Dodd-Frank at 4: Derivatives Reform Is a Glass Half Full

| FinReg

By Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, MRV Associates

Originally published on TABB Forum 

Many challenges remain in implementing Dodd-Frank’s derivatives reforms, as swap dealers retool their technology to improve data collection, aggregation and reporting. But regulators, particularly the CFTC, have made strong progress. 

A number of analysts, pundits, and financial journalists are observing the fourth anniversary of Dodd-Frank by pointing out that much of the law has not been implemented. That is correct. While a little more than half of the rules are now finalized, that does not necessarily mean that they have been implemented. Typically, financial and bank regulators give institutions a year or two to comply after a rule is finalized. 

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Source: ‘Dodd-Frank Progress Report, Davis Polk, July 18, 2014. 

It is very important to remember that a toxic political environment in Washington, regulators with significant resource constraints, very strong and continued lobbying against every single part of Dodd-Frank, and lawsuits against regulators have been significant deterrents. In addition, financial regulators cannot deploy all of their staff to the challenging task of Dodd-Frank rule writing; they already have their existing regulatory, legal, and supervisory responsibilities. Even while writing rules, regulators have been doing so in an environment where the US economy has been mostly growing anemically, and they have to think of the potential impact of the rules on institutions, markets, and the economy at large.

Despite numerous challenges, some of the agencies have finished many of their assigned tasks. For example, the CFTC, which is responsible for regulating and supervising the disproportionately largest part of the financial derivatives markets, has done an incredible job in finishing almost 85% percent of its assigned rules.

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Source: ‘Dodd-Frank Progress Report, Davis Polk, July 18, 2014, p.5. 

The CFTC’s accomplishment is particularly impressive considering that is the smallest regulatory agency and has been a favorite target of Republicans who want to make sure that the agency has the smallest budget possible. Shockingly, the CFTC is still operating with a level of personnel and technology from decades before Dodd-Frank. This financial regulator is responsible not only for its existing mandate of regulating exchange traded products and derivatives exchanges, but also it now regulates over-the-counter (OTC) interest rate derivatives and index credit derivatives. In the US, these products represent about $200 trillion in notional amounts.

Also, CFTC professionals spend a good part of the day listening to comments and pleas from numerous market participants and lobbyists, as can be seen in their public website. (Actually, the CFTC is the only regulator that publishes its visits ahead of them taking place, as opposed to after they have already happened. Other regulators should learn from the CFTC’s transparency.)

In less than four years, the CFTC has finalized instrumental rules for derivatives reforms:

  • Created legal definition for a swap 
  • Designated swap dealers 
  • Defined what is a US person
  • Instituted swap transactions reporting 
  • Released core principles for derivatives clearing organizations (DCOs), which are the central clearing parties approved to clear derivatives in the US, and
  • Has been conducting due diligence on and setting standards for the companies approved to be swap execution facilities (SEFs).

Yes, many challenges remain in implementing Dodd-Frank’s derivatives reforms, as swap dealers retool their technology to improve data collection, aggregation and reporting. Swap dealers, especially banks, also have to think continually of how to upgrade the skills of their existing middle- and back-office professionals, IT, auditors, and compliance professionals.

For its part, the CFTC will continue to be plagued by the roadblocks politicians place in its path. They ask it to do a better job and then tie its limbs by denying badly needed resources. Equally challenging for the CFTC will be to work with foreign regulators, especially in Europe. As long as rules and supervisory practices are different, the global derivatives market will be challenged by a potential lessening of liquidity. Importantly, if rules on both sides of the pond are not equally strong in the way that they are written, supervised, and enforced, then swap dealers will outsmart regulators through regulatory arbitrage.

The CFTC has new leadership. Given what I have seen by working both with swap dealers and training numerous CFTC professionals, I see Dodd-Frank’s derivatives reforms as a glass half-full. And I look forward to the next few years as it continues to fill up.

Tags: FinReg, Blog , Regulation