the need for regulators to defer to other countries’ regulatory regimes.

But it’s important this recognition of the issue translates into action. Without it, markets will fragment, splitting liquidity pools along geographic lines and increasing costs for end-users. That’s clearly bad for firms, it’s bad for markets and it’s bad for customers.

Over the next month, I will continue to participate in the regional conferences in Asia and use the time to meet with ISDA members to listen to their priorities and engage with regulators to remind them of the important work ISDA performs on behalf of its large and diverse membership.

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