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Pinsent Masons gets cloud guidance improved for insurers

International law firm Pinsent Masons has seen a number of its recommendations enacted following its response to EIOPA’s consultation on cloud guidance, making it easier for insurers to comply with their regulatory requirements.

The guidance, which sets to place strict regulatory demands on insurers in respect of both the contents of their contracts with cloud providers and their governance of those contracts, has been under review since June 2019, with the final guidelines now being issued.

In its response to the consultation, the firm raised a number of concerns about both the wording of and rationale for some areas of EIOPA’s draft guidance. Those concerns addressed fundamental matters such as the scope of the guidance and potentially confusing concepts and terminology. They also focused on the requirements around the content of insurers’ cloud contracts, their exit planning, the extent of information that insurers would have to document about their contractual requirements, and the location of data in the cloud.

Pinsent Masons’ recommendations have led to the re-drafting of certain definitions, the removal of unclear language and greater clarity and alignment with the European Banking Authority (EBA).

Some of the changes included the removal of references to ‘material outsourcing’ to describe the concept of a ‘critical or important operational function’. EIOPA also agreed to drop plans that require insurers to assume that their purchase of goods or services from, or entry into arrangements with, cloud providers constitute outsourcing arrangements that are subject to its guidance in cases where the matter is unclear. They also deleted wording around having ‘directly measurable’ service levels specified in contracts after the firm said it was it was unclear how insurers could comply with that obligation.

Commenting on the guidelines, head of Fintech propositions at Pinsent Masons, Luke Scanlon said: “When regulators bring out guidance and impose rules which vary slightly from other requirements for regulated entities, this can lead to unintended consequences and cost for financial institutions. Ultimately, this cost is borne by the customer and therefore it is positive to see that EIOPA has taken the views of the sector into account and made some adjustments to its final guidance.

“In our response to the consultation we put forward the views of our clients impacted by this guidance to ensure that the final guidelines are fit for purpose. This is particularly important following recent data from the Bank of England which shows that insurers are falling behind with regards to the adoption of cloud based technology in comparison to banks. We hope that these changes will now facilitate far greater adoption across the sector.”

All new cloud outsourcing arrangements entered into or amended on or after 1 January 2021 will be subject to the guidelines, while insurers will have until the end of 2022 to bring cloud outsourcing contracts entered into prior to that date into line with the new requirements.

Small businesses struggling to expand due to Brexit uncertainty

More than seven in 10 firms in a survey by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) said they did not expect to raise capital spending in the next quarter, the highest figure in two years.

The FSB says the current standstill over Britain’s path to Brexit has left small firms “hamstrung” and struggling to expand, hire and increase productivity.

The FSB survey also suggests growing caution among lenders as signs stack up of a slowdown in the UK economy.

More than four in 10 of its member firms said new credit was “unaffordable,” the highest in more than four years.

Lending to consumers also increased at its smallest annual rate in more than five years in May, according to separate data from the Bank of England.

In the manufacturing sector, a key index of UK performance slid to a six-year low on Monday, as a survey highlighted sinking output and employment levels.

Mike Cherry, national chair of the FSB, said: “It’s impossible for small business owners to invest for the future when we don’t know what the future holds.

“Lifting productivity among the smaller firms that make-up 99% of our business community is a must. But until we have the political certainty that enables us to take risks and innovate, achieving that goal will remain elusive.”

He also took aim at Conservative leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, who have talked up their willingness to lead Britain out of the EU without a deal.

“We urgently need to see both prime ministerial candidates spell out their plans for supporting small firms and securing a pro-business Brexit – one that encompasses a comprehensive deal and a substantial transition period,” he said.

“Fast and loose talk about accepting a chaotic no-deal Brexit in four months’ time is not helpful.”

He said it was “understandable” lenders were more cautious, suggesting they were continuing to offer credit but were upping premiums to cover perceived increases in risk.

First interest rate rise in 10 years adds to UK mortgage burden

Bank of England’s raised cost of borrowing, from 0.25% to 0.5%, may add £22 a month to average variable interest rate loans.

Millions of homeowners face higher mortgage payments after the Bank of England said it could no longer tolerate the inflation level and announced the first increase in interest rates in more than 10 years.

Despite weak growth and mounting uncertainty over the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, Threadneedle Street increased interest rates to 0.5% from 0.25% on Thursday, reversing emergency action taken immediately after the Brexit vote.

The move will add £22 a month to the costs of servicing the average variable rate mortgage, although the recent popularity of fixed-rate home loans means it will initially affect only 43% of home buyers.

Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, said it was time “to ease our foot off the accelerator” but sought to reassure consumers and businesses that the first increase in rates since July 2007 was not the start of a sustained upward trend.

He said: “To be clear, even after today’s rate increase, monetary policy will provide significant support to jobs and activity. And the monetary policy committee continues to expect that any future increases in interest rates would be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.”

As things stand, Threadneedle Street is expecting two further quarter-point increases in interest rates by the turn of the decade, which would leave them at 1%.

The Bank said that the financial crisis and deep recession of a decade ago had permanently damaged the economy’s growth potential. Brexit had further reduced the “speed limit” at which the UK could operate without generating higher inflation, Carney said.

Still, the rate decision sparked sharp questions over the ability of consumers to repay loans amid rising use of personal borrowing and credit cards to offset higher prices.

Households are, in total, expected to face about £1.8bn in additional interest payments on variable rate mortgages in the first year alone, according to analysis by the accountancy firm Moore Stephens. The firm also estimates that households will pay as much as £465m in additional costs on credit cards, overdrafts, personal loans and car finance.

The Bank faced criticism for the timing of its decision due to weak readings on the economy and a lack of clarity from the Brexit talks.

The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This is the last thing hard-pressed families need. With living standards falling, the economy needs boosting not reining in.”

David Blanchflower, a former member of the MPC, criticised the rate rise and said it would be reversed. “This is guessonomics. There is nothing in the data to sustain this rise,” he said.

Despite the prospect of higher costs for borrowers, the interest rate rise will prove a boon for savers if banks match Threadneedle Street’s increase with a jump in the interest paid on deposits. Theresa May’s spokesman said the government expected to see higher rates passed on to savers.

Some banks have already said they will increase rates on their savings as well as put up the repayments demanded from borrowers, including Royal Bank of Scotland and TSB.

The move by Threadneedle Street comes amid a squeeze on households’ living standards from rising prices, outstripping the growth in earnings, following the devaluation of the pound since the EU referendum. It hopes that will offset the increase in borrowing costs.

Carney said “the worst of the real income squeeze is ending”, adding that higher interest rates were “part of ensuring that it does not come back”.

About a third of households have a mortgage on a home, according to the Bank. In aggregate, mortgage debt represents about three-quarters of the overall stock of household debt. Fixed-rate mortgages by value have also risen significantly in recent years, to about 60% of the stock of mortgages, which the central bank said meant that the impact of the rate hike would only feed through to households gradually.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said higher rates presented “a serious problem as many individuals, families and companies rely increasingly on borrowing to get by”.

There have been some signs of consumers using savings or borrowing money from banks or on credit cards to keep up with day-to-day spending in recent months. However, high-street sales are falling at their fastest rate since the height of the recession as consumers tighten their belts. Pushing up the cost of servicing debts, “will kick one of the few parts of the economy that was working”, Cable added.