Custodians face challenges in identifying underlying criminal investors

Custodians and market infrastructures are being required by regulators to look at the assets they are safeguarding and who they belong to.

By Joe Parsons

Some custodians are facing difficulties in identifying potential criminal investors due to a lack of information capabilities, according a panel of experts.

Custodians and market infrastructures are being required by regulators to look at the assets they are safeguarding and who they belong to, all the way down to the end-investor.

The growing awareness of the risks in the securities markets has caused providers to look at how best to meet regulatory requirements for AML, KYC and sanctions, leading to a new call for harmonisation and cross-industry standards.

Two regulatory actions against Clearstream and Brown Brothers Harriman relating to sanctions and penny stock abuses in 2014 has forced custodians to look at the many layers of intermediation between themselves and the beneficial owner of the security.

However, some custodians do not have the capabilities to gather all of this information, according to a panel discussion at Sibos 2018 in Sydney.

“We are concerned on the level of demand on having complete transparency,” said Goran Fors, deputy head of investor services, SEB. “Even if it is a fund that is your client, are the underlying investors of that fund being scrutinised? If we leave that long-term, service providers will be left in riskier scenarios to track all of the underlying investors and we do not have the proper information to do all of that.

“We do not have the efficiency to provide that or the systems to do it. We are more concerned about what we have to do.”

The majority of custodians operate an omnibus account model as a means of netting and consolidating client accounts. Furthermore, the effort of maintaining and administering segregators is immense. However, the concern is the lack of transparency in the vetting processing when commingling clients.

The problem facing custodians is that while they may have a direct contractual relationship with a single fund manager, there is little oversight in the beneficial owner/end-client of the fund, especially when it comes to cross-border funds.

“For every single portion of a holding or transaction, you could be dealing with a range of jurisdictions. From a legal perspective, you have a single relationship based on your home law. We found out that none of us alone could change this,” said James Freis, chief compliance officer, Deutsche Boerse.

The International Securities Services Association (ISSA) recently published a white paper outlining certain principles where custodians operating a variety of account structures can adopt controls on asset holdings. However, for the principles to be a success, all institutions need to adopt them.

“If one institution is fully applying the principles and another isn’t, there is a danger of arbitrage from that client,” explained Colin Brooks, vice chairman, securities services, Standard Chartered.