One of the more interesting problems to show up on the radar in the last six months has been an increasing number of inbound questions regarding Dodd Frank compliance questions. Quite bluntly, this had become the Sargasso Sea of consulting expertise - a lot of old flotsam and jetsam (I just love old maritime law terms) waiting for someone to come by and claim it. And it appears that day has come.
The interest seems to be arising from two areas - first, the renewable power space is moving away from bank inter mediated trades to direct developer to consumer (especially large corporate) trades. These trades are increasingly not Power Purchase Agreements ("PPAs") which are considered physical and non-reportable under Dodd Frank towards Virtual Power Purchase Agreements ("VPPAs") which are reportable. That brings a whole new range of participants into the reporting world. I see a number of firms recommending hiring a third party reporting entity - DCM's advice is that this may be overkill and and unnecessary expense.
The second area is non-US entities becoming more involved in the US swap market. The reduction in liquidity for OTC swaps has created a business opportunity for firms that feel they have the capital and knowledge to capture customer business that may require reportable components to the transaction. In many cases, they come from jurisdictions where the equivalent of the swap dealer de minimis calculation have significantly different inclusion of financial products. The greatest challenge appears to be translating what is required and how industry standard practices apply to these companies in the US environment. Some companies have found they can adopt existing non-US compliance processes with a reduction in process complexity rather than building new processes from scratch.
So, from the ashes of the USA compliance consulting environment, Dodd Frank may arise anew for the commodity market. We are not sure this is necessarily the ascent of a great new world but it does mean there may be changes in the offing for financial products the US commodity markets.
I have been asked by multiple clients and industry contacts to define "conduct compliance" and why they should care. Much of my response comes from my history of working on a trading desk and as a risk consultant - the vast majority of my work has been what I call trading compliance. I see that as working to prevent the few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel for spoiling the bunch. You all know the stereotype - the compliance officer having to dig through numbers to figure out how the devious trader is getting around the rules.
But conduct compliance is different - to the trading compliance consultant it feels "squishy", less analytical. But it is a real thing. The best I can describe my concept of conduct compliance is that it is the system to assure that the other 95+ percent of the employees - the earnest, want to do right employees - don't do bad things because they believe the organization wants them - or their manger instructs them - to do bad things. Think of most of the major "conduct" fines we have seen in the last years - Enron, Wells Fargo and the LIBOR cases come to mind. In all of them, the organization at some level embraced and encouraged and compensated the staff for heading into what were, at best, very murky waters. At worst, they encouraged and drove blatantly criminal activity activity.
In a number of these cases, the employees indicated their direct, one level above manager, or even the person the were replacing led them to believe their performance and possibly job retention would be premised on doing questionable things or it was "just the way we do things". The employees likely would not have done these things on their own - they felt it was part of their job description. And that is where conduct compliance comes to play - it is trying to ascertain whether the organization, at some level, is driving the improper behavior either explicitly or, more difficult to determine, by inference.
And that is why conduct compliance gets "squishier". How do you measure the inferred pressure on the employees by their manager? If questioned, will the manager say "of course I said no such things. Who is saying that about me?" And we all know what happens to the poor employee that reported that the boss was pushing them to open fake accounts.
And that is the problem with conduct compliance - how do you find the root cause of a problem caused by interpersonal communication rather than market conduct you can observe from an analytical model?
And the new Dept of Justice compliance program guidelines - blogged by DCM and available lower on this page - speaks to this "culture of compliance" and even asks whether employee sentiment on the commitment to compliance has been surveyed as an indicator of an effective compliance program. This is a foundation of conduct compliance - does the employee feel safe to question perceived pressure to behave unethically or improperly and will the organization protect the employee from the potential blow back from their supervisor when questions arise?
Let's be honest - any low level employee in a secure job is going to be very reluctant to rock the boat when the first indication start - it is too easy to say "my boss didn't mean that" or "I can just ignore that". That works until it doesn't. How does senior management really know that employees feel safe from repercussions of challenging these pressures?
Here is a simple structure to start from - operational management cares about how much money was made; risk management cares about how much money was at risk to make the money and was the potential downside managed; and compliance management is about understanding the manner in which the money was made and whether the "why money was made" fits with the corporate culture. Do the lower level employees really feel senior management cares about whether the P&L was brought about by unethical behavior and would protect someone from pointing out where someone is cutting corners? If senior management assumes everyone feels safe, then they don't really have a handle on conduct compliance for their firm.
Conduct compliance is about knowing that the how money was made fits with the corporate rules of what is an acceptable way to make money. If a firm says ok to money made in a manner that would cause a problem when repeated on a TV interview, you have a conduct compliance issue.
I hope that helps differentiate between conduct and trading compliance. The conduct compliance issue tends to expand with the scale of the company - the more layers, the more possibilities for the message to get garbled before it gets to the boots on the ground, so to speak
ERCOT power market fine on ICE - with attached "failure to supervise" - for a major bank subsidiary for disruptive trading
Today The ICE issued a disciplinary notice to Macquarie Energy LLC regarding orders entered in the ERCOT North 345 KV Real Time Off Peak contract that "made it seem to other market participants that an advantageous buying opportunity was available in the Peak Future". The interesting point is that the individual - referred to as "former employee" - " initiated this conduct after he unknowingly fell victim to the same circumstances he then caused to occur. The problem was that there was a chance to misunderstand high off peak offers as attractive on peak offers. It would infer that the trader had bought off peak at a high price by misreading the offer. The former employee intended to prove the point that he was dissatisfied with the price adjustment provided by ICE Operations in accordance with the Exchange’s Error Policy after executing a series of trades in a wrong market." This means that the trader felt there was a structure that would cause market participants to misunderstand their risk
Macquarie was also hit for failure to supervise as, while they had compliance and surveillance in place that oversaw this individual , they may not have had oversight adequate to assure the individual was acting in accordance with exchange rules. The total fine was $250,000. The total notice is here
This is an interesting case because the notice reads that the employee entered the orders in knowingly and with the intent that other traders would make the same mistake he made. It also reads that the trader was trying to make a point that directly to The ICE by way of other traders - and potentially to make other traders also angry at The ICE> If nothing else, if the trader felt he suffered harm from The ICE's error policy, then he was acting to have other participants also incur that harm.
This points out three things:
The corresponding trader disciplinary notice is here. The description is mostly the same but does indicate "As a result, in some instances, Alexander caused participants to believe they were transacting in the Peak Future, when in reality, they transacted in the Off-Peak Future, and subsequently to report the trades as an error, which resulted in significant price adjustments from the price at which they originally traded." This specifically points out the disruptive nature of the activiities.
The trader was fined $85K and suspended from the exchange for 9 months.