With Brexit coming up, many companies, especially those in the financial sector, have taken precautions and relocated their EU head offices to one of the 27 remaining EU member state to ensure that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, they will have access to the European single market. Offices in the UK, which will qualify as a third country after Brexit, will often be operated as branches.
On February 6, 2019, ESMA published its MIFID II Supervisory briefing on the supervision of non-EU branches of EU firms providing investment services and activities. Through its new Supervisory briefing, ESMA aims to ensure effective oversight of the non-EU branches by the competent authority of the firm´s home member state.
This article provides an overview of the measures proposed by ESMA to national regulatory authorities, divided into three areas: (i) ESMA´s supervisory expectations in relation to the authorisation of investment firms; (ii) the supervision of ongoing activities of non-EU branches by the competent authority; and (iii) ESMA´s proposed supervisory activity of the competent authority.
Supervisory expectations in relation to the authorisation of investment firms
The relocation of a company to the EU means that an authorisation covering the respective business model must be applied for in the respective EU member state. The authorisation procedure must, inter alia, include a description of the company’s organisational structure, including its non-EU branches. The competent authority should be satisfied that the use of the non-EU branch is based on objective reasons linked to the services provided in the non-EU jurisdiction and does not result in situations where such non-EU branches perform material functions or provide services back into the EU, while the office relocated to the EU is only used as a letter box entity. To this end, the competent authority should make its judgement on the substance of the business activity, the organisation, the governance and the risk management arrangements of the applicant in relation to the establishment and the use of branches in non-EU jurisdictions. Therefore, the firm´s program of operations should explain how the relocated EU head office will be able to monitor and manage any non-EU branch, clarify the role of the non-EU branch and provide detailed information, such as:
- an overview of how the non-EU branch will contribute to the investment firm´s strategy;
- the activities and functions that will be performed by the non-EU branch;
- a description of how the firm will ensure that any local requirements in the non-EU jurisdiction do not interfere with the compliance by the EU firm with legal requirements applicable to it in accordance with EU law.
Supervision of ongoing activities of non-EU branches
In order to allow the competent authority to appropriately monitor firms providing investment services or activities on an ongoing basis, firms should provide the competent authority of its home member state with relevant information on any new non-EU branch that they plan to establish or on any material change in the activities of non-EU branches already established. Therefore, the competent authority should, taking into account the importance of non-EU branches for the relevant firm, request on an ad hoc or a periodic basis, information on, inter alia:
- the number and the geographical distribution of clients served by the non-EU branches;
- the activities and the functions provided by the non-EU branch to the EU head office.
Supervisory activity of the competent authority
The competent authority should put in place internal criteria and arrangements to supervise comprehensively and in sufficient depth the activities that branches of EU firms under their supervision perform outside of the EU. For that purpose, the competent authority should prepare plans for the supervision of non-EU branches of EU firms and identify resources dedicated to this activity. These resources should be capable of performing a critical screening of the firms under their supervision that have established non-EU branches, including, information received or requested in relation to these branches.
As the Supervisory briefing shows, EU supervisors are urged by ESMA to ensure that companies relocating to the EU as a result of Brexit are not just used as mere letter box entities to gain access to the European single market and the actual investment services are provided via the non-EU branch. Therefore, the competent authorities should take a closer look at the firm´s non-EU branches, to ensure that the branch has the function of a branch not only on paper but also in practice. Investment firms should be prepared for this supervisory practice.