09 Jul 2019

Achieving Regulatory Compliance in a Digital World: The Rise of RegTech

The world today is increasingly complex and our lives increasingly digital.  In a global economy, human activity—goods and services move across national borders. In this environment, legal compliance has grown in volume and complexity.  Moreover, the regulatory context is constantly changing with liability ever more likely to extend to personal responsibility, in addition to corporate. Aggressive regulatory agencies and new procedures such as class actions and expanded discovery are making the cost of non-compliance more prohibitive than ever.

This new environment has seen greater attention by regulators and those regulated to use technology to monitor compliance. ‘RegTech’ is the blended term that describes the use of technologies to deliver regulatory requirements. This involves using technology to better deliver value in relation to reporting, monitoring, providing analytics and fulfilling auditing requirements.  Compliance is thus able to be achieved more efficiently, more effectively and with greater transparency. The technology enables better outcomes for both the regulator and the entity being regulated.  It is superior to traditional systems that have been, and largely remain, paper-based, bureaucratically centred, transaction-focused, and involving many intermediaries in the regulatory chain. 

Although RegTech has been focused in the early days on the banking and finance industries and is often seen as a subset of FinTech, its applications are rapidly expanding to many other areas, such as share markets, debt collection, health and insurance. The growth of RegTech also highlights the reality of that most areas of human activity are experiencing disruption.  This, in turn, is leading to a greater willingness of regulators and business to disrupt existing practices as information systems become digitized, dematerialized and widely distributed.

Included among the growing ‘tool-set’ of RegTech are:  data warehouses able to engage in big data analytics, for example to spot gaps in regulation and areas of high risk for non-compliance; checking/auditing tools that eventually may have the capacity to audit 100% of transactions; automation tools which disintermediate the value chain and reduce or eliminate the many intermediaries that present the opportunity for fraud and corruption; transaction reporting, information management tools, enhanced regulatory reporting, training packages, case management tools and more.

Another driving factor in the growth of RegTech is the fact that with the growth of e-government, business-to-business and e-commerce today, organisations have more touch points across multiple media, with multiple channels. Organisations are required to be more citizen and customer-centric.  Technology such as machine learning, high powered computing, big data analytics, Internet-of-things, mobile and cloud computing help organisations to be more responsive, to provide tailored service, and an enhanced customer/citizen experience. In this sense, compliance is aligned with good business practice, dedicated customers, enhanced trust and transparency, and brand enhancement.

Another feature of much RegTech is that these technology advances are often more likely to be undertaken by more nimble start-ups.  This is because bureaucratic entities are often laden down with restrictions, less adaptive and less flexible than outside entities.

In order to maximize the potential of RegTech continuing legal reform is required, especially in developing uniform standards.  We need a type of ‘legal lego’ in order for innovative applications to use these bricks to build the systems architecture required for a 21st Century Information Age.  International and industry-specific organisations such as APEC, UNCITRAL, UNIDROIT, standard-setting bodies and many others all play a role in this process.   As they make progress in e-government, nations will also need to focus more on re-design of the whole regulatory value chain.  This work should include consultation with all key stakeholders and based upon an analysis of how people are interacting online.

As RegTech grows in momentum, governments and industry will have to focus on adding value to the consumer and providing for consumer protection. In China, the Shanghai Futures Exchange in 2016 introduced SMARTS, the new market surveillance platform powered adopted as Nasdaq’s flagship surveillance solution.  In May of this year, China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC announced the creation of a FinTech committee under the supervision of the PBOC’s. This committee is charged with monitoring the impact of RegTech and FinTech and serves to coordinate growth in this important area.  Indeed, just as China has been a world leader in infrastructure, RegTech and FinTech represent opportunities for China to be leaders in this area of future growth and development thereby enhancing its economic competitiveness.

Another strategy being used in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK, is the creation of a regulatory ‘sandbox’ in which startups have a safe space to develop, test and pilot new RegTech applications. In the UK, for example, the Financial Conduct Authority has initiated an industry sandbox providing a space for continuous dialogue, idea generation, testing, and feedback between FinTechs, key stakeholders, regulators, and regulation technology (RegTech) groups.  The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), which regulates financial services and markets in Australia, provided recommendations and engaged in consultation on how to establish best practices and guiding principles for the Australian regulatory technology (RegTech) eco-system

Governments also need to enhance innovation in regulation and compliance.  The Indian Government has pushed for RegTech through its Startup India and Digital India Initiatives.  Late last year, the Singapore Stock Exchange collaborated with two firms to develop applications to detect market misconduct and search for ways to promote good market practices and a fair, open and competitive market.  

The technology industry and governments must also do a better job of partnering. In the past, many technology companies have tended to view regulation as a barrier.  With the advent of RegTech, companies and governments are increasingly seeing it as an opportunity. This will only happen, however, if companies and regulators engage with one another, agree on priorities and focus on demonstrated benefits to citizens and customers.  

The RegTech industry is also getting itself organized. Evidence of the rapid growth of RegTech is the formation of the International RegTech Association (IRTA): https://regtechassociation.org/ . IRTA) exists to ease and accelerate the evolution of RegTech by promoting innovation and facilitating integration and collaboration, throughout the global RegTech ecosystem.

Finally, University academics, working across multiple disciplines, should also be proactive in the RegTech process as by helping to develop, evaluate, design and re-design new regulatory theory and models so that the benefits of RegTech may be maximized for the benefit of all.

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