Time to act: Smart transitions to UMR compliance

Firms face many challenges as phases five and six UMR deadlines loom. They must get their AANA calculations right to determine which phase they are in. With only three months to prepare, further complications related to an overload of firms aiming to complete the same steps may leave phase five firms with many options closed to them. Here, Neil Murphy, Business Manager at TriOptima, highlights the critical steps for phase five and six firms, offering insights into priorities, potential pitfalls and solutions for a smart transition to UMR compliance.

- Neil Murphy, Business Manager, TriOptima

Q1. Only about 70-75 firms have come into the scope of the Uncleared Margin Rules (UMR) since 2016 across phases one to four. However, we are expecting more than 300 phase five firms in September 2021 and upwards of 600 phase six firms in September 2022. What are the challenges for the industry related to the sheer volume of firms coming into scope of the UMR?

Firms will be relying on common resources; vendors, lawyers, consultants, and even regulators. They will be trying to complete the same steps, be that onboarding to a tri-party or custodian, or negotiation of legal documentation with the same four tri-parties and maybe the same 10 or 15 dealer banks. A critical consequence of this is potentially more limited choices. For example, we have seen tri-parties and custodians establish onboarding cut-off dates, earlier in the year. So, firms looking to onboard between now and September 1 may find some of their paths are closed. Similarly, firms who want to sign regulatory IM CSAs with all of their dealer counterparties may find dealers being more selective at this point, perhaps looking to onboard premium clients first, or less open to negotiation of the underlying CSA terms.

Q2. Could you talk about the average aggregate notional amount (AANA) calculation and how phase five and six firms should approach this?

The AANA calculation is critical. It is a key determinant in identifying when a firm is in scope. Given the importance of determining the phase, it is important to get it right, but also, to do it early. The most recent AANA observation window effectively just ended in May, which would only leave three months for a firm to prepare for September, which is unlikely to be sufficient.

For those firms who are not yet in scope, there are several nuances to the AANA calculation concerning data. Chief among those is the aggregation of multiple data sources. When firms are thinking about AANA calculation, the first step is to perform the calculations at the group level and to identify all the relevant entities in the group. The consolidation of data for all positions across the group can present a challenge when coming from multiple sources. This creates an additional hurdle for multi-manager firms where each manager has a limited view of exposure only. Plus firms may face challenges in relation to differences across various jurisdictions, impacting product coverage, calculation methodology and observation windows.

Questions remain with regards to how to account for the correct notional on certain product types and there are calls for further guidance from rule makers.

Q3. How much progress have phase five and six firms made and how should they prioritise their efforts?

The industry has always talked about UMR compliance as requiring a one-year-plus project. But it’s not a hard and fast timeline. Critically, the rules don't impact all firms equally. So, firms who expect their IM exposure to grow quickly will require different preparation steps than firms that may be brought in scope by the size of their AANA, but expect their IM exposure to remain very low, and can take advantage of regulatory relief.

Regardless of the size of the firm, or even the expected IM impact, all firms are focused on the IM calculation as their key priority. And my key recommendation to clients is that they should perform this calculation as early as possible, since without it I'm not sure they can confidently define a project plan, engage with counterparties or make decisions about their technology needs.

For those firms who do expect to quickly exceed IM thresholds and begin exchanging IM margin, we see that many have already moved to, or are about to move into a soft go-live phase, whereby they're doing daily IM calculations across their portfolios, engaging with counterparties to investigate differences, and really simulating what the process will look like after September 1. I think getting to that stage ahead of the summer is a great position to be in. It will provide sufficient time to iron out calculation kinks and better understand how SIMM impacts their portfolio and allow them time to work with their counterparties on reconciling differences. And, whilst a fair number of people are in this position already, and others are hoping to be there by the end of Q2, there are still firms that will squeeze through the door at the last minute.

Q4. Do you expect a trend in firms using the AANA calculation and IM monitoring as part of UMR avoidance strategies?

UMR avoidance is more about reducing your AANA so that you can delay the impact, or even perhaps remain out of scope, permanently. This is something that may be achieved by a change in trading strategy. For example, compressing a portfolio or clearing trades where you are eligible to lower overall positions. However, for any firm that does manage to lower their AANA below $8 billion, the compliance obligation does not just disappear. Instead, they will be required to repeat that AANA calculation in subsequent years to verify whether they come within scope at that point.

Once you breach the AANA threshold and you're in scope, you can't avoid UMR per se. Granted, regulators have provided some relief which means you don't have to complete all of the legal documentation steps or open custodian accounts. But you still must perform IM calculation and monitoring. It means, obviously, a lower compliance burden and less to do operationally if some of the steps can be delayed or do not apply.

Q5. Could you talk about the collateral processing needs associated with regulatory IM and how they differ from variation margin (VM) requirements?

At a high level, the calculation of VM and IM margin calls are quite similar. You compare your inputs, i.e. SIMM or schedule exposure to the terms of the IM CSA, and any outstanding collateral balance. This determines whether additional collateral is required, and whether a call should be issued. For VM, the mechanics are the same, simply replacing SIMM with mark-to-market. But a key difference is the exchange of IM is on a non-netted basis, which means two margin calls will be required, for both receipt and delivery of initial margin.

Other key differences relate to the exchange of collateral, which is likely to be non-cash. This will create new challenges associated with funding and settlement of securities for firms that have relied on cash for variation margin.

Perhaps the largest difference on the collateral side is the requirement for segregation of any collateral posted as IM. Phase one to four firms have largely adopted a tri-party model. This poses a steep learning curve for in-scope firms as they need to establish new tri-party relationships, onboard and upgrade their systems. Plus in the tri-party model the actual margin call process differs from VM, with firms agreeing the call amount only, and the task of allocating collateral being done separately by the agent. Perhaps the biggest collateral challenge for firms is connectivity to multiple tri-parties and custodians - since your counterparties may choose a range different agent than you - and ensuring that you are not reliant on fax or logging in to multiple portals in order to instruct movements. Legacy processes tend to support cash and securities payment only, so firms will need to establish new ways of instructing payments, as well as ensuring firms have the necessary transparency to view any tri-party collateral allocations.

Q6. How would you contrast the firms now coming into scope with phase one to four firms and how do their needs differ from those in earlier phases?

The size of the IM exposure and the associated time to breach the regulatory threshold is the key difference for phase five and six firms. Many phase one to four firms exceeded IM thresholds very quickly, some even on day one. In contrast, IM may remain low for phase five and six firms for a long time, or even forever for smaller parties. So, IM monitoring will be sufficient for many, something that wasn't even an option to firms in earlier phases.

Phase five and six firms require more comprehensive systems support than firms in earlier phases. They may require help with IM calculation and the margining process, as well as settlement. Firms in earlier phases were often able to reuse large parts of their existing infrastructure. They had more advanced risk systems capable of generating the underlying sensitivities, for example, and take-up among TriOptima clients was probably skewed towards collateral management, with many capable of managing their own IM calculations. In contrast, a large degree of phase five and six firms require support for both IM calculation and collateral management, evidenced here at TriOptima by strong adoption of both triCalculate and triResolve Margin.

In earlier phases, IM reconciliation was a day-one priority with close to 100% adoption of AcadiaSoft's Initial Margin Exposure Manager (IMEM). In contrast, IM exposure will likely take more time to build up here. So, there is less focus on IM reconciliation and it will be interesting to see how firms will fare when they start to exchange IM calls, or perhaps observe their first differences with counterparties since the question of how they are going to manage and resolve IM disputes may have been overlooked. In the VM world, there is a long-established process for portfolio reconciliation using triResolve as a centralized market standard, which can be mirrored for IM through the adoption of a similar standard for IM sensitivity reconciliation by means of IMEM.

Q7. To what extent has TriOptima adapted its service offering and operational set-up in preparation for the latter UMR phases?

The first new function we have added is IM monitoring. The addition of a dedicated monitoring dashboard allows clients to measure their own IM (as well as counterparty IM) on a daily basis, to compare it to a local or even an agreed soft threshold, and to receive an automated alert when that limit is breached. At that point, if they move to sign an initial margin CSA, they can seamlessly switch from monitoring to active margining.

The second key change we have introduced is connectivity to custodians & tri-parties with our new SWIFT settlement capability. We recognized early on that the obligation to connect, not just to your own preferred tri-party or custodian, but also to the tri-party of each of your counterparties, posed a significant technical hurdle for firms. And associated with that, a failure to connect to them would create a level of operational risk that is not acceptable to firms, because the alternative would mean logging into custodian portals manually and even sending faxes. Our addition of automated SWIFT connectivity uniquely offers clients connectivity to all 4 tri-party agents, real-time settlement instruction, plus the benefit of consolidated collateral reporting & validation.

To learn more about initial margin, visit cmegroup.com/im-compliance