Brexit: three months and counting

Following Brexit on 1 February 2020, the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 is rapidly approaching. At this stage it is still uncertain if an agreement between the EU and the UK will be reached on the period thereafter so the risk of a hard or no deal Brexit is increasing and mitigating action may be advisable, especially by investment firms who may not be able to rely on an exemption anymore.

Transition period

The Withdrawal Agreement agreed upon between the EU and the UK provided for a transition period that will end on 31 December 2020. At present, only three months of this period are left. However, as there is still no agreement between the EU and the UK on the period following the transition period, the risk of a hard Brexit remains and increases as time lapses.

In case of a hard Brexit, certain EU and Dutch rules and regulations will apply in order to assist UK financial institutions to continue to do business in the Netherlands. Apart from that, certain EU rules and regulations provide for mitigating effects.

Dutch statutory regimes for investment firms and AIFMs

Earlier, two particular Dutch regimes were suggested to mitigate the effects a hard Brexit:

  • UK investment firms would be able to (temporarily) continue to actively service Dutch professional clients on the basis of a proposed amendment of the existing exemption for certain foreign investment firms, thereby allowing UK investment firms to temporarily continue to provide services in the Netherlands. This regime would be similar to the temporary permissions regime in the UK and was expected to last for (at least) two years.
  • UK AIFMs may (temporarily) continue to market their AIFs to qualified investors in the Netherlands on the basis of the existing Dutch national private placement regime under the AIFMD. The AIFMD provided for an end to this regime (originally already in 2018) so also this regime is likely to be of a temporary nature.

However, recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the AFM have indicated that the temporary exemption for UK investment firms will not be entering into force upon a hard Brexit. The main reason apparantely being that due to the esarlier postponement of Brexit and the transitition period now ending on 31 December 2020, ample time has been available to UK investment firms and their Dutch client to take the necessary action, thereby taking away the necessity for this temporary exemption.

Private placement to qualified investors will remain possible for UK AIFMs upon a hard Brexit. This requires a registration with the Dutch regulator AFM which is free of charge. In addition, certain ongoing requirements must be met by the UK AIFMs s registered.

Action required?

Now that the end of the transition period is rapdily approaching and there is still no agreement on a soft Brexit, it is advisable to take any further mitigation action required. For UK AIFMs this can be a simple registration with the AFM. UK investment firms actively servicing Dutch clients will now have to consider how they may be able to continue their services. This may require a license in the EU or altogether ceasing actively servicing Dutch clients.

Coronasluiting bij clusters kan niet zomaar

Zojuist hebben Legaltree-partners Liesbeth Driest en Irene Verheijen voor de tweede keer in evenzoveel werkdagen geadviseerd over dreigende sluiting bij een ‘cluster’ van Corona-besmettingen. Het lijkt erop dat de veiligheidsregio’s, burgemeesters en GGD’en over het hoofd zien dat er een overtreding moet worden geconstateerd voordat tot sluiting kan worden overgegaan. De enkele constatering van de […]

Regulation on Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA)

Foto: Thought Catalog

A first introduction

On 12 September 2020, a draft Regulation on Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA) was leaked to the press. While this is only a draft which hasn’t been adopted yet and it is only expected to apply from 18 months after its entering into force (so not before 2022), the draft MiCA Regulation gives material insight in how the EU aims to regulate crypto-assets, thereby using familiar EU banking and financial services regimes.

General view

The draft MiCA Regulation includes many familiar concepts from the existing banking and financial services directives and regulations. To mention a few, the whitepaper requirement is like the prospectus requirement applicable under the Prospectus Regulation whereas the authorization for issuers of asset-referenced tokens and providers of crypto-asset services has similarities with the MiFID II authorization regime. Together with the fact that the draft MiCA Regulation includes a ‘light touch’ market abuse regime that is no doubt derived from the MAR, just like custody and payment requirements that seem to come from the AIFMD and the PSD2, the draft MiCA Regulation also refers to the CRD and the EMD for the authorization of issuers of e-money tokens. All in all, the draft MiCA Regulation seems to be a collection of (parts of) these banking and financial services regimes. A further analysis will have to show to what extent the same level of granularity is aimed for.

It is consequently beyond doubt that the issuance of crypto-assets and the provision of services relating to crypto assets, will become (heavily) regulated just like the provision of banking and financial services in the EU. Even though one of the purposes of the draft MiCA Regulation is to support innovation, this will have a considerable impact on the industry, which at present is largely unregulated. The change by this new regime will therefore be a major one to prepare for in time.

Crypto-assets: definitions

The purpose of the draft MiCA Regulation is to capture all possible crypto-assets that are not already covered by existing EU banking and financial services regimes (financial instruments, (structured) deposits, e-money, or securitisations). As a result, the definition of crypto-assets is deliberately wide and is further divided into three subcategories of utility tokens, asset-referenced tokens, and e-money tokens:

  1. Crypto-assets are “a digital representation of value or rights, which may be transferred and stored electronically, using distributed ledger or similar technology”. This definition aims to correspond with the FATF definition of virtual assets. Examples include crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin.
  2. Utility tokens are “intended to provide access digitally to an application, services or resources available on a distributed ledger and that are accepted only by the issuer of that token to grant access to such application, services or resources available”. They often have a non-financial purpose, for example access to a platform or services such as OmiseGo or OMG (trading, payments) and Filecoin (storage, payments).
  3. Asset referenced tokens have as “main purpose to be used as means of exchange thereby maintaining a stable value by referring to the value of fiat currencies, commodities or crypto-assets, or a combination thereof”. They are aimed to be used as means of payment. Examples include DAI (backed by crypto-currencies) and PAX Gold (backed by gold).
  4. E-money tokens have as “main purpose to be used as a means of exchange thereby maintaining a stable value by being denominated in (units of) a fiat currency”. As such they can also be considered as a subcategory of asset referenced tokens. As they refer to one fiat currency only, they are very much similar to e-money. Examples include USD Tether and Libra (to the extent backed by one currency only).

Apart from this, the draft MiCA Regulation includes a definition of crypto-asset services that includes custody and administration, operation of a trading platform, exchange services, brokerage and placement services, advice and execution of payment transactions, all relating to crypto-assets.

Main elements of draft MiCA Regulation

The draft MiCA Regulation is a sizeable document including 114 (sometimes lengthy) articles and includes rules for the offering and marketing of crypto-assets applicable to all types of crypto-assets and additional rules and restrictions on the issuance of asset-referenced tokens and e-money tokens. Apart from this, the draft MiCA Regulation includes rules on the authorization and operating conditions for crypto-asset service providers as well as rules on prevention of market abuse.

As with almost all EU legislation, further rules will be laid down in delegated and implementing acts. The contents thereof are unknown at present. In addition, also the Annexes 1, 2 and 3 to the draft MiCA Regulation including the requirements for the various whitepapers to be published, are still missing. At this stage it is therefore still impossible to make a full assessment of the impact of the MiCA Regulation when in force. However, based on the general requirements mentioned in the draft MiCA Regulation itself it can be safely concluded that the impact will be considerable (crypto-assets), far-reaching (asset-referenced tokens, crypto-asset services) and severe (e-money tokens).

The core of the draft MiCA Regulation consists of rules and requirements for the offering and issuing of crypto-assets (utility tokens, asset referenced tokens and e-money tokens) and the providing of the various services relating to crypto-assets.

Highlights

Highlights of the new MiCA regime seem to be that:

  1. a whitepaper must be made public for the offering of crypto-assets (that must be approved by the regulator in case of asset-referenced tokens)
  2. issuers of asset-referenced tokens must be authorized
  3. e-money tokens may only be issued by authorized credit institutions or e-money institutions
  4. providers of services relating to crypto-assets must be authorized.

An overview of the main aspects of the draft MiCA Regulation is presented in this table.

Dutch decision on Hague Service Convention: award creditors must play by the book or suffer delays (but there is potential for procedural time gains)

Earlier this week an interim decision of the The Hague Court of Appeal of 8 September 2020 was published, issued in enforcement proceedings between a Dutch ConocoPhillips entity as applicant and the Venezuelan state oil and gas company and one of its subsidiaries as respondents. The decision is perhaps unremarkable insofar as the court refused to hear the petition ex-parte until the requirements of the Hague Service Convention (1965) (“Convention”) on completion of service are fully complied with. However, the decision also shows that there is room to optimise the proceedings before the Dutch courts and gain time in cases where obtaining proof of service on the award debtor is likely to be very difficult.

Procedural background

The Dutch proceedings were initiated by ConocoPhillips Gulf of Paria B.V. on 3 December 2019, when it filed a petition with the Court for recognition and leave to enforce a USD 31.5m ICC award issued against Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. and Corporación Venezolana de Petróleo S.A. Following receipt of the petition, the Court scheduled a hearing for 2 July 2020 and instructed ConocoPhillips to serve the hearing date on the respondents at least four months prior thereto. Neither Petróleos de Venezuela nor Corporación Venezolana de Petróleo appeared at the hearing. ConocoPhillips  had submitted service documents prior to the hearing, which evidenced that service had been initiated timely and correctly out of the Dutch jurisdiction, but was unable to submit the certificate of service and delivery to be issued under the Convention in the prerequisite form by the designated Venezuelan “central authority”. In this case the certificate was the only document with which ConocoPhillips could substantiate that service had been completed in accordance with the Convention. Transmission via postal channels was unavailable by virtue of the formal objection made thereto by Venezuela.

Decision on article 15 (2nd paragraph)

The Court was thus presented with the question whether it could proceed to hear the petition in the absence of the respondents under article 15 (2nd paragraph) of the Convention, which is applied by the Dutch courts pursuant to a formal declaration made by the Dutch State under the Convention. Article 15 (2nd paragraph) provides for an exception to the rule that service must be completed in accordance with the Convention before a Dutch court may proceed on an ex-parte basis. A three-limb test is to be performed: a) the document was transmitted by one of the methods provided for in the Convention; b) a period of time of at least six months, considered adequate by the judge in the particular case, has lapsed since the date of the transmission of the document; and c) no certificate of any kind has been received, even though every reasonable effort has been made to obtain it through the competent authorities of the State addressed.

With reference to a 2019 interim decision of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal on article 15 (2nd paragraph) in enforcement proceedings between state energy companies Naftogaz of Ukraine and Gazprom of the Russian Federation[1], the court held that ConocoPhillips was in any case not able to meet the second limb of the test i.e. that a period of at least six months has lapsed since the date of the transmission of the service documents and the hearing. The time period between the date of service out of the Netherlands (28 February 2020) and the hearing (2 July 2020) was four months and two days. The court dismissed an alternative interpretation of the Convention provided by ConocoPhillips, being that the six month period provided for in article 15 (2nd paragraph) would extend beyond the date of the hearing to the (expected) date of issuance of the court’s decision. The court went on to reschedule the case for a further hearing in seven months’ time (19 April 2021) so as to allow ConocoPhillips to serve the hearing date on the respondents while observing a service term of at least six months.

Observations on the decision and on how optimise Dutch procedure

The decision highlights that Dutch courts can be expected to require award creditors to submit proof of service that is complete and fully compliant with the Hague Service Convention, even if the political or economical situation in the state addressed makes it near impossible to deliver and serve the documents on the counterparty. This may seem a bit harsh on award creditors who are entirely dependent on the proper functioning of the central authority in a foreign State and who may suffer considerable delays – as this decision goes to show – if service documents are not returned timely by the central authority.

A counterbalance to the strict application of service requirements under the Convention is provided for in article 15 (2nd paragraph) of the Convention, which the Dutch courts are known to apply liberally if at least the required six months have lapsed since the date of service out of the Dutch jurisdiction and the applicant can show that reasonable efforts have been made by the process server to obtain the certificate of service and delivery. Clearly however, this alternative to proof of completion of service is less useful in practice if the six month-period is added to the initial service term for a hearing date, because that date was set at less than six months from the date of initiation of service out of the Netherlands. It is here that Dutch procedural law holds promise for optimisation and time gains.

Recognition and leave to enforce a foreign arbitral award in the Netherlands is applied for in ‘petition proceedings’ (verzoekschriftprocedure), which have as a distinct procedural feature that the hearing date and the minimum period for service of the hearing date on the respondent are set by the court and confirmed to the applicant following receipt of the petition. These procedural instructions are given sua sponte by the court. However, the relevant court regulations (procesreglementen) for the Dutch appellate courts specify – in summary – that a party in petition proceedings may apply to the court to (re)schedule a hearing in accordance with that party’s availability and that the court will strive to adjust its planning accordingly. Thus, one may assume the court to entertain an ancillary request made by an award creditor in the petition for recognition and leave to enforce to schedule the hearing at a specific minimum period after the envisaged date of service out of the Dutch jurisdiction.

On that basis and taking into account that article 15 (1st paragraph) of the Convention stipulates in general terms that article 15 (2nd paragraph) may be applied as soon as “the defendant has not appeared”, there seems to be nothing against an applicant proactively requesting a hearing to be scheduled in at least six months’ time, in order to account for a scenario where the service documents are not returned timely and article 15 (2nd paragraph) of the Convention may have to be relied on. In that way, the court may decide already at the first hearing, by way of an oral procedural instruction, to hear the petition ex-parte, rather than having to reschedule for a second hearing, only to be able to observe a six month service term. This approach may yield significant time gains for the award creditor, taking into account also that Dutch petition proceedings are in principle heard in a single hearing, following which the final decision on the petition for recognition and leave to enforce the foreign arbitral award may be issued.

[1] The author was a member of the Dutch counsel team for Gazprom in that case.

SFDR-eisen over duurzaamheid voor beleggingsadviseurs

Foto: Micheile Henderson

Over een half jaar, vanaf 10 maart 2021, zijn extra regels over informatieverschaffing over duurzaamheid van beleggingen van toepassing. Dit is het gevolg van de SFDR. Ook beleggingsadviseurs moeten hierdoor aanpassingen doorvoeren in hun beleid, de informatie op hun websites en de precontractuele informatie voor klanten.

Wie valt eronder?

De Europese SFDR Verordening (2019/2088) is niet alleen van toepassing op financiëlemarktdeelnemers zoals beleggingsfondsen en vermogensbeheerders maar ook op financieel adviseurs. Daaronder vallen naast beleggingsondernemingen en kredietinstellingen die beleggingsadvies als bedoeld in MiFID II verstrekken, ook beheerders van beleggingsinstellingen en icbe’s die beleggingsadvies als nevendienst verstrekken. Een aparte categorie financieel adviseurs betreft de verzekeraars en verzekeringstussenpersonen die verzekeringsadvies verstrekken over verzekeringsgebaseerde beleggingsproducten. Over deze laatste categorie in een volgende blog meer.

De SFDR is niet van toepassing op kleine beleggingsadviseurs met minder dan drie werknemers in dienst. Het staat de lidstaten echter vrij om de SFDR alsnog op deze groep van toepassing te verklaren. Het is nog onbekend of Nederland dit zal doen.

Het is aannemelijk dat de SFDR niet van toepassing is als er alleen sprake is van beleggingsadvies door beleggingsadviseurs van buiten de EU op basis van reverse solicitation. In dat geval biedt MiFID II namelijk ook geen bescherming aan cliënten in de EU zodat ook transparantie op basis van de SFDR niet lijkt bedoeld. Andersom betekent dit dat dienstverlening gericht op de EU door beleggingsadviseurs van buiten de EU, wel volledig onder de SFDR valt.

Wat is er nieuw?

Aangezien beleggingsadviseurs geen financiëlemarktdeelnemers in de zin van de SFDR zijn en slechts beleggingsadvies over financiële producten die door financiëlemarktdeelnemers worden aangeboden, verstrekken, zijn niet alle verplichtingen uit de SFDR op beleggingsadviseurs van toepassing. Bovendien luiden de verplichtingen die wel van toepassing zijn, veelal net iets anders.

De drie hoofdverplichtingen uit de SFDR voor beleggingsadviseurs hebben betrekking op:

  1. Beleid: het beleggingsadviesbeleid en het eigen beloningsbeleid van de beleggingsadviseur moet worden aangepast aan duurzaamheidsrisico’s.
  2. Website: informatie over het nieuwe beleggingsadviesbeleid en het nieuwe beloningsbeleid moet op de website van de beleggingsadviseur worden opgenomen.
  3. Precontractuele informatie: in precontractuele informatie over financiële producten waarover beleggingsadvies wordt verstrekt, moet worden aangegeven hoe bij beleggingsbeslissingen rekening wordt gehouden met duurzaamheidsrisico’s, hoe dit invloed heeft op het verwachte rendement en hoe negatieve effecten op duurzaamheidsfactoren worden meegenomen, of waarom dit niet gebeurt.

De vierde hoofdverplichting uit de SFDR betreffende de eisen die aan duurzame beleggingen worden gesteld, is niet van toepassing op beleggingsadviseurs aangezien zij geen duurzame beleggingen aanbieden maar daarover hooguit beleggingsadvies verstrekken.

Wat te doen?

Beleggingsadviesbeleid

Het beleggingsadviesbeleid van beleggingsadviseurs moet in beginsel rekening houden met duurzaamheidsrisico’s (gebeurtenissen op ESG-gebied die een materieel negatief resultaat op beleggingen kunnen hebben). Dit betekent dat deze risico’s, zoals het risico van temperatuurstijging op aarde, moeten meewegen bij het beleggingsadvies. Hoewel de SFDR dwingend voorschrijft dat beleggingsadviesbeleid duurzaamheidsrisico’s integreert, lijkt het strikt genomen mogelijk dat de beleggingsadviseur bij herziening van het beleggingsadviesbeleid concludeert dat (bepaalde) duurzaamheidsrisico’s niet relevant zijn en derhalve niet zullen worden meegenomen. De vraag bij duurzaamheidsrisico’s is natuurlijk wel of er situaties denkbaar zijn waarin sprake is van beleggingsbeslissingen die in het geheel niet worden geraakt door ESG-factoren zodat (goed) beleggingsadvies daar geen rekening mee hoeft te houden. Bepaalde duurzaamheidsrisico’s lijken toch altijd te moeten worden meegewogen.

Beloningsbeleid

Ook het beloningsbeleid van de beleggingsadviseur moet duurzaamheidsrisico’s meewegen. Hier lijkt niet echt een uitzondering te zijn voor het geval er geen sprake zou zijn van (bepaalde) duurzaamheidsrisico’s. Het beloningsbeleid moet dus altijd rekening houden met duurzaamheidsrisico’s en redelijkerwijs ook met duurzaamheidsfactoren (factoren op het gebied van ecologie, sociale zaken, werkgelegenheid, mensenrechten en bestrijding van corruptie en omkoping). Dit is waarschijnlijk bij uitstek een onderdeel dat moet worden verwerkt als niet-financieel criterium voor variabele beloning zoals bedoeld in artikel 1:118 lid 3 Wft als gevolg waarvan de variabele beloning van het personeel van de beleggingsadviseur mede wordt gebaseerd op prestaties op het gebied van duurzaamheidsfactoren.

Website

De beleggingsadviseur moet het aangepaste beleggingsadviesbeleid, of in ieder geval een beschrijving daarvan, publiceren op zijn website. Daarbij moet de beleggingsadviseur uitleggen of het beleggingsadviesbeleid duurzaamheidsrisico’s integreert, of niet. In het laatste geval is een uitleg vereist waarom dit niet gebeurt en eventueel ook wanneer dit wel het geval zal zijn. Dit betekent overigens niet dat het hele beleggingsadviesbeleid op de website moet worden vermeld. Een verklarende beschrijving, die tevens ingaat op de integratie van de duurzaamheidsrisico’s, lijkt voldoende.

Daarnaast moet de website van de beleggingsadviseur informatie over het aangepaste beloningsbeleid bevatten waarbij wordt uitgelegd hoe het beloningsbeleid duurzaamheidsrisico’s integreert. Dit betekent niet noodzakelijkwijs dat het hele beloningsbeleid op de website moet worden vermeld. Een verklarende beschrijving lijkt voldoende.

Precontractuele informatie

De beleggingsadviseur moet de precontractuele informatie voor cliënten aanpassen. Daarin moet worden beschreven in hoeverre en op welke manier rekening wordt gehouden met duurzaamheidsrisico’s bij het beleggingsadvies en welke effecten de duurzaamheidsrisico’s op het rendement van de geadviseerde financiële producten zullen hebben. Hiervoor zal de beleggingsadviseur mede gebruik moeten maken van de (aangepaste) precontractuele informatie van de financiëlemarktdeelnemer die het financiële product aanbiedt. Ook hier bestaat overigens de mogelijkheid om onderbouwd aan te geven dat duurzaamheidsrisico’s niet relevant worden geacht.

De precontractuele informatie moet onderdeel zijn van de verplichte precontractuele informatie die aan cliënten wordt verstrekt op grond van artikel 4:20 Wft, zoals de informatie over het aan de cliënt te verlenen beleggingsadvies en de kosten daarvan. In dit verband is tevens van belang dat een voorgestelde wijziging in de MiFID II-regels met zich meebrengt dat duurzaamheidsvoorkeuren van de cliënt moeten worden meegenomen in het kader van de verplichte geschiktheidstoetsing.

Wanneer moet dit gereed zijn?

De SFDR is van toepassing vanaf 10 maart 2021. Vanaf die datum moeten beleggingsadviseurs dus voldoen aan de nieuwe regels. Dit betekent dat beleggingsadviseurs nog maar zes maanden hebben om op tijd klaar te zijn. Dit betekent dus in ieder geval het beleid herzien en de informatie op websites en in precontractuele informatie uitbreiden.

Begin september werd bekend dat de Europese vereniging van vermogensbeheerders (Efama) om uitstel heeft gevraagd. Een dergelijk uitstel lijkt niet waarschijnlijk omdat de SFDR onderdeel is van de ‘green deal’ van de Commissie.

Bij niet-naleving moeten beleggingsadviseurs rekening houden met eventueel door de AFM op te leggen sancties. De SFDR bepaalt immers dat Nederland bevoegde autoriteiten aanwijst om toe te zien op naleving. Het ligt voor de hand dat dit de AFM zal zijn en dat de AFM in overeenstemming met een nog aan te passen Besluit uitvoering EU-verordeningen financiële markten, onder andere boetes en dwangsommen kan opleggen bij overtreding.

Wat is nog meer van belang?

Inmiddels is op Europees niveau een consultatie gestart over de uitwerking van de SFDR in gedetailleerde technische standaarden (regulatory technical standards of RTS). Deze RTS hebben met name betrekking op de inhoud, vorm en taal van de vereiste informatie en bevatten ook nadere eisen voor duurzame en ESG-beleggingen. Zie de eerdere blog ‘SFDR-eisen over duurzaamheid voor vermogensbeheerders‘ van 10 juni 2020.

Afgelopen juni is hiernaast ook een set voorgestelde Europese regels gepubliceerd voor diverse sectoren waaronder de beleggingsadviessector. Deze voorgestelde regels (die dus nog niet definitief zijn) omvatten wijzigingen in bestaande MiFID II-regels en hebben onder andere betrekking op het vaststellen van duurzaamheidsvoorkeuren van cliënten in het kader van de geschiktheidstoetsing en het meenemen van duurzaamheidsvoorkeuren in het kader van product governance. Deze twee onderwerpen hangen nauw samen met de SFDR.