The government has confirmed it will look to loosen the ‘ring-fencing’ rules forcing banks to hive off their investment banking and retail activities.
In a statement ahead of what are being dubbed the Edinburgh Reforms for the City on 9 December, the Treasury said it would “release banks without major investment activities” from the regime.
“Leaving the EU gives us a golden opportunity to reshape our regulatory regime and unleash the full potential of our formidable financial services sector,” chancellor Jeremy Hunt said.
While the statement also confirmed plans to give City regulators a new remit to deliver growth and review hundreds of pages of EU regulation, there was no further detail on the package of 30 reforms the government is set to announce on 9 December.
The City is still looking for signs of major changes to ensure London, which briefly lost its trading crown to Paris last month, stays Europe’s primary financial centre.
While senior government figures have spoken repeatedly of the need to defend the City’s title, so far regulatory cuts have been limited to areas such as the Solvency II capital regime governing insurers.
“These reforms will inevitably be compared with the Big Bang. In reality, we’re not expecting an immediate overarching change in policy but rather a packaging together of several announcements which will affect different parts of the financial sector in different ways,” said Peter Bevan, global head of Linklaters’ financial regulation group. “Many will be targeted changes to the technical detail of existing requirements rather than sweeping overhaul or widespread deregulation.”
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The Senior Managers Regime governing the responsibility of top staff across the City could also be in the firing line, according to Financial Times reports, as could the section of Mifid II requiring asset managers to “unbundle” the costs of research from other fund costs, Sky News reported.
Ministers have hinted on several occasions in recent months that the pace of change would be more gradual than many in the City had hoped for after Brexit. Bloomberg reported on 6 December that the government would stop using the terminology ‘Big Bang 2.0’ in recognition of that fact.
In October, Rishi Sunak said he would not form his promised Brexit Delivery Unit nor meet the target to repeal or review all retained EU law in his first 100 days as prime minister, as the reality of resource pressures in government bit.
The following month City minister Andrew Griffith said axing former EU financial services rules for London would be based around a “pragmatic approach” taking advantage of “select opportunities” — another departure from previous rhetoric that had suggested wholesale removals of red tape.
“The banking sector goes into this crisis better capitalised and with a much better set of regulations than we saw in 2008,” Griffith told the Financial Times’ Global Banking Summit on 29 November.
Former Standard Life Aberdeen boss Keith Skeoch conducted a review of the ring-fencing regime earlier this year, which recommended keeping the main tenets of the rules in place, but with a number of tweaks to benefit challenger banks and those with lower domestic exposure.
Kam Dhillon, a principal associate at law firm, Gowling WLG, said: “Whilst deregulation has the potential to boost the competitiveness of UK banks, and the UK financial services sector more broadly, — both domestically and in global markets — we do need to be mindful of concerns around financial stability risks and ensure they are appropriately addressed.”
The government also failed to push through a so-called call-in power that would have allowed it to veto decisions made by regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.
“We are independent but we don’t operate in a vacuum,” FCA chief executive Nikhil Rathi told the FT conference, noting uncertainty was created by discussions over the now-abandoned power.
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