Time to unlock the payments processing conundrum in 2021

Laurence Jones, director of post-trade strategy at CME Group’s Traiana, explains how post-trade processing remains fragmented and manual in nature, but 2021 is the year that firms should focus on optimising efficiency of payments and settlements.

To say the industry has been through some seismic changes over the past decade is an understatement to put it mildly.

From ever increasing defaults and regulatory changes to clearing and collateral, not to mention the continued use of technology and automation, global financial markets have been exposed to a series of changes in what is an incredibly vast and complex landscape. However, if there is one thing that has remained constant it’s processing, and lots of it.

Post-trade processing

Processing, the plumbing that underpins the entire financial system, is vital to ensuring the health and stability of markets. It needs to be done in a timely fashion, and the data needs to be correct and in-line with any regulatory obligations. Some parts of the post-trade lifecycle are well-oiled, mainly due to regulatory pressures on specific focus points as well as the central network effect and interoperability between both asset-classes and process types. Others, though, simply are not.

The evolution of derivatives has, in-other areas resulted in continued layered manual processing. Not only does it still rely heavily on email and excel spreadsheets, but also offers relatively low levels of control. If this was not enough, ever-rising volumes and the fragmented nature of these processes have led to costly and unscalable workloads. We all know volumes can be erratic. Too many factors to list constitute an impact on volumes, but decisions are often made that result in ‘quick and dirty’ layered manual processes that become really challenging to manage over time. Factor in the current global pandemic that has now surpassed a year in the making, and the challenge only gets harder.

Fragmented manual processes

The payments and settlements space is not only huge, but also fundamental to all other parts of the trade-lifecycle. Ultimately, trades need to settle, yet a lot of inefficiencies exist. Traiana’s research from 2019 showed that $500m a year is spent supporting certain inefficient payment and settlement processes for the top 450 financial firms (50 global investment banks/400 global investment management firms) and could be higher with continued challenges. The bulk of this is centered around the messaging and matching of cashflows. There are several key challenges and inefficiencies when it comes to the messaging and matching of these cashflows, including:

Different cashflows: these can be handled by different internal systems, which can use various data types. Typically, inefficiencies exist in uncleared products.

Margin management: inefficiencies exist in uncleared products. Depending on the asset class and the regulated domicile of the entities there may be some level of margin management occurring, but these are large exposures, often running uncovered and into the tens of millions of dollars that can remain unsettled past the expected settlement date due to the manual nature of the confirmation/affirmation process.

Settlement errors: with an increase in regulatory focus for late or incorrect settlement fines, inefficiencies can soon cost more than just the cost to manage.

Uncleared headaches: the OTC world, while under tighter controls from the phased in uncleared margin rules (UMR), remains fairly antiquated in part. Many banks and buy-side firms are still using email and excel based processes to agree to, and then often instruct cashflow movements across all asset classes, including in OTC where products could be cleared but aren’t. These flows are often mismatched, unmatched, or sent to the wrong place entirely to agree and confirm.

Single connection for payment details

Large banks and buy-side firms are still using email and excel based processes to agree to, and then often instruct cashflow movements across all asset classes, including in OTC where products could be cleared but aren’t. These flows are often mismatched, unmatched, or sent to the wrong place entirely to agree and confirm. This means late settlements, backlogs of claims for use of funds for failed onward payments and just generally a complex set of processes to support a multi-billion-dollar problem every day. Factor in that its mostly managing different formats in different connections to difference participants, it becomes really hard to get consistency without centralisation at that level.

FIX trading standards

Last year, with the central aim of overcoming these challenges, Traiana helped create a set of new standards through the FIX Trading Community that allows firms to send and receive data relating to periodic payments. It covers 71 cashflow types and has presented a set of standard fields to use to agree on the key economics of the cashflow. Traiana’s new cashflow messaging and matching services fully support the end-to-end workflow created in the FIX Trading Community.

Payment and settlement optimisation

Eight broker entities have joined our new service, which allows them to remove the need for certain manual email-based processes, as well as the need to manually agree the cashflow amounts. The upshot of this is that firms can improve the workflow, allowing flexibility in data formats through transformation and offers a centralised, real-time truly cross-asset messaging and matching service with full STP, as well as a user interface that sits in Traiana’s new cloud-based platform. By extending the footprint through post-trade, allowing for higher STP and benefiting from a market central network means you can remain agile and become less reactive to certain market changes or pressures.

All these capabilities help to not only bring down historically expensive and inefficient barriers, but also help to speed up the matching process to ensure accuracy and significantly reduce the chance of delay past settlement.

As we move forward, the new year provides continued opportunity for firms to look again at their processes. A more remote working culture, an inevitable by-product of the post-COVID era, means that the age-old processes will continue to present challenges.

Expect an even greater focus on operational efficiency, STP and, of course, improving the messaging and matching around cashflows. There is more work being done in the industry across grouped and netted cashflows, which if done cross-asset can offer an even bigger opportunity to reduce your cost through improved funding processes, quicker and cleaner settlement management and also has a positive impact on liquidity management.

Regardless of what 2021 has in store for the industry, with regulatory challenges now knocking on the door in the settlements arena, there is a more compelling case than ever to focus on a process which is not going away.

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