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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

RegTech Bottleneck?

The UK's Financial Conduct Authority is rightly proud of its Innovation Hub, Regulatory Sandbox and new "RegTech" approach, which includes "managing regulatory requirements more efficiently, and... how we can best support developments and potentially adopt some RegTech solutions ourselves."

But the figures suggest that either more resources are required or there has to be a quicker route to market for new firms.

Of 413 requests received as at February, about 215 firms (52%) obtained support from the FCA's Innovation Hub. But only 39 firms (18%) have either been authorised (18) or are going through the approval process (21).  And in a recent statement defending its record on processing applications for authorisation by P2P lending platforms, the FCA said that it has only processed 8 of 94 applications received (about 9%).

Something is gumming up the works!

In its statement on the P2P lending process, the FCA bravely claims that it is "taking a proportionate approach to regulation, recognising the need for consumers to be adequately protected and have the information they need". It has a deadline of 12 months to decide on applications (actually 6 months for complete applications). But it's not like these firms are trying to flout the law - they have willingly approached the FCA for approval. Indeed, the P2P lending industry spent years lobbying for regulation of the sector, which was introduced by the Treasury in early 2013 and took effect on 1 April 2014. Yet since then the FCA's figures suggest that over 40 new firms have applied to enter the market and 42 of them are unable to trade because their application to do so is yet to be approved. Another 44 firms are still relying on their interim permission by virtue of being licensed under the previous regulatory regime, and therefore (ironically) cannot offer the new Innovative Finance ISA because they are not yet fully authorised.

How many firms are able to persist against these regulatory headwinds remains to be seen, but the approach seems neither proportionate nor worthy of the FCA's ambition to foster innovation and competition for the benefit of consumers. So far, the traditional players remain pretty safely sheltered behind the FCA's regulatory wall.

Something must be done.

Either the FCA needs more resources or it must adopt a more expeditious approach to granting regulatory approval - a mechanism that allows firms to begin trading more quickly under certain thresholds, for example, as is the case with small payment institutions and small e-money institutions. Indeed, payment services firms enjoy their own regulatory regime (with a 3 month turnaround time for complete applications); and the P2P industry lobbied for that regime to be used as the basis for regulating their platforms - an approach which the French and Spanish have since adopted and the European Banking Authority supports.