The transition away from LIBOR is the biggest contract remediation exercise in Financial Services history – and firms are under prepared.

As the Bank of England and FCA lays out in bold font, in their January 2020 letter to CEOs, “LIBOR will cease to exist after the end of 2021. No firm should plan otherwise.”[1] As a result, Financial Institutions have very little time to reduce their “stock of legacy LIBOR contracts to an absolute minimum before end-2021”.

The challenge is this:

1. Firms have to find every reference to IBORs embedded in every contract they hold.

2. Update each contract with fallback provisions or to reflect the terms of the alternative reference rate they are migrating to.

3. Communicate the results with clients

 

This is much easier said than done due to the sheer scale of the task.

LIBOR’s retirement has the potential to impact over US$ 350 trillion of contracts and will require all LIBOR transactions (estimated at over 100 million documents) to be examined and most likely repapered. LIBOR is embedded in far more than just derivative contracts. Every asset class is affected; from mortgages and retail loans, to commodities, bonds or securities. The resolution of Lehman Brothers after 2008 gives some idea of the scale of the repapering effort for each firm – Lehman was party to more than 900,000 derivatives contracts alone.

The scope of the problem is part of the problem. Hard numbers are difficult to come by as no-one really knows exactly what their exposure is, or how many contracts they need to change.

Current estimates say large banks’ may be exposed to more than 250,000 contracts directly referencing LIBOR maturing after 2021, and indirectly exposed to many thousands more embedded in servicing activities, supplier agreements or more.

Only 15% of Financial Institutions are ready to deal with this volume of contract remediation, deal restructuring, and repapering activities required for the scale of their legacy contract back-book.[2] Fourteen of the world’s top banks expect to spend more than $1.2 billion on the LIBOR transition[3].

To approach the LIBOR transition manually will likely require years of man-hours and cost millions of dollars, with significant potential for human error

There are a wide variety of risks to consider.

But it’s not as straightforward as a ‘Find and Replace’ on legal terminology referencing LIBOR. Firms face huge operational, conduct, legal and regulatory risk arising from both the difficulties in managing the vast volumes of complex client contractual documentation but also the downstream impacts of that documentation having been changed.

Conduct Risk: In the UK, the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) regime is particularly concerned with how customers are affected by firms’ LIBOR transition plans. Before contracts can be updated, firms will need to ensure that LIBOR linked products and services have ‘fair’ replacement rates that operate effectively.[1] Firms will also need to ensure that any changes made are applied across the entire customer ‘class’ to comply with TCF rules and avoid preferential treatment issues.

Legal Risk: There is a huge amount of legal risk arising from disputes in what interest rates should be paid out in amended agreements referencing alternative reference rates.[2] The ISDA protocol expected to be published in Q2 2020 should help with, but not solve, these problems.[3]

This is not to mention the legacy contracts that cannot legally be converted or amended with fallbacks – named by Andrew Bailey at the FCA as the ‘tough legacy’.[4] The UK Working Group on Sterling Risk Free Reference Rates (RFRWG) is due to publish a paper on ‘tough’ legacy contracts in the second half of Q1 2020.[5]

The realism of firms’ assessments of the number of contracts requiring renegotiation should be considered a legal risk in itself – a realised 10% increase in this number would likely incur serious, additional legal fees.

Prudential Risk: When the underlying contracts change, firms may find themselves in a position where suddenly the instruments they rely on for capital adequacy purposes may no longer be eligible – “This could result in a sudden drop in a bank’s capital position.” [6] For similar reasons, there are a number of Counterparty Credit, Market, Liquidity, and Interest Rate Risks that will need to be reflected in firms’ approaches.

Regulatory Risk: Regulators are closely monitoring firms’ transition progress – and they are not happy with what they are seeing. Financial Policy Committee (FPC) stated in January, 2020, has made clear that they are ‘considering’ the supervisory tools that authorities could use to “encourage the reduction in the stock of legacy LIBOR contracts to an absolute minimum before end-2021.”[7] This is regulatory code for ‘we will either fine or increase the capital requirements for firms we judge to be dropping the ball’. The PRA and FCA laid out their expectations for the transition in June 2019 – this is required reading for any LIBOR transition project manager.[8]

It’s not as straightforward as a ‘Find and Replace’ on legal terminology referencing LIBOR

What this means for firms is that they need:

1. The capability to quantify their LIBOR exposure – Firms need a good understanding of their LIBOR contractual exposure that can quantify a) firms’ contractual population (i.e. which documents are affected) b) the legal, conduct and financial risk posed by the amendment of those documents

2. The ability to dynamically manage and track this exposure over time – As strategies evolve, the regulatory environment changes, and new scenarios develop, so will firms’ exposure to LIBOR change. Without good quality analytics that can track this effectively, in the context of this massive change project, firms will be strategically and tactically ‘flying blind’ in the face of the massive market shifts LIBOR will bring about.

3. The capability to manage documentation – Jurisdictional, product, or institutional differences will necessitate large client outreach efforts to renegotiate large populations of contracts, manage approvals & conflict resolution, while tracking interim fall-back provisions and front office novation of new products to new benchmarks.

Accomplishing the above will require enterprise-wide contract discovery, digitisation, term extraction, repapering, client outreach and communication capabilities – and the ability to tie them all together in a joined-up way.

To approach the LIBOR transition manually will likely require years of person-hours and cost millions of dollars, with significant potential for human error.

Accomplishing the above will require enterprise-wide contract discovery, digitisation, term extraction, repapering, client outreach and communication capabilities – and the ability to tie them all together in a joined-up way

LIBOR cannot be treated as ‘just one more’ repapering exercise.

Firms are continually hit with new requirements which require the update, negotiation and amendment of client contracts.

The reaction is always the same: Scramble to identify the documents impacted, outsource the thornier problems to external legal, and hire huge teams of consultants, remediation armies and legal operations to handle the contract updates and communications with counterparties.

Once complete – often months past the deadline – everyone stands down and goes home. Only to do the same thing again next year in response to the next crisis. While this gets the job done, there are number of problems with this project by project approach:

1. It’s inefficient: Vast amounts of time (and money) is spent just finding the documents distributed around the business, often in hard copy, or locked away in filing cabinets.

2. It’s expensive: External legal, consultants and remediation shops don’t come cheap – especially when the scope of the project inevitably expands past the initial parameters.

3. It’s ineffective: Little to no institutional knowledge is retained of the project, no new processes are put in place, and documents continue to get locked away in filing cabinets – meaning when the time comes to do it again firms have to start from scratch.

When you look at the number of major repapering initiatives over the past 10 years the amount of money spent on repapering projects is monumental. In the EU alone, regulations such as MiFID II, EMIR, GDPR, PPI, FATCA, Brexit and AIFMD have each required a huge repapering project. In 2020, LIBOR, Initial Margin Rules and SFTR will each require contract remediation programmes.

Doing ‘just another’ repapering exercise for LIBOR is a risky mistake. There is a better way.

Smarter data management and enabling tech solutions can help identify, classify and extract metadata from the huge volumes of LIBOR impacted documents at speed. The ability to extract and store contractual information as structured information at this scale allows firms’ the essential capabilities to understand and track their LIBOR exposure, assign priorities and maintain flexibility in a changing situation.

Firms that have fuller visibility of their legal contract information, retained as structured data, can avoid 80% of the typical repapering process, and focus their efforts on the remaining, critical, 20%.[1] The time spent manually identifying contractual needs, can be reallocated to the areas that matter, freeing up legal resource, budget, and project timelines – while simultaneously improving client relationships.

This should not be seen just as a repapering enabler, but a strategic capability. The opportunities afforded through data mining firms’ contractual estate for analytics are vast.

Doing ‘just another’ repapering exercise for LIBOR is a risky mistake. There is a better way

One possibility is the ability to connect contracts directly to trades. To accurately model the financial risk firms’ portfolios are exposed to via LIBOR when transitioning to a new rate, they will need a way to directly link, for example, multiple cash and derivative contracts to a single client. Firms are still a long way from this capability – but there are a growing number of sophisticated artificial intelligence solutions that can begin to address these types of use-cases.

Firms that build these capabilities now will materially reduce their risk exposures, improve liquidity and funding, build trust with their clients and be much better equipped to meet other pressing regulatory requirements such as Brexit, SFTR, CRD 5/6, Initial Margin (IM) rules, QFC and more.

Alaric Gibson

Alaric Gibson

Leading Point Financial Markets

Regulatory Change, Data SME, RegTech Propositions

Analyst with expertise in regulatory analysis and implementation, customer reference data management, and data driven transformation & delivery. Has worked for a number of RegTech start-ups within Capital Markets.

Leading Point Financial Markets and iManage RAVN are hosting an industry workshop to discuss in more detail some of the issues addressed in this article and understand how smarter Data Management and Enabling Tech Solutions can realistically be used to reduce the cost, risk, and timelines of client outreach and repapering and improve client experience.

 

Industry practitioners can register interest here: https://leadingpointfm.com/event-regulatory-changes-understanding-the-challenge-with-repapering-and-how-to-reduce-the-cost/

This article is the 1st of a new series exploring the role of Legal Technology in Financial Services. Please stay tuned! https://leadingpointfm.com/insights/

[1] ‘Next steps on LIBOR transition’, January 2020, FCA & PRA https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/correspondence/dear-smf-letter-next-steps-libor-transition.pdf
[2] 2019 LIBOR Survey: Are you ready to transition?, September 2019, Accenture. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/109/Accenture-2019-LIBOR-Survey-fixed.pdf#zoom=50
[3] ‘The end of Libor: the biggest banking challenge you’ve never heard of’, October 2019, Reuters.
[4] Firms will also need to consider whether any contract term they may rely on to amend a LIBOR-related product is fair under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (the CRA) in respect of consumer contracts. FG18/7: Fairness of variation terms in financial services consumer contracts under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 contains factors that firms should consider when thinking about fairness issues under the CRA when they draft and review unilateral variation terms in their consumer contracts. https://www.fca.org.uk/markets/libor/conduct-risk-during-libor-transition
[5] Litigation risks associated with Libor transition: https://collyerbristow.com/longer-reads/litigation-risks-associated-with-libor-transition/
[6] UK Working Group on Sterling Risk-Free Reference Rates (RFR WG) 2020 Top Level Priorities. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/markets/benchmarks/rfr/rfrwgs-2020-priorities-and-milestones.pdf?la=en&hash=653C6892CC68DAC968228AC677114FC37B7535EE
[7] LIBOR: preparing for the end, https://www.fca.org.uk/news/speeches/libor-preparing-end
[8]  UK Working Group on Sterling Risk-Free Reference Rates (RFR WG) 2020 Top Level Priorities. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/markets/benchmarks/rfr/rfrwgs-2020-priorities-and-milestones.pdf?la=en&hash=653C6892CC68DAC968228AC677114FC37B7535EE
[9] Letter from Sam Woods: The prudential regulatory framework and Libor transition, Bank of England, https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/letter/2019/prudential-regulatory-framework-and-libor-transition.pdf?la=en&hash=55018BE92759217608D587E3C56C0E205A2D3AF4
[10] ‘Next steps on LIBOR transition’, January 2020, FCA & PRA https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/correspondence/dear-smf-letter-next-steps-libor-transition.pdf
[11] ‘Firms’ preparations for transition from London InterBank Offered Rate (LIBOR) to risk-free rates (RFRs): Key themes, good practice, and next steps.’, June 2019, FCA & PRA https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/publication/2019/firms-preparations-for-transition-from-libor-to-risk-free-rates.pdf?la=en&hash=EA87BD3B8435B7EDF25A56C932C362C65D516577
[12] MiFID II – the long tail of legal documentation repapering, https://www.fintechfutures.com/2018/04/mifid-ii-the-long-tail-of-legal-documentation-repapering/

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