UK and Italian Investment Services Firms Urged to Update Clients on Brexit

Posted in Brexit

The Italian Securities Commission asks banks and investment firms in Italy and the UK to inform customers of Brexit consequences promptly.

By Isabella Porchia

On 12 March 2019, the Italian Securities Commission (CONSOB) issued a warning notice to UK and Italian banks and investment firms providing investment services and activities in Italy and the UK, respectively, requesting that they inform their clients of Brexit consequences as a matter of urgency, especially in case of a “no deal”. CONSOB stressed that a no deal could lead to the loss of the European passport for the provision of investment services throughout the European Union.

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What EBA’s Outsourcing Guidelines Mean for Financial Institutions

Posted in Brexit, Emerging Companies and Technology, Finance and Capital Markets

The guidelines create new obligations for financial, payment, and electronic money institutions that will impact cloud outsourcing and deployment of FinTech.

By Fiona M. Maclean and Laura Holden

On 25 February 2019, the European Banking Authority (EBA) published a final report on its draft guidelines on outsourcing arrangements (Guidelines). The report followed the EBA’s publication of draft guidelines in June 2018 (Draft Guidelines) and the ensuing public consultation in September 2018 (Public Consultation).

The Guidelines replace the 2006 Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) Guidelines on Outsourcing (CEBS Guidelines) and replace and incorporate the EBA’s final recommendations on outsourcing to cloud service providers (Cloud Recommendations). Financial institutions will now only need to consult one set of guidelines for cloud and non-cloud outsourcing.

The Guidelines apply to a wider range of entities (Covered Entities for the purpose of this article) than the CEBS Guidelines and the Cloud Recommendations, including payment or electronic money institutions. The Guidelines now apply to all financial institutions that are:

  • Within the scope of the EBA’s mandate, including credit institutions
  • Investment firms subject to Directive (EU) 2013/36 IV (Capital Requirements Directive)
  • Payment institutions
  • Electronic money institutions

As a result, a wider range of companies, such as FinTech companies, will now face the challenge of remaining agile and competitive in fast-moving markets, whilst managing the administrative and practical challenges of maintaining compliance with the Guidelines.

The Guidelines come into force on 30 September 2019. Any outsourcing arrangements entered into, reviewed, or amended by Covered Entities after that date must comply with the Guidelines. Covered Entities must also update all existing outsourcing arrangements in line with the Guidelines by 31 December 2021. For Covered Entities that are already subject to the Cloud Recommendations, these deadlines will not have any effect on their obligation to comply with the cloud specific requirements – these requirements will continue to apply as they did prior to publication of the Guidelines. An overview of the status of the Cloud Recommendations, per jurisdiction, can be found here.

While “critical and important functions” are subjected to stricter rules, the Guidelines generally apply to all outsourcings by Covered Entities, including intragroup outsourcings, representing a further widening of scope when compared with the CEBS Guidelines. Covered Entities will therefore face additional administrative burdens that they must balance with the need to stay ahead of the competition. Following concerns raised at the Public Consultation, the EBA clarified in the Guidelines that regulators will not consider every outsourcing to a cloud solution as critical or important; rather the same test applies as with other non-cloud service providers, taking into account “cloud specificities”.

Under the Guidelines, the definition of “outsourcing” is based on the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/565 and defined as: “an arrangement of any form between an institution, a payment institution or an electronic money institution and a service provider by which that service provider performs a process, a service or an activity that would otherwise be undertaken by the institution, the payment institution or the electronic money institution itself”.

The Guidelines define “critical or important functions” based on the wording of MiFID II and the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/565, which includes functions that “if a defect or failure were to occur, would materially impair the continuing compliance of the firm’s activities and obligations”.

To outsource banking and payment services to a third country (i.e., non-EU) service provider, the Guidelines require the competent authorities responsible for supervising each party to have a co-operation agreement in place. Therefore, post-Brexit, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority will need to agree a co-operation agreement with EU regulators to ensure that cross-border outsourced arrangements can continue between the UK and the EU27.

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5 Antitrust Trends for Private Equity to Watch

Posted in EU and Competition, M&A and Private Equity

We examine: increasing focus on non-controlling stakes, burdensome document production requests, heightened enforcement of gun jumping rules, examination of vertical deal overlaps, and ongoing political developments.

By John Colahan, Peter Citron, Calum Warren, David Walker, Tom Evans, and Catherine Campbell

In a continually evolving antitrust landscape, we consider five key trends that PE deal teams should be aware of.

Focus on Non-Controlling Stakes in Competing Companies

Antitrust authorities are paying closer attention to “common ownership”, the simultaneous ownership of non-controlling stakes in competing companies, with the EU’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, publicly stating that the European Commission is looking “carefully” into the issue. While public companies were the initial focus, we expect that private companies will face a similar level of scrutiny. As co-investment deals and non-controlling acquisitions become more common, deal teams should not assume that acquiring a minority position will mean that antitrust issues cannot arise.

Increasingly Burdensome Document Production Requests

Burdensome document requests from the European Commission and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have become more frequent – both regulators are now adopting a more fulsome US-style approach to document production. PE firms need to consider communications made in preparation for and during a deal, and how these may be viewed by competition authorities. Requests for third-party reports, sale documents, and even emails between buyers, sellers, shareholders, and customers are not uncommon. When faced with document requests, firms need to engage in early coordination to handle authorities’ information requests, manage carefully the search and production of discovery materials, and address attorney-client privilege protections and data privacy safeguards. Even if transactions ultimately do not raise substantive concerns, fines can be imposed and delays to transaction timetables can occur as a result of non-compliance. Continue Reading

Are Private Equity Bank Buyouts Set to Soar?

Posted in Finance and Capital Markets, M&A and Private Equity

European regulators’ openness to PE investors is presenting attractive banking sector opportunities, but such opportunities require careful regulatory planning and local issue navigation.

By Carl Fernandes, Hans-Jürgen Luett, David Walker, Tom Evans, and Catherine Campbell

Ten years ago, a PE investment in a European bank would have been a rare occurrence. However, more recently, PE firms have deployed capital in the banking sector, encouraged by changing regulatory perceptions of PE bidders. Apollo, together with parallel investors, acquired the former German subsidiary of KBC Bank NV, which since then has completed several add-on acquisitions, kicking off a series of German bank deals. PE firms including Cerberus, JC Flowers, and Blackstone have also completed bank buyouts, as European regulators become more open to financial sponsors — a trend we see continuing in 2019.

What Is Driving European Bank Transactions?

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Disposal requests from the European Commission — as a consequence of breaching subsidy regulations — and regulatory reform have produced deal opportunities. The emergence of new growth markets has drawn the interest of PE, underlined by Blackstone’s €1 billion deal for Baltic lender Luminor. New technology and digital products have also attracted interest, as demonstrated by Cerberus’ acquisition of French consumer business GE Money Bank. Further, control of non-performing loans has meant less unpredictable downside risk for acquirers, but potential upside through enhanced operational efficiency (e.g., adopting FinTech) and exploiting scalability (e.g., through consolidation). As ever, distressed situations also present opportunities.

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Litigation Funding: Private Equity Investment Opportunity and Portfolio Risk Management Tool

Posted in Dispute Resolution, Finance and Capital Markets, M&A and Private Equity

As litigation funders find new disputes markets, PE firms should consider litigation funding as a growth sector — and as a valuable tool for de-risking portfolio company claims.

By Stuart Alford, Dan Smith, David Walker, Tom Evans, and Catherine Campbell

Litigation funding, the third-party financing of legal costs in disputes, is increasingly common in the UK. As litigants have become comfortable with sophisticated litigation funders, these funders are responding to business needs, and finding new disputes markets. The UK litigation funding landscape has begun to resemble the US, where external parties commonly finance a wide range of claims in return for a share of any ultimate litigation win. In our view, PE firms should consider litigation funding as a growth sector — and as a valuable tool for de-risking portfolio company claims.

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Litigation Funding: Drivers of a Growing Market

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Litigation funding is finding new markets. Increased use of group redress and group litigation orders is creating demand for funding. Following trends visible in American class action litigation, European legal systems are developing new group redress claims procedures. Germany and the Netherlands have well-established systems, and other jurisdictions (including the UK) are heading in the same direction. In fact, 60% of shareholder group actions are now outside the US. Group litigation includes related claims, e.g., mass torts affecting a large number of defendants, or similar-fact claims such as device malfunctions, or the VW emissions scandal. Group litigation can also facilitate unified actions where individual claims are financially unviable, such as shareholder actions. Continue Reading

Will Regulatory Reform Make Cryptoassets the Next Buyout Boom for Private Equity?

Posted in Emerging Companies and Technology, Finance and Capital Markets, M&A and Private Equity

Regulatory guidance on cryptoassets and digital currency companies may lead to a legitimisation of crypto-businesses as an investable asset class.

By Stuart Davis, Sam Maxson, David Walker, Tom Evans, and Catherine Campbell

Recent and upcoming regulatory guidance on cryptoassets and the regulation of companies engaged in digital currency, such as issuers, crypto-exchanges, crypto-custodians, crypto-brokers, and other service providers, could help facilitate private equity investment in this space. While there has been some institutional investment in crypto-businesses — such as Goldman Sachs’ investment in Circle (owners of the Poloniex crypto-currency exchange) and Tiger Global’s investment in Coinbase — this has been a relatively nascent market with most money coming in the form of early-stage and venture investing.

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Drivers of Volatility in Cryptoassets Values

Regulatory uncertainty has been a key driver in dampening the market value of cryptoassets. Regulators around the globe have issued warnings that cryptoassets may be regulated financial instruments, and issuers and intermediaries may require licences. Further, the application of AML/KYC rules to cryptoassets has been unclear. Continue Reading

English High Court Upholds Privilege Claim Over Client Instructions to Provide Confirmations

Posted in Dispute Resolution

The decision clarifies how lawyer-client privilege applies in the context of transactions.

By Daniel Smith and James Fagan

The recent English High Court decision Raiffeisen Bank International AG v Asia Coal Energy Ventures Limited and Ashurst provides guidance on the application of legal advice privilege in a transaction context, confirming that confidential client instructions can be privileged even if the legal adviser has been instructed to provide a third party with confirmations based on those instructions.

This case offers a useful overview of the application of privilege to communications between lawyers and clients during transactions. The decision sets out a number of useful principles regarding privilege and client instructions:

  • For lawyer-client communications to benefit from privilege they must take place in a legal context.
  • Confidentiality is necessary for privilege to apply to communications, but it is not determinative.
  • Communications that do not contain legal advice can still be covered by legal advice privilege provided they form part of a continuum of communications between lawyer and client.
  • When instructing a legal adviser to disclose confidential information to third parties, clients must take care to ensure that underlying communications remain privileged.

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Chinese Court Takes Pro-Arbitration Approach to Validity of International Arbitration Agreement

Posted in Dispute Resolution

Parties must draft arbitration agreements with Chinese parties clearly and precisely to ensure validity and avoid unwanted litigation.

By Oliver E. Browne and Isuru Devendra

A Beijing court recently adopted a pro-arbitration approach in upholding the validity of an arbitration agreement designating a non-existent arbitral institution. While the decision reflects the increasingly pro-arbitration attitude of Chinese courts, the case also highlights the importance of drafting arbitration agreements involving Chinese parties clearly and precisely.

Background and decision

In Chinalight International Trade Co. Ltd v Tata International Metals (Asia) Ltd, the Beijing No. 4 Intermediate People’s Court was asked to determine the validity of an arbitration agreement designating a non-existent arbitral institution to administer disputes submitted to arbitration under the agreement. Continue Reading

Arbitration Without an Express Arbitration Clause

Posted in Dispute Resolution

Arbitral tribunal had jurisdiction despite the lack of an express arbitration clause.

By Eleanor M. Scogings and Robert Price

In Sonact Group Limited v Premuda Spa [2018] EWHC 3820, the English High Court confirmed that an arbitral tribunal had jurisdiction over a dispute arising from an informal settlement agreement — despite the fact that the agreement did not contain an arbitration clause. The court held that the arbitration clause in the charterparty applied to the settlement agreement. On the facts, the settlement agreement was no more than an informal routine arrangement to settle sums under the charterparty. The parties clearly intended the arbitration clause to apply to claims relating to the settlement agreement and, therefore, the challenge to jurisdiction was rejected.

The case highlights the English court’s pragmatic and pro-arbitration approach, but also serves as a reminder of the importance of always including express dispute settlement provisions in settlement agreements and other ancillary contractual documents. Continue Reading