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EuropeanIssuers calls for custody fees transparency

EuropeanIssuers, the pan-European organisation representing listed companies across Europe, has reminded the European Commission (EC) about the need for fee transparency amongst custodians.

The Brussels-based industry body, representing issuers in over 14 countries counting together some 9,200 listed companies with a combined market value of some € 4,500 billion responded to the EC consultation on “Market Standards for Corporate Actions Processing” in the summer, outlining that the benefits of the harmonisation of corporate actions processing would be reduced costs for investors and issuers: “In a competitive environment, the achieved cost savings should bring down the fees throughout the entire value [ownership] chain: CSDs, CCPs, stock exchanges, banks and custodians”.

A wonderful theory indeed.

However, EuropeanIssuers wrote to the Commission again a few days ago to note a lack of response on their initial submission, and “a serious lack of transparency and uniformity in both the articulation and the price setting of banking services related to securities accounts.” Not only the pricing, but also the composition of services on offer.

“The market standards aim at reducing costs as a consequence of harmonised processes. But at the same time, we note a serious lack of transparency and uniformity in both the articulation and the price setting of banking services related to securities accounts. For instance, it is not clear what services are generally offered with the opening of a securities account”

Dorien Fransens, Secretary General, and Jacques Schraven, Chairman, EuropeanIssuers.

Price transparency is undoubtedly critical for a well-functioning, competitive market place. Given that many customers of securities accounts providers do not know what services they are getting, let alone how much they are charged for them, is it really any wonder that voting (as one of these ‘additional services’) is as disjointed as it currently is? Until price transparency is truly achieved, customers will remain beholden to the services provided by their banks. A leading investment bank is changing voting service provider just this week, expecting all of their customers to acquiesce to the change they have, to the best of our knowledge, not been party to. This is not an acceptable way of conducting business.

In the mean time, the banks (and their service providers) are in a rather enviable position of being able to charge issuers, investors, investment managers and their service providers for the same job.

Nice work if you can get it? Perhaps, but if you accept that then you also have to accept that “the man who only lives for making money lives a life that isn’t necessarily sunny”. How about a little transparency to let the sunlight in?

What do you think?