Speak to anyone who knows a thing or two about the infrastructure that the modern world is built on – roads, rail, power generation and supply, etc – and they will tell you that often the biggest obstacle to its improvement is the ‘legacy’ issue. Once a system is in place, built at great cost and effort, transitioning to improved technology can be challenging.
This is a headache that the derivatives market now faces. Much of the infrastructure used in the handling of data, the processing of documentation, the execution and confirmation of trades and the exchange and management of collateral, is over-complex, needlessly duplicative and inconsistent.
Let’s face it – old systems were developed for old problems. With the financial reforms at various stages of implementation, our members are looking for new solutions to automate and streamline the massive reporting, trading and clearing requirements and new collateral management requirements in the derivatives space. To support our members and address the operational challenges and complexity head on, ISDA itself has reorganized its working groups to focus on developing solutions for critical infrastructures that are now embedded in the fabric of the derivatives market. For instance, we see tremendous potential to move collateral management from faxes, email and Excel spreadsheets to a more automated and streamlined process.
ISDA is in an ideal place to help guide this change. At our core, we are a standards body. We have brought the market together to establish the ISDA Master Agreement and the ubiquitous Credit Support Annex (CSA). Today, we are leading the market to bring a standardized approach to non-cleared margin rules with the ISDA Standard Initial Margin Methodology (SIMM). We are developing new CSAs to comply with the updated segregation requirements, and we are putting together a globally-applied resolution stay protocol to harmonize resolution regimes. Looking ahead, there is an opportunity to future-proof the legal documentation process through smart contracts, and to develop industry operational standards to facilitate the processing of trades throughout the trade lifecycle. Additionally, so much more can be done to modernize and upgrade the process by which we exchange collateral by driving standardization and automated efficiency.
ISDA has canvassed its members on these issues, and turned their proposals into a whitepaper which will lay out some proposed steps toward reform. We have been engaging with members and fintech / regtech firms to identify problems and recommend solutions. To give you a preview, our paper will focus on three specific areas.
- Data: Agreement on formats and identifiers would significantly benefit market participants and regulators. In particular, a robust, granular, multi-use product identifier with strong governance on an open-source infrastructure would remove many systemic inefficiencies and further promote transparency.
- Documentation: Despite a plethora of standard documents published for industry use, it is an unfortunate fact that many documents are still customized between transacting parties. The benefits of this customization are now being questioned, and there are opportunities for further standardization to drive more efficient processing, both within firms and across the market. We are committed to future-proofing the essential ISDA documentation through ‘smart contracts’ that will facilitate the automation strategies being developed by distributed ledger and block chain firms. ISDA has a lot to offer to speed the adoption in this space.
- Duplication: There is a huge opportunity to cut down on the complexity and multiplicity of business processes required to support the same functions within or across asset classes. Standard processing models can facilitate the extension of Financial products Markup Language (FpML) in order to remove cost and inefficiency and provide a solid base for further evolution.
This isn’t about levelling existing infrastructure and starting from scratch. It is about finding a more efficient, less costly way of operating vital processes, and making sure that new, beneficial technology can be brought to bear without adding further burdens to an already over-stressed system.
ISDA will continue to encourage and facilitate discussion on these issues among traditional and new operators in the derivatives market. Our membership is exceptionally broad, and our door is always open to new firms and new ideas. This is a challenge that will be overcome, above all, by cooperation and collaboration, and ISDA will always provide a platform for this to take place.