UK watchdog says brokers fail to give customers best deals

LONDON, July 31 Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:53am EDT

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LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - Banks and brokers are failing to give the best trading deals to customers and could face enforcement action, Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said in a review on Thursday.

The FCA checked whether 32 banks, brokers, wealth managers and interdealer brokers had complied with a European Union law that requires them to take all reasonable steps to get the best possible deal when executing orders on behalf of customers.

Assessment of transactions in the EU's biggest securities market involves not only price but also speed of execution, size of order and exchange and clearing costs.

"Firms told us that best execution is a simple commercial imperative - yet our review shows many firms unacceptably fail to put their clients' interests first, undermining market integrity and inhibiting competition," David Lawton, the FCA's director of markets, said in a statement.

"We will require firms to take immediate action to address all relevant areas of our findings."

Best execution applies to trades in stocks, bonds, foreign exchange, contracts-for-difference, exchange-traded-funds and other securities.

All firms reviewed failed to show that traders had a consistent understanding of what best execution actually means. Some firms used "carve-outs", or agreements in which customers allow firms to opt out of rules, which are not allowed.

The FCA said every basis point saved in all trading by all market participants could translate into 264 million pounds in additional returns for customers a year.

The review found that firms, rather than trying to apply the rules properly, assumed customers would simply switch to a rival if they were unhappy.

Among other practices, the watchdog wants to crack down on so-called payment for orders, when the broker gets a commission not only from the customer but also from the trading venue on which the order is executed, a double charge seen as a conflict of interests.

The review found that four firms attempted to evade the rules by changing the description of services they offered so that they could continue to get paid for order flow.

"The firms we reviewed have ceased this practice, and the FCA will take action against any firm where it continues," the watchdog said.

The watchdog warned in its regular newsletter in February that parts of some markets, such as foreign exchange and spread-betters, should be aware that they, along with stock markets, come under the best execution law.

The FCA fined retail currency broker FXCM 4 million pounds in February for withholding profits worth about 6 million pounds from being passed on to UK customers under best execution rules.

Best execution has been a legal requirement under the EU's Markets in Financial Instruments Directive since November 2007.

The rules are on track to get tougher in a revision of MiFID from the start of 2017, when brokers must take "all sufficient steps" to give customers the best deal.

The FCA said that best execution and payment for orders may be included in the watchdog's in-depth review of competition in wholesale markets over the coming year. (editing by Jane Baird)

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