As the days start to shorten more noticeably, the Brexit timetable is starting to stretch out again, and it’s worth re-thinking what this might mean for the regulatory changes it requires and for the firms involved.
There will doubtless be lots of fireworks around Brexit, from when MPs return to Parliament through to the end of March 2019 and possibly beyond. Simply looking at the timeline, with signs that the October deadline for a deal may slip, March’s exit date may begin to look less realistic.
Although painful and frustrating for many, and with lots of inevitable opportunity costs incurred, there may be some pluses in an extended timetable for both regulators and firms. Here are five possibilities to think about:
1. For starters, there would be advantages if there was open acceptance by all concerned that temporary authorisations are going to be needed. If I’ve got this right, the FCA is already there, while the PRA - understandably at the moment - wants to get the work done ahead of next March, and the EU27 have so far failed to respond to the UK’s initiative. A new timetable that pushes regulators onto the same page – with practicality forcing out the politics I’ve written about before – could help both regulators and firms, from all jurisdictions.
2. It’s unfashionable to say so, but regulatory decisions made quickly rarely end well. Kicking the tyres of all the options, and giving those with concerns a proper chance to be heard, are more likely to avoid the unintended consequences and perverse incentives regulators loathe but too often end up creating. Taking some of the heat and the time pressure out of Brexit-related decisions should benefit everyone.
3. Another quirk of slowing the process down is that the Boards and senior management of both regulators and firms are less likely to become pre-occupied by Brexit. This reduces the risk they will drop something else because they haven’t focused on it enough – consumer credit, pensions and cyber spring to mind as other critical areas the FCA has coming up. It should also mean they are more likely to view Brexit decisions in a broader context, with more balanced perspective.
4. Related to this, there will be more time for the regulators on the ground to do the work before sending the options for decision up the line. Ironically, a symptom of almost all regulatory failures of the last 25 years is their high proportion of senior management focus compared to front line analytical time. Without the latter, there is a greater risk decision makers will be over-optimistic and leap before they look.
5. And lastly, there’s the masochistic but oddly comforting fact that the fact of slowing things down leads to periods of forced introspection, and creates the time needed to make difficult decisions in the right way. These are benefits that regulators don’t often feel they can choose to take.
At the moment, the relevance of these factors is also accentuated by other timelines that are in the process of running their course. One is the FCA’s move to Stratford, which seems to have gone better than many expected, the other is the decision on the Bank of England’s next Governor, likely in the next few months. Both are distractions from Brexit and from other priorities. There are advantages to the fallout from them completing before the bulk of Brexit-related regulatory decisions need to be taken.
Insurers had hoped that their cross-border contracts would be dealt with outside of the Brexit negotiations. But while the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have set up a joint working group to look at the issue, there may not be time for a solution ahead of next March, when the UK leaves the bloc.