Missing MF Global Customer Funds to Incite Regulatory Change

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Missing MF Global Customer Funds to Incite Regulatory ChangeIn response to the MF Global implosion, including $1 billion of missing client money, federal regulators are now looking to implement safety measures so this doesn’t happen again. Next week, they’ll start by having a public roundtable hosted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

According to The New York Times, topics at the meeting will include a potential plan enabling customers to trade with futures brokerage firms without keeping their excess cash there; instead, customers will keep it with clearinghouses.

Other ideas for change including keeping customers apprised of where there money is at and developing an insurance fund to defend customers losses in their accounts.

Prior to MF Global’s October 31 bankruptcy filing, the CFTC had already had new customer rules in the pipeline. In December, the agency put a limit on brokerage firms investing customer money and on Thursday, they will vote on prospective rules requiring a firm’s chief compliance officer to develop internal controls safeguarding customer money; this has been in the works since  2010.

But what’s really spurring CFTC action and change is the missing $1 billion of MF Global’s customer money. This doesn’t bode well for the regulators, widening the review of a regulatory system that enabled MF Global to mix customer and firm money.

Bart Chilton, an outspoken Democratic member of the commission and a proponent of the potential insurance fund, said of the commingled funds, “This was a bucket of cold water in the face” for regulators.

Most of the missing money has been traced across a wide range of entities including MF Global’s banks, securities customers and trading partners, but it will be daunting task to get the money returned. The long process has been very upsetting to the firm’s clients, who are still waiting for almost a third of their money, according to The New York Times.

The concern for customer accounts has been far-reaching as a federal investigation has been opened with prosecutors in New York and Chicago, the F.B.I. and the CFTC taking a look at the misconduct and possibly creating new regulations for the futures industry.

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An overhaul has made the list of ideas for the CFTC, such as a plan that obligates the agency to keep a closer look on self-regulators such as CME Group  (CME) and the National Futures Association.

The two groups are also responding to concerns and have formed their own committee.

Other ideas include a requirement that brokerage firms routinely reveal the safety of customers’ money. Now, most futures firms give these reports to regulators on a monthly basis.

Changing the agency’s bankruptcy rules that oversee how customers’ assets are distributed upon a firm’s collapse may also be discussed at next week’s meeting. MF Global customers have felt they are the least priority for claims, with the firm’s banks and creditors coming in ahead of them.

Sensing that change is on the way,  the trade group, Futures Industry Association, has a task force to review policies.

Capitol Hill has also joined the party. In January, the Senate agriculture committee sent letters to different key industry members, asking for their opinions on whether Congress should create new laws in response to MF Global’s collapse.

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