Why Limit Customer Choice on SEFs?

Last week we published the results of a survey of buy-side firms on proposals to mandate how many quotes must be requested when utilizing a swap execution facility (SEF). The CFTC proposal would require a minimum of five quotes and the entire industry has been waiting to see what the final rules will say on this point.

The survey, which we conducted with the Asset Manager Group of SIFMA with additional input from the Managed Funds Association, indicates overwhelmingly that the five quote minimum requirement will mean higher transaction costs, wider spreads, constrained liquidity, exposing of investment strategies, migration to different markets and use of alternative products that are not traded on SEFs.

Is this what regulatory reform was intended to achieve?

The fact is, the creation of SEFs was intended to provide a third way of trading derivatives, fitting along a spectrum that included the traditional means of OTC derivative trade execution on the one hand and the exchange traded world on the other. Sitting in the middle of that spectrum would allow SEFs to blend the best of both worlds. If SEFs are not sufficiently different from the former or too much like the latter, we would fall short of one of the goals of the G20 and the Dodd-Frank Act.

Dictating, and in the process limiting, customer choice does not seem to us to be a good way to achieve those goals. A minimum quote requirement takes the decision out of the hands of the users of the products with no clear demonstration that better pricing, lower costs or greater liquidity would result.

And who is more able to opine on such matters than the participating firms in the survey? Asset managers, hedge funds, insurance companies, pensions, foundations, endowments, corporates and others, together holding nearly $18 trillion in assets responded to the survey. Does someone other than those institutions know better than they what suits the needs of their accounts and investors?

SEFs can and should flourish, if we get the regulatory structure right. Many firms are eagerly awaiting the final rules from the CFTC so that they can begin final preparations to register as SEFs and launch their offerings. Rigid requirements with no demonstration of benefits, such as minimum quote requirements, will only weigh down these innovative offerings.

Let’s not burden SEFs and their many potential customers before they even get up and running.