Clifford Chance Badea, the local office of global law firm Clifford Chance, strengthens its strategic focus on Technology, FinTech included, as proof of innovation leadership in business legal services.

In a recent workshop, its FinTech practice has looked into the challenges and opportunities for the Financial Services in Romania, as developments so far reveal a future with banks in need to adjust, while the newly entries FinTechs have to shape their business model so as to cope with multiplying operational risks, and an increasingly sophisticated regulatory maze.

Challenges and opportunities for the Financial Services in Romania were discussed, last week, during an in-house workshop organized by the FinTech practice of Clifford Chance Badea.

The event was organized by the FinTech team in the Bucharest office, who also invited a colleague from the Clifford Chance London office to share from the experience of more advanced markets. The agenda looked into the blockchain technology (including the scalability potential of the Distributed Ledgers technology – DLT to answer the needs of financial markets), as well as the PSD2 implementation around the European Union.

A fresh view “Beyond Bitcoin” was added by special guest Jeffery Atik, Professor of Law at Lund University, Sweden, and Loyola Law School (the US), who gave participants useful insights about the latest developments in the US market, as well as some Bitcoin blockchain use cases that stirred interest and discussion among participants.

“There is no doubt that the new technologies and the regulatory framework are key factors in shaping the financial industry of tomorrow, and the Romanian financial industry – with access to a significant pool of technology-savvy human resources – has the opportunity to embrace these changes early on”, Cosmin Anghel, Counsel and coordinator of the Bucharest Fintech practice, said. “Ongoing projects around the world (like the liquidity management HQLAx project, or Marco Polo for trade finance, to mention only two) already show that the new technologies – either AI, RPA or DLT – will have a huge impact on how the industry will look like tomorrow; like with any revolution, there will be winners and losers, and the early adopters will be the first in line in the future. As for the regulatory framework, an eloquent example (but definitely not the only one) is the PSD2, which is the most direct expression of the European Union’s declared objective to increase competition and innovation in the retail payments market.”

Raluca Coman, Senior Associate, added: “At a global level, we are already seeing successful adoption of the blockchain technology in the financial market. However, while acknowledging the obvious benefits of efficiency and transparency, and some of the banks even testing new technologies at the level of the groups they are part of, banks in Romania are cautious in widespread adoption of the new technologies, given also the lack of a generalized, regulatory framework.”

The highly interactive discussion highlighted the following topics:

  • The Blockchain technology/ Distributed Ledgers (DLT) holds vast promise for most industries, and in particular for the financial industry. But if blockchain has a future, the current economic and technological scalability roadblocks and regulatory issues must be addressed. This is why the next generation DLT will probably not be blockchain, but permissioned ledgers.
  • As cryptocurrencies have captured widespread interest and credibility, worldwide regulators are being forced out of sheer necessity to take a more active role in shaping cryptocurrency markets. Therefore, 2018 could be the year of cryptocurrency regulation (the EU has already made the first steps in this direction, via the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive).
  • While the Second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) aims at further increasing competition in the payments market, delayed implementation in a number of EU states (Romania included) is proving problematic for banks and FinTech operating in multiple jurisdictions. The big question is how to achieve balance between the goal of opening payment markets and new regulation, on one side, and protecting customer data, on the other – insofar as Fintechs are concerned, it is clear that PSD will not be all benefits and no obligations.
  • Further questions are being raised about possible solutions to reconcile the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with the blockchain technology. Businesses who have not fully understood the ramifications of how they collect, store, manage and transfer customer data via blockchain could face fines and reputational damage with catastrophic consequences.
  • And, with more banks becoming reliant on “shadow infrastructure” — cloud computing, data analytics, AI and key functions maintained by third party providers, operational and contagion risks are multiplying.

“With so many questions emerging, rapid global regulatory developments and technological breakthroughs happening every day, the general consensus was that no one can wait on the side lines, and that is was high time for everybody to learn the rules of the game”, Cosmin concluded.

At a global level, Clifford Chance is embracing technology to deliver the best service to clients. As such, the firm combines expertise with the latest technology.

The law firm has recently entered into a collaboration with the global distributed ledger technology (DLT)/blockchain specialist – R3,  one of the first companies to identify and practically apply DLT to the financial services industry. R3 is now an enterprise software firm working with over 100 large banks and other financial institutions, regulators, trade associations, professional services firms, and technology companies to develop and utilize its distributed ledger platform.

In 2016, Clifford Chance announced a partnership with Kira to enhance legal process management with Artificial Intelligence software and in 2017, it joined forces with NEOTA to develop an automated toolkit to help financial institutions to assess and address the impacts of MiFID2 regulation. Also, the firm has recently convened a global cross-practice Tech Group that will advise clients from all sectors on the risk and opportunity that technology brings.

It has also launched a Dawn Raids App, a mobile application that can be downloaded from Google Play for Android, and App Store for Apple iOS, that provides clients experiencing a raid conducted by regulatory authorities with real-time, step-by-step guidance on their rights and obligations, as well as instant access to Clifford Chance’s specialists to receive immediate advice.

The latest initiative in this area was the launch of Tech Academy, a global training programme dedicated to learning and development in the Technology space. It provides staff and partners with a combination of online training and resources and a global programme of face to face workshops.

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