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Press briefing on new monetary and financial statistics

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Introductory remarks by Jürgen Stark, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, for the presentation of four new/enhanced datasets on monetary and financial statistics

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to this press briefing on monetary and financial statistics, which is dedicated to the presentation of two new and two extended sets of statistics. We are in an environment of continuous financial innovations and changes in the financial landscape. The ECB is determined to keep the monetary and financial statistics fit for use in that changing environment.Press briefing on new monetary and financial statistics 3
The extended sets of statistics improve the existing balance sheet and interest rate reporting by “monetary financial institutions”, which means primarily banks representing the money-issuing sector. These datasets are at the centre of our monetary analysis.
The new statistics refer to detailed quarterly balance sheet information from financial vehicle corporations engaged in securitisation, often called securitisation vehicles, and from insurance corporations and pension funds. The new datasets close some gaps in the harmonised balance sheet reporting of the growing sector of euro area financial intermediaries outside the money issuing sector.
These improvements and new developments are the result of very significant efforts undertaken by statisticians at the ECB and in the national central banks of the Eurosystem. The work was carried out in close collaboration with policy-makers, analysts and the financial industry. In my view, this process brought about a proper balance between the benefits of the data for monetary policy and the burden of collecting it from respondents. As policy-makers, we need timely data, and the data must be harmonised across country borders, so that it can be readily aggregated at the euro area level.
The new statistics fit in well with the much used term “lessons learned from the financial crisis”. At the same time, the new developments are the outcome of a process that has been pursued pro-actively and with a longer-term view, rather than re-actively and with a focus on the recent crisis. Indeed, the development process started before the financial turmoil that escalated into a genuine crisis. The process involved the euro area as well as other EU countries. It was motivated by the need to fill gaps caused by the ongoing financial innovation and by structural changes within financial products and the financial sector.
The analysis forming the basis for monetary policy decisions depends crucially on the quality and breadth of coverage of the available statistics. Not least the frequently cited deficiencies of the Greek statistical system (with respect to both methodological and institutional aspects) have reminded us of the importance of reliable, accurate and timely statistics for the functioning and credibility of our whole system.
I am pleased that the new developments in monetary and financial statistics will contribute, in particular, to the research agenda of the ECB’s Governing Council for enhancing monetary analysis. As you know, the ECB attaches a high importance to this. Last year, we published a comprehensive scientific compendium on the enhancement of monetary analysis, and I presented these results at a press briefing.[1]
Allow me to mention three key examples to illustrate the improvements the new data bring.
First, the new data will shed more light into the relatively opaque shadow banking. A major aspect of financial innovation is linked to the securitisation of financial assets by, in particular, the banking sector, and to the financial vehicles created outside the banking sector for this purpose. The lack of good statistical information on securitisation gained increasing relevance over the last decade and became particularly obvious in the financial crisis.
In order to provide for a consistent monitoring of securitisation, the ECB has now introduced new quarterly balance sheet statistics that cover “financial vehicle corporations engaged in securitisation”. The aggregated total assets of such special-purpose vehicles in the euro area stood at €2.3 trillion in the first quarter of 2011. This represents about one tenth of the total assets of all non-bank financial intermediaries. And together with the reporting of investment funds established in 2009, which also includes hedge funds, the ECB statistics now cover a large part of the shadow banking system within the euro area.
In addition to balance sheet reporting for securitisation vehicles, a consistent monthly reporting by Monetary and Financial Institutions (MFIs) has also been developed. This makes it possible to assess how the securitisation of loans granted by MFIs can actually have an impact on the growth rates of MFI lending to households and non-financial corporations. That is a step forward for our monetary analysis. To give you a concrete example: taking into account the impact of securitisation, the annual growth of MFI loans to non-financial corporations turned positive already in October 2010, some months ahead of what had been shown by the figures available in the previous version of the statistics.
Second, we now have detailed quarterly data on the balance sheet of insurance corporations and pension funds. Currently, their assets account for about one third of all assets of non-bank financial intermediaries within the euro area. That is of course already a sizeable figure, but in view of our ageing societies, those institutions can be expected to be of further increasing significance for the economy and the entire financial system. Already today, insurance and pension fund technical reserves, which represent the claims that households have vis-à-vis life insurance companies and pension plans (other than social insurance schemes), account for around 30% of households’ total financial wealth. These new data therefore are important not only for the ECB, but will be highly relevant for many other uses.
Furthermore, as institutional investors with a significant portfolio in securities, insurance corporations and pension funds will be monitored for monetary policy and financial stability purposes. In view of the desirable further development of these statistics, we have started a close cooperation with the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA). This should help to further improve the statistics, while minimising the costs for the industry through the compilation of aggregated data based on supervisory returns.
Third, the improved interest rate statistics allow a deeper analysis of the transmission channels of monetary policy. One specific improvement sheds more light on how the external financing conditions of small and medium-sized non-financial enterprises compare with those of large corporations. This is particularly relevant for the euro area, given its rather more bank-based funding system as compared with the more market-based funding system in the United States.
For example, figures on interest rates for new loans to non-financial corporations show that interest rates on new loans of up to €250,000 have indeed been far higher than interest rates on loans of over €1 million. On average, they were more than 140 basis points higher for small and medium-sized enterprises and 90 basis points higher for sole proprietors. This is important information which enhances our analysis of the financing conditions as these rates serve as a proxy for loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as to “sole proprietors” (e.g. doctors or architects).
Overall, I am pleased to see that these new developments and the new datasets in the euro area monetary and financial statistics keep them fit for policy and analysis purposes. Actually, we are coping well with the current challenges. In particular, not least due to the specific role we assign to money in our monetary policy strategy, I see a self-reinforcing virtuous circle in action. Enhancements in monetary and financial statistics make it possible to keep track of financial innovation, thereby facilitating an enhanced monetary analysis and thus ensuring an effective policy decision-making process. The enhanced monetary analysis and its use in the policy-making process, in turn, identify necessary improvements to the statistics, thereby closing the circle.
Nevertheless, there is no reason to be complacent. Important innovations in the financial sector will continue to occur. We thus need to invest in flexible tools and methods so as to further adapt our statistics and analysis to changes both in the financial sector and in its interaction with the real economy. In this respect, a better international standardisation in the reporting and registration of individual financial products, transactions and financial institutions will be crucial. The ECB is closely involved in discussions at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB).
Worldwide convergence and standardisation will allow a swift and flexible adaptation of monetary and financial statistics to financial innovation without creating an unnecessary reporting burden. We need to express data requirements in a more business-friendly way and we should be open to automation (e.g. based on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or supervisory reports). Another potential for improvement lies in the re-use of micro-data, such as credit registers, for statistical purposes. The processes initiated within the framework of the G20 initiatives on data gaps might also provide an adequate forum for the very important and complex work ahead of us.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Now, Aurel Schubert, the ECB’s Director General Statistics, will present more details on the four datasets and stand ready to answer your questions.
[1] See Papademos, L.D. and Stark, J. (eds.), Enhancing Monetary Analysis, ECB, Frankfurt am Main, 2010.

Copyright © for the entire content of this website: European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

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TCI: A time of critical importance

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TCI: A time of critical importance 4

By Fabrice Desnos, head of Northern Europe Region, Euler Hermes, the world’s leading trade credit insurer, outlines the importance of less publicised measures for the journey ahead.

After months of lockdown, Europe is shifting towards rebuilding economies and resuming trade. Amongst the multibillion-euro stimulus packages provided by governments to businesses to help them resume their engines of growth, the cooperation between the state and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters has perhaps missed the headlines. However, this cooperation will be vital when navigating the uncertain road ahead.

Covid-19 has created a global economic crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. Consequently, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of support from national governments. Far-reaching fiscal intervention, job retention and business interruption loan schemes are providing a lifeline for businesses that have suffered reductions in turnovers to support national lockdowns.

However, it’s becoming clear the worst is still to come. The unintended consequence of government support measures is delaying the inevitable fallout in trade and commerce. Euler Hermes is already seeing increase in claims for late payments and expects this trend to accelerate as government support measures are progressively removed.

The Covid-19 crisis will have long lasting and sometimes irreversible effects on a number of sectors. It has accelerated transformations that were already underway and had radically changed the landscape for a number of businesses. This means we are seeing a growing number of “zombie” companies, currently under life support, but whose business models are no longer adapted for the post-crisis world. All factors which add up to what is best described as a corporate insolvency “time bomb”.

The effects of the crisis are already visible. In the second quarter of 2020, 147 large companies (those with a turnover above €50 million) failed; up from 77 in the first quarter, and compared to 163 for the whole of the first half of 2019. Retail, services, energy and automotive were the most impacted sectors this year, with the hotspots in retail and services in Western Europe and North America, energy in North America, and automotive in Western Europe

We expect this trend to accelerate and predict a +35% rise in corporate insolvencies globally by the end of 2021. European economies will be among the hardest hit. For example, Spain (+41%) and Italy (+27%) will see the most significant increases – alongside the UK (+43%), which will also feel the impact of Brexit – compared to France (+25%) or Germany (+12%).

Companies are restarting trade, often providing open credit to their clients. However, there can be no credit if there is no confidence. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify which of their clients will emerge from the crisis from those that won’t, and whether or when they will be paid. In the immediate post-lockdown period, without visibility and confidence, the risk was that inter-company credit could evaporate, placing an additional liquidity strain on the companies that depend on it. This, in turn, would significantly put at risk the speed and extent of the economic recovery.

In recent months, Euler Hermes has co-operated with government agencies, trade associations and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters to create state support for intercompany trade, notably in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. All with the same goal: to allow companies to trade with each other in confidence.

By providing additional reinsurance capacity to the trade credit insurers, governments help them continue to provide cover to their clients at pre-crisis levels.

The beneficiaries are the thousands of businesses – clients of credit insurers and their buyers – that depend upon intercompany trade as a source of financing. Over 70% of Euler Hermes policyholders are SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economies and major providers of jobs. These agreements are not without costs or constraints for the insurers, but the industry has chosen to place the interests of its clients and of the economy ahead of other considerations, mindful of the important role credit insurance and inter-company trade will play in the recovery.

Taking the UK as an example, trade credit insurers provide cover for more than £171billion of intercompany transactions, covering 13,000 suppliers and 650,000 buyers. The government has put in place a temporary scheme of £10billion to enable trade credit insurers, including Euler Hermes, to continue supporting businesses at risk due to the impact of coronavirus. This landmark agreement represents an important alliance between the public and private sectors to support trade and prevent the domino effect that payment defaults can create within critical supply chains.

But, as with all of the other government support measures, these schemes will not exist in the long term. It is already time for credit insurers and their clients to plan ahead, and prepare for a new normal in which the level and cost of credit risk will be heightened and where identifying the right counterparts, diversifying and insuring credit risk will be of paramount importance for businesses.

Trade credit insurance plays an understated role in the economy but is critical to its health. In normal circumstances, it tends to go unnoticed because it is doing its job. Government support schemes helped maintain confidence between companies and their customers in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

However, as government support measures are progressively removed, this crisis will have a lasting impact. Accelerating transformations, leading to an increasing number of company restructurings and, in all likelihood, increasing the level of credit risk. To succeed in the post-crisis environment, bbusinesses have to move fast from resilience to adaptation. They have to adopt bold measures to protect their businesses against future crises (or another wave of this pandemic), minimize risk, and drive future growth. By maintaining trust to trade, with or without government support, credit insurance will have an increasing role to play in this.

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What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us?

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What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us? 5

By Ted Sausen, Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize

On September 20, 2020, just four days after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a much-anticipated Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the financial industry was shaken and their stock prices saw significant declines when the markets opened on Monday. So what caused this? Buzzfeed News in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released what is now being tagged the FinCEN files. These files and summarized reports describe over 200,000 transactions with a total over $2 trillion USD that has been reported to FinCEN as being suspicious in nature from the time periods 1999 to 2017. Buzzfeed obtained over 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and over 2,600 confidential documents financial institutions had filed with FinCEN over that span of time.

Similar such leaks have occurred previously, such as the Panama Papers in 2016 where over 11 million documents containing personal financial information on over 200,000 entities that belonged to a Panamanian law firm. This was followed up a year and a half later by the Paradise Papers in 2017. This leak contained even more documents and contained the names of more than 120,000 persons and entities. There are three factors that make the FinCEN Files leak significantly different than those mentioned. First, they are highly confidential documents leaked from a government agency. Secondly, they weren’t leaked from a single source. The leaked documents came from nearly 90 financial institutions facilitating financial transactions in more than 150 countries. Lastly, some high-profile names were released in this leak; however, the focus of this leak centered more around the transactions themselves and the financial institutions involved, not necessarily the names of individuals involved.

FinCEN Files and the Impact

What does this mean for the financial institutions? As mentioned above, many experienced a negative impact to their stocks. The next biggest impact is their reputation. Leaders of the highlighted institutions do not enjoy having potential shortcomings in their operations be exposed, nor do customers of those institutions appreciate seeing the institution managing their funds being published adversely in the media.

Where did the financial institutions go wrong? Based on the information, it is actually hard to say where they went wrong, or even ‘if’ they went wrong. Financial institutions are obligated to monitor transactional activity, both inbound and outbound, for suspicious or unusual behavior, especially those that could appear to be illicit activities related to money laundering. If such behavior is identified, the financial institution is required to complete a Suspicious Activity Report, or a SAR, and file it with FinCEN. The SAR contains all relevant information such as the parties involved, transaction(s), account(s), and details describing why the activity is deemed to be suspicious. In some cases, financial institutions will file a SAR if there is no direct suspicion; however, there also was not a logical explanation found either.

So what deems certain activities to be suspicious and how do financial institutions detect them? Most financial institutions have sophisticated solutions in place that monitor transactions over a period of time, and determine typical behavioral patterns for that client, and that client compared to their peers. If any activity falls disproportionately beyond those norms, the financial institution is notified, and an investigation is conducted. Because of the nature of this detection, incorporating multiple transactions, and comparing it to historical “norms”, it is very difficult to stop a transaction related to money laundering real-time. It is not uncommon for a transaction or series of transactions to occur and later be identified as suspicious, and a SAR is filed after the transaction has been completed.

FinCEN Files: Who’s at Fault?

Going back to my original question, was there any wrong doing? In this case, they were doing exactly what they were required to do. When suspicion was identified, SARs were filed. There are two things that are important to note. Suspicion does not equate to guilt, and individual financial institutions have a very limited view as to the overall flow of funds. They have visibility of where funds are coming from, or where they are going to; however, they don’t have an overall picture of the original source, or the final destination. The area where financial institutions may have fault is if multiple suspicions or probable guilt is found, but they fail to take appropriate action. According to Buzzfeed News, instances of transactions to or from sanctioned parties occurred, and known suspicious activity was allowed to continue after it was discovered.

Moving Forward

How do we do better? First and foremost, FinCEN needs to identify the source of the leak and fix it immediately. This is very sensitive data. Even within a financial institution, this information is only exposed to individuals with a high-level clearance on a need-to-know basis. This leak may result in relationship strains with some of the banks’ customers. Some people already have a fear of being watched or tracked, and releasing publicly that all these reports are being filed from financial institutions to the federal government won’t make that any better – especially if their financial institution was highlighted as one of those filing the most reports. Next, there has been more discussion around real-time AML. Many experts are still working on defining what that truly means, especially when some activities deal with multiple transactions over a period of time; however, there is definitely a place for certain money laundering transactions to be held in real time.

Lastly, the ability to share information between financial institutions more easily will go a long way in fighting financial crime overall. For those of you who are AML professionals, you may be thinking we already have such a mechanism in place with 314b. However, the feedback I have received is that it does not do an adequate job. It’s voluntary and getting responses to requests can be a challenge. Financial institutions need a consortium to effectively communicate with each other, while being able to exchange critical data needed for financial institutions to see the complete picture of financial transactions and all associated activities. That, combined with some type of feedback loop from law enforcement indicating which SARs are “useful” versus which are either “inadequate” or “unnecessary” will allow institutions to focus on those where criminal activity is really occurring.

We will continue to post updates as we learn more.

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How can financial services firms keep pace with escalating requirements?

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How can financial services firms keep pace with escalating requirements? 6

By Tim FitzGerald, UK Banking & Financial Services Sales Manager, InterSystems

Financial services firms are currently coming up against a number of critical challenges, ranging from market volatility, most recently influenced by COVID-19, to the introduction of regulations, such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB). However, these issues are being compounded as many financial institutions find it increasingly difficult to get a handle on the vast volumes of data that they have at their disposal. This is no surprise given that IDC has projected that by 2025, the global “datasphere” will have grown to a staggering 175 zettabytes of data – more than five times the amount of data generated in 2018. As an industry that has typically only invested in new technology when regulations deem it necessary, many traditional banks are now operating using legacy systems and applications that haven’t been designed or built to interoperate. Consequently, banks are struggling to leverage data to achieve business goals and to gain a clear picture of their organisation and processes in order to comply with regulatory requirements. These challenges have been more prevalent during the pandemic as financial services firms were forced to adapt their operations to radical changes in customer behaviour and increased demand for digital services – all while working largely remotely themselves.

As more stringent regulations come in to play and financial services firms look to keep pace with escalating requirements from regulators, consumer demand for more online services, and the ever-evolving nature of the industry and world at large, it’s vital they do two things. Firstly, they must begin to invest in the technology and processes that will allow them to more easily manage the data that traditional banks have been collecting and storing for upwards of 50 years. Secondly, they must innovate. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic will have been a catalyst for both actions. However, the hard work has only just begun.

Legacy technology

Traditionally, due to tight budgets and no overarching regulatory imperative to change, financial institutions haven’t done enough to address their overreliance on disconnected legacy systems. Even when faced with the new wave of regulation that was implemented in the wake of the 2008 banking crash, financial services organisations generally only had to invest in different applications on an ad hoc basis to meet each individual regulation. However, as new regulations require the analysis of larger data sets within smaller processing windows, breaking down any and all data siloes is essential and this will require financial institutions that are still reliant on legacy systems to implement new technologies to meet the regulatory stipulations.

With this in mind, solutions which offer high-quality data analytics and enhanced integration will be key to the success of financial institutions and crucial to eliminate data silos. This will enable organisations to achieve a faster and more accurate analysis of real-time and historical data no matter where they are accessing the data from within smaller processing windows to keep pace with regulatory requirements, while also benefiting from low infrastructure costs.

This technology will also play a huge part in helping financial institutions scale their online operations to meet demand from customers for digital services. According to PNC Bank, during the pandemic, it saw online sales jump from 25% to 75%. Therefore, having data platforms that are able to handle surges in online activity is becoming increasingly important.

Real-time analysis of data

Tim FitzGerald

Tim FitzGerald

While the precise solution financial services institutions need will differ based on the organisation, broadly speaking, the more data they are storing on legacy solutions, the more they are going to require an updated data platform that can handle real-time analytics. Even organisations that have fewer legacy systems are still likely to require solutions that deliver enhanced interoperability to help provide a real-time view across the business and enable them to meet the pressing regulatory requirements they face. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that moving transactional data to a data warehouse, data lake, or any other silo will never deliver real-time analytics, therefore, businesses making risk decisions based on this and thinking it is real-time is completely inappropriate.

As such, financial services firms require a data platform that can ingest real-time transactional data, as well as from a variety of other sources of historical and reference data, normalise it, and make sense of it. The ability to process transactions at scale in real-time and simultaneously run analytics using transactional real-time data and large sets of non-real-time data, such as reference data, is a crucial capability for various business requirements. For example, powering mission-critical trading platforms that cannot slow down or drop trades, even as volumes spike.

Not only will having access to real-time data enable financial institutions to meet evolving regulatory requirements, but it will also allow them to make faster and more accurate decisions for their organisation andcustomers. With many financial services firms operating on a global basis, this is vital to help them keep up not only with evolving regulations but also changing circumstances in different markets in light of the pandemic. This data can also help them understand how to become more agile, help their employees become productive while working remotely, and how to build up operational resilience. These insights will also be vital as financial institutions need to consider the likelihood of subsequent waves of the virus, allowing them to gain a better understanding of what has and hasn’t worked for their business so far. 

Innovation

The financial services sector is fast-paced and ever-changing. With the launch of more digital-only banks, traditional institutions need to innovate to avoid being left behind, with COVID-19 only highlighting this further. With more than a third (35%) of customers increasing their use of online banking during this period, it is those banks and financial services firms with a solid online offering that have been best placed to answer this demand. As financial institutions cater to changing customer requirements, both now and in the future, implementing new technology that provides access to data in real-time will help them to uncover the fresh insights needed to develop new and transformative products and services for their customers. In turn, this will enable them to realise new revenue streams and potentially capture a bigger slice of the market. For instance, access to data will help banks better understand the needs of their customers during periods of upheaval, as well as under normal circumstance, which will allow them to target them with the specific services they may need during each of these periods to not only help their customers through difficult times but also to ensure the growth of their business. As financial institutions not only look to keep pace with but also gain an advantage over their competitors, using data to fuel excellent customer experiences will be essential to success.  

With the current economic uncertainty and market volatility, it’s critical that financial services are able to meet the changing requirements coming from all angles. With COVID-19 likely to be the biggest catalyst for financial institutions to digitally transform, they will be better able to cater to rapidly evolving landscapes and prepare for continued periods of remote working. As they look to achieve this, replacing legacy systems with innovative and agile technology solutions will be crucial to ensure they can gain the accurate and complete view of their enterprise data they need to comply with new and changing regulations, and better meet the needs of consumers in an increasingly digital landscape, whether they are located in an office or working remotely.

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