Top five trends in collateral management for 2018

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This article was originally published on Securities Finance Monitor.
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Collateral management has broadened far past simple margin processing; collateral now impacts a majority of financial market activity from determining critical capital calculations to impacting customer experience to driving strategic investment decisions. In this article, we identify the top five trends in collateral management for 2018 and highlight important areas to watch going forward.

The holistic theme driving forward collateral management is its central role in financial markets. Collateral has grown so broad as to make even its name confusing: where collateral can refer to a specific asset, the implications of collateral today can reach through reporting, risk, liquidity, pricing, infrastructure and relationship management. The opportunities for collateral professionals have likewise expanded, and non-collateral roles must now have an understanding of collateral to deliver their core obligations to internal and external clients.

We see a common theme running through five areas to watch in collateral management in the coming year: the application of smarter data and intelligence to drive core business objectives. Many firms have digested the basics of collateral optimization and are now ready to incorporate a broader set of parameters and even a new definition of what optimization means. Likewise, technology investments in collateral are starting to tie into broader innovation projects at larger firms; this will unlock new value-added opportunities for both internal and external facing technology applications.

Here are our top five trends for collateral management in 2018:

#5 Technology Investments

The investment cycle in collateral-related technology applications continues to grow at a rapid pace. Collateral management budget discussions are moving from the back office to the top of the house. And partly as a result, the definition of the category is also changing. Collateral management should no longer be seen as strictly the actions of moving margin for specified products, but rather is part of a complex ecosystem of collateral, liquidity, balance sheet management and analytics. The usual, first order investment targets of these budgets are internally focused, including better reporting, inventory management and data aggregation. The second derivative benefit of a more robust data infrastructure focuses on externally facing trading applications, including tools for traders and client intelligence utilities that provide real-time information and pricing for the benefit of all parties. This new category does not yet have a simple name, one could think of it as a “recommendation system” but regardless of name, this has become a major driver of forward-looking bank technology efforts and efficiency drives.

As large financial services firms capture the benefits of their current round of investments, they will increasingly turn towards integrating core innovations in artificial intelligence, Robotics Process Automation and other existing technologies into their collateral-related investments. This will unlock a large new wave of opportunity for how business is conducted and what information can be captured, analyzed, then automated, for a range of client facing, business line, internal management and reporting applications.

#4 Regulatory reporting

Despite being 10 years since the bottom of the great recession, regulatory reporting requirements for banks and asset managers continue to evolve. Largely irrespective of jurisdiction, the core problem facing these firms is aggregating and linking data together for reporting automation. Due to strict timeframes and complex requirements, firms historically relied on a pre-existing mosaic of technology and human resources to satisfy regulatory reporting needs. However, these tactical solutions made scale, efficiency and responsiveness to new rules difficult. The challenge of regulatory reporting is a puzzle that, once solved, appears obvious. But the process of solving the puzzle can create substantial challenges.

Looking at one regulation alone misses the transformative opportunity of strategic data management across the organization. Whether it is SFTR, MiFID II, Recovery & Resolution Planning requirements of SR-14/17 or Qualified Financial Contracts (QFCs), the latest initiative du jour should be a kick off for a broader rethink about data utilization. Wherever a firm starts, the end result must be a robust data infrastructure that can aggregate and link information at the most granular level. At a high level, firms will need to develop the capability to link all positions and trading data with agreements that govern these positions, collateral that is posted on the agreements, any guarantees that may be applied and any other constraints that need to be considered. Additionally, it has to be able to format and produce the needed information on demand. Achieving this goal will take meaningful work but will make organizations not only more efficient but also more future proof.

#3 Transfer pricing

As firms try to optimize collateral across the enterprise, it is critical that they develop reasonably sophisticated transfer pricing mechanisms to ensure appropriate cost allocations as well as sufficient transparency to promote best incentives in the organization. Many sell-side firms have highly granular models with visibility into secured and unsecured funding, XVA, balance sheet and capital costs. And in varying fashion these firms allocate some or all of these costs internally. But many challenges remain, including: how should all these costs be directly charged to the trader or desk doing the trade; and what is the right balance of allocating actual costs versus incentivizing business behavior that maximally benefits the client franchise overall. As we know, client business profiles change through time as do funding and capital constraints. There may be a conscious decision to do some business that may not make money in support of other areas that are highly profitable. Transfer pricing is evolving from a bespoke, business aligned process to a dynamic, enterprise tool. The effort to enhance transfer pricing business models continues to be refined and expanded.

Firms that embrace the next iteration of transfer pricing will achieve a more scalable, efficient and responsive balance sheet. This will include capturing both secured and unsecured funding costs, plus firm-wide and business specific liquidity and capital costs. Accurately identifying the range of costs can properly incentivize business behaviors beyond simply the cost of an asset in the collateral market. Ultimately, transfer pricing can be a tool to drive strategic balance sheet management objectives across the firm.

Functionally, implementing transfer pricing requires access to substantial data on existing balance sheet costs, inventory management and liquidity costs that firms must consider. Much like collateral optimization, the building block of a robust transfer pricing methodology is data. Accurate information on transfer pricing can then flow back into trading and business decisions to be truly effective.

#2 Collateral control and optimization

Optimization is evolving well beyond an operations driven process of finding opportunity within a business to an enterprise wide approach at pre-trade, trade and post-trade levels. Pre-trade, “what-if” analyses that will inform a trader if a proposed transaction is cost accretive or reducing to the franchise is important, but this requires an analytics tool that can comprehend the impact to the firm’s economic ecosystem. At the point of trade, identifying demands and sources of collateral across the entire enterprise extends to knowing where inventories are across business lines, margin centers, legal entities and regions. It also means understanding the operational nuances and legal constraints governing those demands across global tri-parties, CCPs, derivative margin centers and securities finance requirements.

In a simple example, collateral posted on one day may not be the best to post a week later; if posted collateral becomes scarce in the securities financing market and can be profitably lent out, it may be unwise to provide it as margin. A holistic post-trade analysis, complete with updated repo or securities lending spreads, can tell a trader about missed opportunities, leading to a new form of Transaction Cost Analytics for collateralized trading markets.

#1 Integration of derivatives & securities finance (fixed income and equities)

The need for taking a holistic approach to collateral management has led the industry toward significant business model changes. Collateral is common currency across an enterprise and must be properly allocated to wherever it can be used most efficiently. This means that traditional silos – repo, securities lending, OTC derivatives, exchange traded derivatives, treasury and other areas – need to be integrated. Operations groups that have been doing fundamentally the same thing can no longer be isolated from one another; the cost savings that come from process automation and avoiding operational duplication is too compelling.

On the front-office side, changes needed to impact trading behavior, culture and reporting to name a few are often very difficult to implement over a short period of time. Despite similar flows and economic guidelines, different markets and operation centers, even though all under the same roof, traditionally suffer from asymmetric information. To address this challenge a handful of large sell-side players have combined some aspects of these businesses under the “collateral” banner, sometimes along with custody or other related processing business. Others have developed an enterprise solution to inventory and collateral management. We expect that, more and more, management is seeing the common threads and shared risks involved. The merger of business and operations teams translates into a need for technology that can be leveraged across silos.

The business of collateral management is reshaping every process and silo it touches. While the trends we have identified are not brand new, they all stand out for how far and fast they are advancing in 2018 and beyond. Financial services firms that take advantage of these trends concurrently and plan for a future where collateral is integrated across all areas of the business will improve their competitive positioning going forward. To add a sixth trend: firms that ignore broader thinking about collateral management technology do so at their own peril.

A framework for build, buy or network in a changing market environment

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This article was originally published on Securities Finance Monitor.

Capital markets firms are faced with tough choices in their vendor and utility selection. But when should firms choose to partner with vendors, participate in industry utilities or insource development altogether? This article provides a framework for thinking through the options.

Capital markets have always been fast moving but seldom have the drivers of change come from so many directions at once.  Both buy-side and sell-side firms are contending with simultaneous pressures to comply with new regulations, find new ways to generate revenues and to cut costs. What makes this environment even more challenging is the interaction between these competing goals. Implementing new functionality to comply with new regulations is not enough; systems and processes also need to adjust to accommodate changes to business models driven by those regulations. New business initiatives have historically gone through due diligence processes of varying degrees of strictness and now need to satisfy control questions from the outside.  All this at a time when technology is evolving at a dizzying pace providing many options that were not viable until recently.

These challenges should not be perceived as all negative because the current environment presents many positive strategic opportunities. From established technology providers to the newest fintech start-ups, there is now an unprecedented choice of technology vendor options. There is a greater willingness than ever by firms to partner and develop industry solutions and to support, and in some cases create, new service providers. Meanwhile, at long last, the breadth of new functionality offered by these providers is matched by their depth of expertise. Solution providers frequently now offer not just “software” or a “service” but a complete solution package.

While capital markets players show increased willingness to turn to others for help in this challenging environment, there is also the recognition that the return on investment from internal technology resources needs to come from genuine differentiators in areas such as trading, data analytics, risk management and client interaction. In this world of both challenge and choice how can firms make the optimal choices without becoming stuck in analysis paralysis? At the most fundamental level they require a framework for deciding when to build, buy or network in collective enterprises.

Assessing internal capabilities

For a capital markets firm, the starting point for creating a framework is a realistic assessment of who they are, where they are going and what they are capable of. Some firms’ strengths may come from getting the basics right in areas such as operations or credit. Others may be innovators, creating new products, being the first into new markets or the first mover in the application of new technologies. Few, if any, firms can be good at everything and the effort of trying can be counterproductive. A realistic recognition of strengths and weaknesses is key.  This analysis needs to be conducted front to back ⎼ including business functions, personnel and technology capabilities ⎼ to ensure the most holistic understanding is developed for optimal decision making.

The next step is for a firm to understand where it wants to go, or more often in the current changing environment, where they need to go. Banks have been constrained by the pressure to build up and conserve capital. As a consequence, many formerly key business areas have shrunk or been closed. On the buy-side, active fund management, a traditionally high margin business, is under threat. Business changes such as the growth in popularity of low-cost ETFs and the rise of the robo-advisor are having major impacts on business strategy, even where the basics are sound. Whether a business strategy is expansive or reactive, or simply aimed at preserving a successful franchise, it has a major impact on a framework for interaction with technology and service providers.

Lastly, firms need to assess the potential of help from external parties versus the strengths of internal capabilities. One of the most significant recent developments has been the willingness to develop shared industry resources. The general driver for this has been a recognition that many parts of a financial sector organization (including the relevant parts of infrastructure) are non-differentiating sources of costs rather than sources of competitive advantage. Though industry utilities have been around almost as long as computers, they have tended to focus on a limited set of functional areas.

The new generation of utilities are appearing across front, middle and back office. Some notable examples include: FIS’s Derivatives Processing Utility which grew out Barclays; Accenture (in collaboration with Broadridge) Post-Trade Processing that absorbed business functions from Societe Generale; and more traditional projects such as Symphony, a collaboration of 16 major financial firms building a secure communication network. Another change of emphasis has been from the traditional regulatory drivers behind major utilities to more commercial drivers. In some cases, superior internal performance may actually create the opportunity for revenue generation by using that capability as the basis for an industry utility.

Creating vendor partnerships – dependencies, commodities and customization

There has been a high degree of consolidation of financial software vendors in recent years. Firms such as FIS have grown through a long running series of acquisitions (notably SunGard at the end of 2015), Broadridge Financial Solutions continues to make acquisitions, and UK based Misys recently merged with Canadian D+H to form Finastra. Consolidation has also been driven to some extent by internal procurement departments, which in many large financial services firms have worked to reduce the number of vendor relationships.

Despite these trends, there has been little reduction in choice as new fintech vendor firms grow. “Innovation” or “digital” teams across capital markets firms have worked to build bridges to the more promising start-ups. Choice in functionality has been matched by choice in the type of offerings. Capital markets software is often now available as part of a comprehensive package including cloud based hosting, integration and maintenance. Newer fintech firms may not be as big as other vendors but they make up for it with speed of execution, nimbleness and innovation in driving complex challenges. They are able to adopt some of the latest technology innovations much more efficiently than their larger counterparts.

Add to that the management of staff to execute the business process, and one end of the software services spectrum is indistinguishable from a utility. Still, partnering with a vendor creates the bane of any project manager: more dependencies on outside parties can mean more risks, the potential for slow turnaround and reduced control. The alternative, however, isn’t foolproof. Good internal development teams and working in genuine partnership with a business can deliver changes rapidly that are focused on a business user’s needs. However, writing new software or even carrying out the full integration of a vendor package can be a high risk and high cost strategy.

A good amount of the current enthusiasm for partnering with new fintech firms or joining industry utilities come from few key factors:

  • The experience of difficulties rolling out new systems in financial firms’ increasingly controlled and complex environments.
  • Many fintech firms can offer significantly deep domain and technical experience that may not be available internally.
  • Many financial firms have difficulty in finding and retaining top technology talent as professionals have opted to pursue other opportunities in the broader technology industry or fintech space.

This can make it harder than ever to deliver a project to budget, with acceptable timescales and user expectations. Even where a firm shows expertise in one area of technology, it is unlikely to have breadth and depth of resources within its IT function to do everything to the same standard.

Commoditization or specialization

Depending on an honest assessment of the firm, its capabilities and business strategy, different choices may be made about buying, building or collaborating. If a capital markets firm’s need is for relatively standard, commoditized functionality, then the key factor becomes the gap between their offering and the firm’s needs. The wider the gap, the greater dependency on additional work being done and the greater the implementation risk. If a wide gap exists between the firm’s needs and the full range of offerings, it may be worth going back to basics and asking why its needs are so different to peers that make use of software packages or other services in the first place.

If one or more potential partners can provide the desired functionality, the characteristics of the vendors themselves need to be considered. Important variables will include vendor capabilities and skill sets in terms of business domain and technical innovation, reputation in the industry, and extensibility of architecture and offering.  Many large vendors provide full feature functionality but it may be hard to customize whereas some newer fintech firms are leveraging more flexible technologies to make their offering able to meet various needs. If a supplier can provide functionality that can then be extended by an internal team, it may be an advantage as firms don’t always need to rely on the vendor for critical business changes.

If businesses require more innovative solutions than they are capable of mustering internally, it is likely that a partner will be of benefit. But the characteristics of the partner may become the most critical factor. Any partner chosen needs to have a genuine understanding of the firm’s needs. Genuine understanding comes from the combination of both technical skills and real-world experience. Suitable partners also need to understand the value of building a solution that is not just for today but has the flexibility to adapt to tomorrow’s challenges. Regulatory changes, such as the requirement to report securities finance trades under SFTR and margining of FX Forwards as a result of MiFID II, can have dramatic impacts. On the positive side, market changes or the rapid uptake of a new product can still lead to dramatic increases in volumes. In this case, firms need to look for a partner and not just a vendor because they may be able to help them assess their current capabilities and also help define the roadmap based on their understanding of the industry and regulatory landscape.

Utilities will continue to provide their own unique solutions, but the vantage point of a buyer or user should be: “is this process sufficiently commoditized that a utility can meet my needs?” Any truly commoditized process can be outsourced to a utility, while processes that offer or require differentiation should be managed internally by the firm. Firms may also need to have internal capabilities developed in-house or through a vendor to connect to the utility and take full advantage of their services. Utilities have a lot to offer, but firms need to be proactive in making the decision about what is a competitive advantage and what is a commodity service.

Creating a framework for understanding a capital markets firm’s capabilities and comparing the results to the vendor and utility landscape is the first step in deciding whether to build, buy or partner for solutions in today’s market. The catchphrase of outsourcing is easy; the hard part is ensuring that firms are building flexible partnerships for the long term. At Transcend Street, we find having a great product or solution is a good start but not enough to win the long term partnerships.  Our clients reach out to us because of our team’s broad industry experience, thought leadership and our focus on execution and delivery. Our vision, its alignment for the client’s benefit, and our capacity to be a long term partner in their success is our crucial differentiating factor.

As technology becomes increasingly complex, it is imperative that firms conduct a holistic review of their own capabilities and strategically identify the right partners. Too often, firms focus on features and functionality comparisons across solution providers but not enough on critical internal assessments. In the brave new world, where profits are scarce, cost pressures are high and regulatory compliance is crucial, firms that can master this strategic balance of internal builds and strategic partnerships in the industry will have a significant competitive advantage.

Transcend Street Solutions Adds Jon Beyman to Board of Advisors

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NEW YORK, NY  November 05, 2015

Transcend Street Solutions announced today that Jon Beyman has joined the firm’s Board of Advisors. Jon will help the team in business and product development strategies along with building industry alliances for the recently launched CoSMOS product.

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