Simon Lovegrove, Financial Adviser - Putting up a fence
6 July 2012
The below article first appeared in Financial Adviser on 25 May 2012
The Government’s recent White Paper concerning the implementation of the recommendations of the Vickers’ report on banking reform has drawn much comment in the market. Some in the market, including Sir John Vickers, have criticised the White Paper on the basis that on some points it does not go far enough. In particular, much of the criticism has centred on the Government’s rejection of the recommendation to permanently increase the minimum leverage ratio beyond the Basel III international standard for large ring-fenced banks.
A ring fenced bank will only carry out so called “mandated services” and be prevented from carrying out “prohibited services”. The Government has stated that the only activities that will be defined in primary legislation as a mandated and prohibited service will be, respectively, accepting deposits and dealing in investments as principal. However, in both cases the Government has stated that it will be given the power in secondary legislation to define other types of mandated and prohibited services. The mandated service of accepting deposits is limited to deposits from individuals and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
The White Paper discusses two exceptions to this based on a mandatory threshold. For SMEs, the threshold for mandatory inclusion in a ring fenced bank will be based on annual turnover using the current definition under the Companies Act 2006. For individuals the Government believes that the threshold for exemption will be between £250,000 and £750,000 of “free and investable assets with a single bank”. However, at present the Government has not yet defined what “free and investable assets” actually are.
There are also a number of operational and legal questions still unanswered. For instance the White Paper states that where the operational infrastructure of a banking group presents a barrier to the separation of a ring fenced bank the regulator should require banks to make “appropriate changes to their operations”. This phrase has huge operational significance and banks will need to think very carefully concerning contractual relationships and the outsourcing of group services. It appears to me that banks will need to show that there is sufficient independence in their operations to be able to genuinely say on a default of the rest of the group, that the ring fence bank could carry on.
Simon Lovegrove is a lawyer with the financial services group at Norton Rose LLP