Last week, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission published its highly anticipated supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking regarding Regulation Automated Trading, initially released in November 2015. It contains new proposals regarding Floor Trader registration and who might be deemed a so-called “AT Person” in an effort to reduce the number of persons that might be subject to the harshest of the proposal’s requirements. However, the revised proposal also substantially broadens the concept of direct electronic access; indirectly subjects third-party algorithmic trading system providers to CFTC requirements; and still enables the CFTC to request an AT Person’s algorithmic trading source code through its inspection authority – albeit using special calls expressly authorized by the Commission – in addition to by subpoena. Unrelatedly, beginning November 18, a new Form 40 must be used by CFTC reportable traders and electronically filed. As a result, the following matters are covered in this week’s edition of Bridging the Week:
On Friday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking ("SNPRM") regarding Regulation Automated Trading, initially proposed during November 2015. (Click here for background in the article, “CFTC’s Proposed New Algorithmic Trading Rules Augur Potential Increased Obligations and Costs, and a New Registration Requirement” in the November 29, 2015 edition of Between Bridges.)
Among other things, the new proposal attempts to reduce the number of persons potentially subject to Regulation AT’s most onerous requirements to no more than 120 persons; to provide a methodology to assign certain regulatory responsibilities of AT Persons for third-party developed algorithmic trading systems to the third party developers; and to provide a heightened process for the CFTC to request algorithmic trading source code through its inspection authority and additional confidentiality assurances.
The CFTC’s revised proposal contains six broad elements:
The 20,000 contracts volume threshold test would also apply to existing enumerated registrants who engage in algorithmic trading on or subject to a DCM’s rules. Previously, these enumerated registrants were automatically deemed "AT Persons" under the CFTC’s November 2015 proposed rules. Under the CFTC's new proposed scheme, such registrants would only be deemed AT Persons (and thus subject to most of Regulation AT’s most onerous requirements) if they exceeded the volume threshold test.
In assessing its volume of traded contracts against the volume threshold, a person would have to aggregate both its proprietary and customer contracts (if applicable) across all products on all electronic trading facilities of all DCMs. A person would also have to include with its own trading volume that of any other person controlling, controlled by or under common control with it. Calculations would be based on the number of actual trading days during the relevant six month counting period whether the relevant person traded on those days or not.
AT Persons using third-party developed algorithmic trading systems or components would be obligated to produce the third party’s source code themselves or cause the third party to produce such source code to the CFTC directly when requested by the Commission. An AT Person would be ultimately responsible if the third-party source code was not produced. The CFTC proposes to protect any source code provided to it under a new confidentiality rule, as well as under existing law. For purposes of CFTC requirements, algorithmic trading source code would be very broadly defined to include “generally computer commands written in a computer programing language that is readable by natural persons.” The CFTC says that, at a minimum, this includes computer code, logic embedded in electronic circuits, scripts, parameters input into an algorithmic trading systems, formulas and configuration files.
According to the CFTC, in its supplemental proposal, it endeavored to address concerns that its initial proposal would capture “substantially more” than the 420 persons it was intended to mostly affect – 100 new registrants, and 320 existing registrants.
However, as the CFTC acknowledged, it did not try to accomplish a reduction in the potential reach of its initial proposal by reducing the scope of what constituted algorithmic trading (e.g., by eliminating smart order routing from scope). Rather, in its latest proposal, it solely added a volume threshold test to try to limit which enumerated registrants might qualify as AT Persons in the first instance or which currently unregistered persons might have to register for the first time (as Floor Traders) and also be deemed AT Persons.
Moreover, the CFTC proposes to broadly expand the definition of direct electronic access under its new proposal. This is relevant to assess which algorithmic traders that are not currently registered with the CFTC in any capacity must be registered for the first time.
Originally, the CFTC defined DEA to mean an arrangement where a person electronically submits an order to a DCM without the order first being “routed” though a clearing member of a derivatives clearing organization to which the DCM submits trades for clearing. Under its new proposal, DEA broadly means the electronic transmission of an order “for processing” on or subject to the rules of a DCO (including any modification or cancellation) unless the order, modification or cancellation is transmitted to the DCO by an FCM that the FCM “first received from an unaffiliated natural person by means of oral or written communications." The CFTC's amended approach would appear to classify as DEA all electronic orders emanating from clients that are processed in any manner through an FCM's electronic order handling infrastructure even if they are not routed directly by a client to a DCO or are physically intermediated at some point by a natural person at an FCM.
Additionally, the CFTC now proposes that, when considering the registration of certain currently non-registered persons as Floor Traders, if a group of related companies in aggregate satisfies the volume threshold test, at least one or more persons within the group must register as a Floor Trader. The CFTC also now proposes a strict, express anti-evasion provision to preclude persons trading through multiple entities for the purpose of avoiding the Floor Trader registration requirement or to avoid meeting the definition of an AT Person.
Under the CFTC’s proposed amended rules, an enumerated registrant (other than a Floor Trader) that was previously deemed an AT Person because it engaged in Algorithmic Trading and met the volume threshold test, would no longer be considered an AT Person if it failed to satisfy the volume threshold test for two consecutive annual periods. It does not appear that this potential exit from strict oversight possibility would apply to Floor Traders. Additionally, as proposed, a person who does not meet the requirements of an AT Person may voluntarily elect to become an AT Person by registering as a Floor Trader. Such person thereafter would be obligated to comply with all requirements of an AT Person. Potentially this capability could be useful if the CFTC and a non-US regulator were to negotiate access rights to markets based on comparable oversight of relevant persons.
In connection with AT Persons’ use of third-party provided algorithmic trading systems, AT Persons may obtain certifications from a provider that the third party complies with CFTC-required system development, testing and other regulatory requirements rather than complying with the CFTC’s relevant requirements itself. The CFTC says it expects the certification would at least “list the specific regulatory obligations that the third party is certifying compliance with, describe the components of the ATS at issue (or the whole system, if applicable), and explain how such component or system complies with the regulatory obligations.” The AT Person would be expected to “conduct due diligence to reasonably determine the accuracy and sufficiency of a certification.” However, says the CFTC, the due diligence could be limited to the “accuracy of the certification.” In any case, if – despite its representations in the certification – the third party failed to comply with its regulatory testing, development and other requirements, or failed to produce source code when requested by the CFTC, the AT Person could be liable.
Finally, in its SNPRM, the CFTC indicated that it planned to defer to “a second phase of rules” considerations of proposals it raised in its November 2015 issuance regarding greater transparency regarding DCMs’ matching platforms and the use of self-match prevention tools. It did not disclose, however, when this might occur. The CFTC also indicated that it might make other changes to the initially proposed Regulation AT that would eliminate certain obligations that were much criticized following their release (e.g., it might eliminate from the definition of “Algorithmic Trading Compliance Issue” references to noncompliance with an AT Person’s own internal rules, or those of its clearing member, any DCM or a registered futures association (i.e., the National Futures Association). The CFTC indicated it could do this without an additional supplemental proposal.
As part of its new proposal, the CFTC provided a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that included its estimate of the expense of certain of its proposals. For example, the CFTC estimated that the cost to each third-party algorithmic trading system vendor to provide a first certification to an AT Person and cooperate with such AT Person’s due diligence would be $4,884. It estimated the cost to such vendors to provide subsequent certifications and comply with subsequent due diligence requests would be $2,892/episode.
The CFTC’s supplemental proposal will be subject to a 60-day comment period after it is published in the Federal Register. The CFTC made clear that its supplemental proposal only addresses topics where it believes “that additional notice and comment may be appropriate before enacting final rules.” Unless noted, said the CFTC, all other provisions of the initially proposed Regulation AT remain under consideration for adoption in final rules.
My View: There is little doubt in my mind that, in its supplemental Regulation AT proposal, the CFTC and its staff responsibly and often creatively endeavored to address many of the industry’s most vehement objections to the Commission’s initial proposal.
However, it is not apparent to me how the CFTC’s revised proposal will reduce to only 120 the number of persons mostly affected. Although the Commission’s revised proposal introduces a volume threshold amount to try to limit the number of the most impacted persons, the threshold value appears relatively nominal (although it is based solely on consummated transactions on DCMs and ignores unexecuted orders). Moreover, the proposal also expands the definition of direct electronic access and does not eliminate smart order routing from the definition of algorithmic trading. Indeed, the CFTC candidly acknowledges that its 120 person estimate “may omit some firms that would meet the volume threshold requirements” and seeks comment on its projection.
Additionally, at first blush, it does not seem intuitive how the CFTC’s proposed handling of source code underlying an algorithmic trading system provided by a third party and used by an AT Person would practically work. Although the AT Person using a third-party developed algorithmic trading system could rely on a certification by the third party that it complies with CFTC-required system development, testing and other regulatory requirements, the AT Person must still conduct due diligence “to reasonably determine the accuracy and sufficiency of the certification.” Moreover, the AT Person must itself provide the underlying source code or ensure that the third party does, when requested by the CFTC. If the third party does not comply with regulatory requirements or provide the source code, the AT Person could be liable. These seem like very heavy burdens for an AT Person, as well as for a non-CFTC-regulated third party.
Finally, although the CFTC has tried to enhance the protections around its potential request for and receipt of an AT Person’s source code by adding a new distinct regulation, it’s not clear that, without further amendment, why the existing CFTC regulation mandating books and records to be turned over to the CFTC or the Department of Justice upon request would not continue also to apply. (Click here to access CFTC Regulation 1.31.) It is also highly likely that many will not consider nearly satisfactory the heightened processes for the CFTC to request source code utilizing its inspection authority (in his vehement dissent, Commission J. Christopher Giancarlo previewed these objections; click here to access). Moreover, the potential universe of what must be retained and potentially produced to the CFTC is expanded to include not only source code itself, but records that track changes to the source code and any logs or log files recording the activity of an AT Person’s Algorithmic Trading system, if ordinarily generated.
Through Regulation AT, the CFTC legitimately seeks to ensure markets’ integrity and that it can access evidence that might help it detect and/or prevent a potential manipulation, market disruption or other regulatory violation. However, at first blush, it is not apparent that the CFTC’s proposed amended version of Regulation AT will accomplish this goal practically, let alone without adding tremendous costs and uncertainty to many participants in the futures industry. As before, the best way for the CFTC to accomplish its objectives is by leveraging more of the existing requirements of DCMs and best practices already followed by the majority of the industry, in a principals-based not prescriptive way.
Compliance Weeds: Recently both CME Group and ICE Futures U.S. have amended their rules and guidance regarding exchange for related position transactions. Among other things, CME Group recently adopted amendments to its rules and guidance that, among other things, make clear that firms executing or clearing EFRPs must exercise “due diligence” to identify situations where a customer’s EFRP transactions may be “non-bona fide,” and permit EFRPs to contain multiple exchange components that may not have the same market bias. (Click here for background in the article, “CME Group Overhauls EFRP Rule and Guidance; Clarifies Roles of Executing and Clearing Firms and Provides New Relief” in the September 25, 2016 edition of Bridging the Week.) Similarly, ICE Futures U.S. amended its EFPR guidance to make clear that swaps that will settle or forward contracts that may settle through EFRPs will not be considered to be part of prohibited transitory EFRP arrangements where the swap or forward contract is “subject to market risk that is material in the context of the transaction.” (Click here for background in the article, “ICE Futures U.S. Proposes to Authorize Settlement of Certain Forward Contracts and Swaps through EFRPs” in the October 9, 2016 edition of Bridging the Week.)
And more briefly:
For more information, see:
Alleged Transitory EFRPs and Algo Gone Bad Subject of NYMEX Disciplinary Actions:
George E. Warren Corporation:
HTG Capital Partners:
Five Foreign Boards of Trade Authorized by CFTC for Direct Access by US Persons:
ICE Futures US Copies CFTC Prohibition Against Use of Manipulative Device to Defraud in New Rule:
Minimum Security Deposit for British Pound Retail Forex Transactions Increased by NFA for Forex Dealer Members:
NASDAQ Futures Adopts Block Pre-Hedge Guidance Similar to CME Group and IFUS:
ICE Futures US:
New Form 40 Obligations to Begin November 18 – Be Prepared:
Package Transactions No-Action Relief Extended One More Time by CFTC Staff:
Proposed Regulation AT Amended by CFTC; Attempts to Reduce Universe of Most Affected to No More Than 120 Persons:
The information in this article is for informational purposes only and is derived from sources believed to be reliable as of November 5, 2016. No representation or warranty is made regarding the accuracy of any statement or information in this article. Also, the information in this article is not intended as a substitute for legal counsel, and is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. The impact of the law for any particular situation depends on a variety of factors; therefore, readers of this article should not act upon any information in the article without seeking professional legal counsel. Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP may represent one or more entities mentioned in this article. Quotations attributable to speeches are from published remarks and may not reflect statements actually made.