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13 May 2021
With the Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC) taking – and wanting to be seen to be taking – an increasingly robust approach with regulated firms, it is only natural for firms to ask what they can do to avoid a referral to the JFSC's Enforcement division and, if they are referred, what steps they can take to manage the risk of formal sanction.
On a positive note, there are a number of steps that firms can take now to minimise the prospects of a referral to Enforcement.
First, firms should review (and if necessary enhance) their compliance resource as a matter of priority. The JFSC has made clear (from its Compliance Monitoring guidance in 2013 through to its most recent public statements and civil penalties) that firms must have a compliance function that is adequately resourced. Importantly, this requires an assessment of both the quantity and quality of that resource. Further, firms must prepare and implement an effective compliance monitoring plan that is tailored to the specific risks faced by the firm, and which is reviewed and updated to reflect the changes in those risks over time.
Second, the board must be able to show that it is discharging its role as the firm's governing body effectively. Questions that board members should ask themselves regularly include as follows:
If the answer to any of these questions is not a resounding 'yes', urgent improvements are needed.
Third, it is crucial that responsibilities are apportioned clearly within the firm. Job descriptions should be reviewed to ensure that they set out clearly the individual's role and responsibilities, and each individual should be clear as to their reporting line and (where relevant) authorisation levels. Managers should also ensure that they exercise appropriate oversight over those who they supervise.
Fourth, firms should seek appropriate independent validation (eg, by group internal audit or an external consultant) of their compliance function and board effectiveness. Such review and feedback by an objective party can be invaluable in challenging 'group think' and identifying areas for improvement.
Fifth, firms must keep adequate, orderly and up-to-date business and customer records. Firms often view record keeping as a second-tier regulatory obligation, of less importance than other substantive obligations. This is a serious error: adequate records build a 'corporate memory' and also provide the necessary audit trail by which the firm can demonstrate compliance with wider regulatory requirements to the JFSC.
Sixth, firms must deal with the JFSC in an open and cooperative manner at all times. The JFSC's ability to supervise firms depends on the quality of the information that it receives, which means that it takes a dim view of firms that fail to be candid and cooperative. It is therefore in each firm's interest to cultivate a strong relationship with their regulator, both when responding to JFSC requests and in recognising when to make proactive disclosures.
Unfortunately, no firm has unlimited resources, which means that even the best-run firm will encounter problems. Often what is key is how the firm reacts.
The JFSC has confirmed(1) that "[w]here appropriate [it] will try to ensure that contraventions or instances of misconduct are rectified in conjunction with the person concerned through the normal supervisory processes", with an enforcement referral envisaged "[w]here such action is not considered to be sufficient or where co-operation is lacking".
It is clear from the JFSC's published policies(2) that it will take into account a number of factors when deciding on what (if any) penalty to impose, such as:
As such, when issues are identified, the firm should be proactive, conveying to the JFSC that it takes the matter seriously and is committed to making all necessary improvements:
If a firm is unable to avoid an Enforcement referral, it can nonetheless take steps to manage the risk and severity of formal sanction. At the earliest opportunity, the firm should ensure that it understands the focus of the investigation and take legal advice on the possible outcomes (which may be against not only the firm, but also its principal persons) and how best to proceed. The firm must also remember that it continues to remain subject to Principle 6 of the relevant JFSC Code of Practice.
The JFSC recognises that "[e]arly acknowledgement by a Subject of breaches of regulatory requirements - which effectively saves time and investigative resources - will always be considered favourably by the JFSC", and so has set out a formal settlement process that applies in cases of breaches of regulatory requirements.(3) If offered the opportunity to discuss settlement, firms should take it seriously: it gives them the opportunity (not otherwise available) to comment on the wording of any public statement and to gain up to a 50% discount on any financial penalty, while avoiding the costly and time-consuming decision-making process before the JFSC's Review Committee and (potentially) the courts.
No firm wants to find itself facing a referral to the JFSC's Enforcement division. Firms are therefore well advised to satisfy themselves that their governance arrangements and systems and controls remain fit for purpose. If issues do arise, firms should engage with the JFSC proactively and ensure that the issues are remediated promptly. Taking these steps can help to persuade the JFSC that a less severe sanction ought to be imposed than might otherwise have been the case – and may even avoid a referral altogether.
(1) Further information is available here.
(2) See, for example, Our use of public statements, Civil financial penalties on Registered Persons - methodology for determining the amount and Civil financial penalties on Principal Persons - methodology for determining the amount.
(3) Further information is available here.
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