SEC agrees deal for brokers to dodge worst of Mifid II research rules

Brokers in the US can breathe a sigh of relief today, as the country's securities regulator agreed with the European Commission a way for firms to work around hurdles posed by sweeping new EU markets reforms.

In a move which has been much anticipated by the industry, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it would allow brokers which provide research to asset managers in Europe to accept money for their research.

This change was prompted by the second Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (Mifid II), which is forcing European asset managers to pay a direct fee for research for the first time. They previously paid brokers a commission for their services, and received research effectively for free.

Read more: Mifid II set to slash analyst jobs and shake up the economics of broker research, according to a new report

This old system worked well in the US, but the new Mifid II rules posed a problem for US brokers, who under their own laws were not allowed to receive “hard dollars” – or a specific payment – for research unless they registered as an investment adviser.

Instead they could only accept “soft dollars”, or a commission, for research that was given incidentally in their capacity as a broker.

Without the SEC's changes, this would essentially have rendered US research providers unable to offer their services to European asset managers post-Mifid II.

Market players speculated that this was why Bank of America Merrill Lynch applied to be an investment adviser recently. If so, the US banking giant may be regretting that it did not wait little longer to hear the SEC's reprieve.

Read more: Investment managers predicted to cut research and execution spending by $1.5bn post-Mifid as Deutsche AM and Franklin Templeton become latest to absorb research costs

Market reactions

Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, said:

I am grateful for the constructive conversations with the European Commission and SEC over recent months, culminating in today’s announcements. The outcome represents a flexible solution that respects the integrity of both regulatory regimes.

Jeremy Jennings-Mares, a partner at law firm Morrison & Foerster, said today's announcement that brokers would be allowed to receive payments was “a welcome and pragmatic approach by the SEC to address the upcoming conflict”.

However, the SEC has limited its bending of the rules to 30 months. “It solves the immediate issue, but allows for future regulation once the SEC wraps its regulatory arms around how the US and EU laws will work in practice,” said Jennings-Mares.

Rob Moulton, at law firm Latham & Watkins, added that the exceptions granted by the SEC were “narrowly defined”, and although the firms which fell under its scope would find it helpful there would be others left outside.

Read more: Exchanges and brokers put under pressure as Mifid II incentivises investment banks to get in the game

Full story: SEC agrees deal for brokers to dodge worst of Mifid II research rules: City A.M.

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