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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consultation, the firm raised a number of concerns about both the wording of and rationale for some areas of EIOPA’s draft guidance.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.

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Brexit has already created 3,500 technology jobs in Brussels

Thousands of tech jobs have moved to Brussels from the UK due to Brexit with expectations of more to come once Britain leaves the EU, according to a sector leader.

As many as 3,500 roles have already been relocated to the Belgium capital, said Juan Bossicard, president of Microsoft’s Innovation Centre in the city.

The stream of tech workers leaving the UK began in the summer of 2016, Mr Bossicard told the New Statesman.

“Since Brexit began, 3,500 jobs have moved here from the UK and we expect far more to come after Brexit officially happens,” he said.

Mr Bossicard said Brexit offered a “huge opportunity” for Brussels, and added the city has a lot of offer UK companies, including single market access and good links to other European countries.

Ahead of the EU referendum, job losses linked to Brexit were forecast to be in the hundreds of thousands but since the vote these projections have been curtailed.

However, the Bank of England has said that Britain is set to lose 5,000 financial services jobs by 29 March next year, a prediction backed by the Treasury.

MPs are set to begin debating Theresa May’s Brexit deal, with a vote on the agreement due to take place in the coming days.

On Tuesday, an official at the European Court of Justice said Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked, sending the pound up against the dollar and the euro.

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Chaotic Brexit will ‘hit property market for six’

The average house price across the UK inched up in September according to a leading survey, but experts are stepping up their warnings that a chaotic Brexit will hit a weak property market ‘for six’.

Property values rose by 0.3 per cent on August, according to figures by Nationwide, to reach on average £214,922 – although that disguised significant regional disparities with the capital again experiencing falling values. Annual price growth remained stable at 2 per cent, unchanged from the August rate which was the slowest in five years.

Jonathan Samuels of property lender Octane Capital said that despite a rising average price, the property market is ‘sterile at best’.

‘The little annual house price growth there is, is being driven as much by the lack of supply as it is demand,’ he added. ‘A strong jobs market and continued low borrowing rates are keeping transactions ticking over despite pressure on household finances, interest rate uncertainty and the ever-present threat that is Brexit.

‘Few would bet against the market staying in the same supply/demand rut for the rest of the year and well into 2019. A chaotic Brexit has the potential to hit confidence and the property market for six.’

That sentiment was echoed by Jonathan Hopper of Garrington Property Finders, although he noted that, while prices in the capital are still falling and have now notched up five straight quarters of decline, the slide is slowing.

‘For London house prices, there may be light at the end of the tunnel,’ he added. ‘The only problem is no-one is yet sure if the light is a Brexit-shaped train.

‘While many regional markets are relatively insulated from Brexit concerns, in London and the South East these fears are a real threat to the market.’

Lucy Pendleton of independent estate agents James Pendleton said that people are ‘waiting to see whether the Brexit gods deliver us a very bad Brexit or just a tumultuous one’.

Like other recent surveys, the Nationwide report showed that prices in London and the outer commuter belt continued to fall, while Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands saw the strongest growth in the country.

Robert Gardner, chief economist at Nationwide, said overall national growth was stable in September, but said future developments depended on how broader economic conditions evolved, especially in the labour market, but also with respect to interest rates.

The Bank of England raised interest rates to 0.75 per cent from 0.5 per cent in August, but is not expected to make the next hike until next year.

‘Subdued economic activity and ongoing pressure on household budgets is likely to continue to exert a modest drag on housing market activity and house price growth this year, though borrowing costs are likely to remain low,’ Gardner added.

‘Overall, we continue to expect house prices to rise by around 1% over the course of 2018.’

Yorkshire & Humberside was the best performing region for the first time in more than a decade with a 5.8 per cent rate of growth, while the North saw the biggest annual price fall of 1.7 per cent.

In London, prices fell by 0.7 per cent last month – the fifth quarter in a row of declines, Nationwide said.

However, if we look at the change in prices since the peak of 2007 just before the credit crunch, the picture is reversed, according to the report.

Prices in London are still over 50 per cent ahead of its 2007 figure, while Wales, Scotland and the three regions of northern England are largely unchanged over the past decade.

Nationwide found that the East Midlands continued to see ‘relatively strong growth’, with prices up 4.8 per cent year-on-year, followed by Northern Ireland, which saw a pick up in annual price growth to 4.3 per cent and was the best performing amongst the home nations.

Wales saw a slight softening in growth, with prices up 3.3 per cent year on year. Price growth also slowed in Scotland, from 3.1 per cent in the second quarter to 2.1 per cent. England was the weakest performing nation, with prices up 1.4 per cent year on year.

It comes as Theresa May announced at the weekend plans for foreign buyers to be charged a higher stamp duty rate when they buy property in the UK.

The move will be seen as an attempt to neutralise the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s drive to attract young voters with pledges to provide more affordable housing and target high earners.

Mr Murphy at the CML said: ‘Any impact that the potential introduction of additional Stamp Duty on overseas buyers on investment property is likely to be more keenly felt in the capital, however how much of a bearing it will have in real terms is potentially up for debate.’

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GBP/USD – British Pound Unchanged after Carney Testimony

The British pound is showing little movement in the Tuesday session. In North American trade, GBP/USD is trading at 1.3427, unchanged on the day. On the release front, Britain posted a deficit of GBP 6.2 billion, below the estimate of 7.2 billion. This marked the first deficit after a string of three straight surpluses. British CBI Industrial Order Expectations disappointed with a reading of -3, missing the estimate of 2 points. This was the first decline since October. In the US, the Richmond Manufacturing Index jumped to 16, well above the estimate of 9 points. On Wednesday, the UK releases a host of inflation indicators, led by CPI. The Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its May policy meeting.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney testified earlier on Tuesday before a parliamentary committee, but his remarks have had little impact on the British pound. Carney acknowledged that growth in the first quarter was weak, blaming “temporary and idiosyncratic factors”, such as massive snowstorms which hampered economic growth. The BoE has forecast growth in Q1 of just 0.4%. As for monetary policy, Carney was subtle, saying that “interest rates are more likely to go up than not, but at a gentle rate”. The bank balked at a rate hike earlier in May, due to weakening inflation and a spate of soft economic data. BoE policymakers are unlikely to raise rates before August at the earliest.

After weeks of an escalating trade war between the US and China, there was a breakthrough of sorts on Sunday. The US dollar has posted gains after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the two sides had made significant progress and the trade war was being ‘put on hold’. Just last week, the White House sounded pessimistic about a deal being reached with China. The two economic giants have imposed stiff tariffs on one another in recent weeks, worth billions in trade. These moves had raised fears of a bilateral trade war between the two largest economies in the world. The respite in tariffs means that the US can sit down with the Chinese and discuss the US trade deficit with China, which President Trump has long complained is a result of a non-level playing field with China. In addition to the trade deficit, the US wants to discuss technology transfers and cyber theft.

Government needs to spend additional £20bn on infrastructure each year

The Government should spend an additional £20bn on infrastructure investment each year and establish a German-style publicly-owned National Investment Bank, according to a prominent progressive think tank.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) will make the recommendation later this week.

Increasing investment spending by £20bn by 2021-22 would lift UK government investment as a share of GDP to around 3 per cent of GDP, which would be the highest for the UK since the financial crisis but still only roughly level to the OECD average.

The Bank of England raised interest rates earlier this month to 0.5 per cent on the basis of its view that there is virtually no longer any non-inflationary slack left in the British economy and that, without a higher cost of borrowing, price rises risks getting out of hand.

But the co-author of the IPPR report, Michael Jacobs, disagrees with the Bank and argues that there remains spare capacity in the UK, which ramped up investment spending from the state can help fill.

“The brute fact underlying our low productivity and investment rate is that the economy suffers from deficient demand. With businesses not investing enough, only the Government can take up the slack,” he argues.

Mr Jacobs also argues that with UK government borrowing rates on the market still negative in inflation-adjusted terms ministers have a golden opportunity to invest cheaply.

“At current negative real interest rates, next week’s Budget is the moment to increase public investment. It will pay for itself in higher growth and tax receipts,” he says.

The IPPR recommends that “much” of this funding could be delivered through a new publicly-owned National Investment Bank, modelled on Germany’s successful Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, which helped to rebuild the infrastructure of that country after the devastation of the Second World War.

The proposals for considerably higher public infrastructure spending and the establishment of a new public investment bank were in Labour’s June manifesto.

But the IPPR argument also chimes with calls made recently by the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, for the Chancellor to borrow considerably more in order to spend on the delivery of more housing.

An Economic Justice Commission run by the IPPR – to which this work on infrastructure will feed into – published an interim report in September which said Britain’s existing economic model was “broken”.

It’s members include Sir Charlie Mayfield of the John Lewis Partnership, Jurgen Maier, the boss of Siemens UK, the McKinsey managing partner Dominic Barton, the economist Mariana Mazzucato and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The Commission’s final report will be published in the autumn of 2018.