I’ve written before about the strain preparations for Brexit is already causing regulators and this will only become worse in 2018. Here are half a dozen signs to look for that should help firms with their planning:

1. Heavy concentrations of regulatory announcements: This is caused by pressures on internal governance, which will be increasingly caught up in Brexit. There is always a spate of announcements before the 31 March year end and this is likely to be more pronounced than usual.

2. More ruthless prioritisation: Plan A in such circumstances is to stop (or not start) discretionary pieces of work. But in reality much of the regulators’ work is (all but) non-discretionary, though timing and resourcing levels are usually a little more flexible, while other major programmes tend to be long-running priorities that management is reluctant to stop. If something major is halted, it will be a sign of how much of a pre-occupation Brexit is becoming. And few such decisions are without future consequences – a striking example was the FSA’s decision in the early 2000s to deprioritise work on Liquidity in favour of focusing on reforming capital requirements, one it came to regret when the markets dried up in 2007 at the start of the crisis.

3. Slippage: Plan B, more frequently used in practice and carrying less risk though more short-term cost, is to keep normal business simmering but to go slower (with fewer resources). This can be frustrating for the industry and sometimes embarrassing for regulators, as deadlines are missed, but it does have the virtue of keeping all the important plates spinning, which is often valuable down the line.

4. Faster decisions: On the face of it, this is a good thing, and in normal times regulators would typically see it as a plus. In times of strain, however, faster decisions can become associated with less scrutiny, higher risk appetite, less rigour in evidence-gathering, less consistency. It goes without saying that none of these are good.

5. Less experienced staff: However the regulators manage to make space to manage preparations for Brexit, the additional resources required to do so will need to come from somewhere, and this will inexorably lead to higher internal (and possibly external) turnover, and more people in temporary or acting up positions. In the longer term, this can have positive effects in what can be quite hierarchical organisations, but inevitably not everyone rises to the challenge, and firms will need to manage any resulting discontinuity or reduced levels of expertise.

6. Deeper silos: Coordinating decisions and maintaining a consistent approach across the organisation is always a challenge for regulators, especially for the FCA which has a complex operating model. Brexit preparations will make this coherence harder to sustain, increasing therisk that decision making becomes narrower and defaults into being made within a single division.

These signs are not mutually exclusive, some are clearly more worrying than others, and there is a balance between the short and long term risks involved. 

It’s also worth noting that, of the firm-facing divisions, Authorisations, Supervision and the Policy/Legal functions are likely to be more directly affected than Enforcement and Competition. However, there will be many people right across both organisations who will spend much of 2018 working extremely long hours.

Preparing for Brexit will dominate regulation over the next year. Using the above as a starting point, can help firms understand what is at the root of the regulatory behaviour they are seeing, and so plan ahead accordingly or find a more effective way to engage.