The avoidance of failed trades is now business critical, not a nice-to-have, writes Paul Bowen, corfinancial.
Every failed trade will have a price tag from February 2021.
Although the Central Securities Depositories Regulation (the “CSDR”) came into effect on 17 September 2014, its operational impacts on buy and sell-side firms is just coming into focus. In particular it is the Settlement Discipline Regime (SDR) element of CSDR that will have the most significant impact on market participants.
The SDR reform stipulates that trading venues and investment firms must implement measures to prevent and address failures in the settlement process. Every failed trade will cost businesses. Where a settlement fail does occur, CSDs must impose cash penalties on failing participants. The basis of the penalty is determined by the number of business days beyond settlement date that a transaction remains unsettled. Over and above this, there will also be a mandatory buy-in process for failed trades and the recovery of the costs will be passed on to the defaulting party.
In other words, increased settlement discipline and the avoidance of failed trades is now business critical, not a nice-to-have.
Slipped through the net
One may ponder, when so much automation has been successfully introduced into middle and back office processes over the years, how it is that failed trades have slipped through the net? How have failed trades become the last bastion of non-automation?
It could be argued that current penalties are not significantly punitive or material to attract focus and investment in this process. With the introduction of the new penalty structure, however, non-compliance could result in significant monetary and reputational cost. In a sense, therefore, failed trades were not the highest priority; SDR will have a substantial impact as it formalises the settlement process and gives failures added significance.
Another factor is SWIFT messaging. This communication method has been available for many years yet has not been adopted in its entirety. The custodians instead have often provided failed trade reports, either through portals or daily spreadsheets. The problem here is that all those portals and spreadsheets are different, with the result that the buy- and sell-sides would assign multiple resources to manually process numerous failed trade reports and rationalise them as best they could. The custodians had little incentive to introduce standardisation, hence manual workarounds were commonplace.
In operational terms, there are several obstacles that the industry must overcome in order to effectively deal with SDR.
Firstly, the industry must minimise the cost impact of buy-ins. Trade failures will often occur in illiquid markets where there is a shortage of stock. If a firm is receiving buy-ins in illiquid markets, potentially there could be some large price differentials at a ‘Buy-in-Auction’ at the end of the day. In these circumstances, the premiums levied by empowered sellers are generally significant, leaving the counterparty at fault and with a painful variance.
Secondly, firms must reduce the manual processing stemming from SDR. This labour-intensive administration is likely to include extensive effort associated with buy-ins. It’s not just a case of sending an email; asset managers, for instance, may need to start cancelling trades, rebooking trades, pursuing the brokers for all the fines and so on. The introduction of SDR will mean that businesses will have to deal with far more manual workarounds.
Thirdly, operational teams must prove that they are in control of the settlement process. These teams will now need to report in more detail to senior management on unsettled trades and counterparty exposure. One of the key observations from the Lehman collapse was the lack of information regarding consolidated counterparty exposures. The new SDR regime, while imposing penalties, has the benefit of reducing settlement exposure and cash management for all parties involved in the trade cycle.
In summary, the most significant changes being made through SDR is fining firms, introducing rigour around buy-ins and reporting the worst offenders. All firms need to proactively prevent trade failures, understand their exposure to unsettled trades and protect their company’s reputation. SDR means asset managers and brokers must move nearer to real-time monitoring, compelling them to transition up the settlement cycle and adopt a pre-settlement mentality.
Just looking at trade fails is not solving the problem.
Senior Executive – Operations corfinancial