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JPMorgan to Pay $300 Million to Settle U.S. Allegations

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JPMorgan Chase & Co. will pay more than $300 million to settle U.S. allegations that it didn’t properly inform clients about what the Securities and Exchange Commission called numerous conflicts of interest in how it managed customers’ money over a half decade.

The largest U.S. bank by assets failed to tell customers that it reaped profits by putting their money into mutual funds and hedge funds that generated fees for the company, the SEC said in announcing $267 million in penalties and disgorgement against JPMorgan. The bank agreed to pay $40 million more as part of a parallel action by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

JPMorgan admitted disclosure failures from 2008 to 2013 related to two units that manage money — its securities subsidiary and its nationally chartered bank — as part of the SEC settlement. The New York-based bank said that the omissions in its communications were unintentional and that it has since enhanced its disclosures.

“Firms have an obligation to communicate all conflicts so a client can fairly judge the investment advice they are receiving,” Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division, said in a statement. “These JPMorgan subsidiaries failed to disclose that they preferred to invest client money in firm-managed mutual funds and hedge funds, and clients were denied all the facts to determine why investment decisions were being made by their investment advisers.”

Two-Year Probe

The settlement caps roughly two years of investigations during which the government deposed asset-management executives and issued subpoenas for internal documents. The SEC’s enforcement division had been looking into whether the bank encouraged their financial advisers to steer clients improperly into investments that generated fees for the bank, people familiar with the investigation said earlier this year.

In its order, the SEC said the bank cooperated with commission staff, hired an independent compliance consultant and carried out its recommendations.

The disclosure weaknesses cited in the settlements “were not intentional and we regret them,” said Darin Oduyoye, a JPMorgan spokesman. “We have always strived for full transparency in client communications, and in the last two years have further enhanced our disclosures in support of that goal.”

Record Penalty

While the agency extracted a record penalty for an asset manager, JPMorgan can continue operating as it has been in one of its most profitable businesses. The $307 million in fines and disgorgement accounts for a bit more than 1 percent of the company’s annual operating profits, or about a month of those at its asset-management division.

The settlement, announced on the Friday before Christmas, didn’t go far enough, said Dennis Kelleher, a lawyer who runs Better Markets, a consumer advocacy group.

“The conduct involves steering clients into proprietary products so brokers get higher commissions and JPMorgan gets good asset-management numbers,” said Kelleher, who said the practices remain costly for customers, additional disclosures notwithstanding. “This wasn’t a rogue trader. It wasn’t an individual employee. It’s not a mistake. It’s a five-year pattern.”

‘Exhausting Process’

With the settlement, the bank moves beyond one of its last major regulatory challenges since the 2008 financial crisis. JPMorgan has been penalized more than $23 billion in major settlements with U.S. authorities in recent years, in connection with allegations that included conspiring to manipulate foreign-currency rates, allowing the “London Whale” trader to exceed risk limits, failing to flag transactions related to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and misrepresenting the value of mortgage-backed securities.

“Investors are glad that the bank agreed to a settlement to move forward and this isn’t an overhang for the business anymore,” said Pri de Silva, a senior banking analyst at CreditSights Inc. in New York. “We are at the tail-end of the post-crisis litigation actions, but its been an expensive, exhausting process. I think both banks and the investor base are tired of it.”

JPMorgan shares fell 2.8 percent to $64.40 at 4:15 p.m. amid a broad decline in financial shares. The bank has climbed 2.9 percent this year, outperforming the 2.3 percent decline of the KBW Bank Index.

Expanded Operation

The SEC’s inquiries looked into JPMorgan Asset Management, a unit that grew rapidly after the 2008 financial crisis, as new regulations crimped areas including hedge-fund and proprietary trading operations that have traditionally been lucrative for Wall Street firms. The bank expanded an operation that pairs wealth management and investment funds in one reporting structure, run by Mary Erdoes, seen as one of a half-dozen in-house favorites to eventually replace Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.

JPMorgan expanded its in-house mutual funds even as many competitors pulled back. Over the past decade, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. have shed such fund businesses after being fined for allowing conflicts of interest to result in sales abuses.

JPMorgan Asset Management — with mutual funds, alternative investments, private wealth management and some trust operations — had the highest rate of revenue growth among the bank’s four main operating units. It also had the highest percentage growth in asset inflows of any large manager in the five years through 2014, ending the year with $1.7 trillion under management, according to a February presentation to investors.

Cross-selling and synergies between units was worth $14 billion across the bank in 2012, it said in a February 2013 presentation to investors. The bank attributed $1.1 billion of that to the synergies of selling the bank’s investment-management products to private banking clients.

‘Numerous Conflicts’

JPMorgan “failed to disclose numerous conflicts of interest to certain wealth management clients,” the SEC said in its announcement. That included not telling customers of a retail product, Chase Strategic Portfolio, that it was designed to favor in-house mutual funds, or that the bank might put them into a higher-fee fund when a lower-fee version of the same fund was available. The bank’s investment advisory business, J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, also failed to disclose that it had a financial incentive to favor the bank’s funds because it received a discount on them from another JPMorgan unit, the SEC said.

At one point in early 2011, JPMorgan invested 47 percent of mutual-fund assets and 35 percent of hedge-fund assets in products and accounts that had ties to it, according to the SEC order.

‘Retrocession Payments’

JPMorgan Chase Bank failed to disclose its preference for third-party funds that shared revenue with the bank, the SEC said. During initial meetings, third-party managers were typically asked if they were willing to share their fees. If they declined, JPMorgan typically would look for an alternative manager who was willing. The bank began disclosing that it may receive these “retrocession” payments in August 2015, the SEC said.

JPMorgan agreed to pay a $40 million civil penalty to the CFTC, which also cited $60 million in disgorgement that was part of the SEC settlement.

The bank’s settlement with the SEC included a penalty component of $127 million. That surpassed the agency’s previous record of $100 million, levied on Alliance Capital Management 11 years ago, according to an SEC spokeswoman.

SEC Waiver

As part of the settlement, JPMorgan received permission to continue raising money for private companies including hedge funds and startups. The bank could have been barred from that lucrative activity based on investor protections that automatically disqualify firms found to have violated securities laws. That so-called waiver came with a condition that JPMorgan hire an independent consultant to annually certify its plan for complying with rules for private fundraising.

A senior bank executive or legal officer will have to certify in writing that they reviewed the consultant’s report. The SEC can revoke the waiver if JPMorgan is found to have repeated the kind of wrongdoing that triggered the latest SEC enforcement action.

“J.P. Morgan put its interest before its clients by failing to disclose significant conflicts of interest,” said Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein, who supported the added waiver restrictions. “These failures were part of an institutional breakdown that operated as a fraud on both its clients and its prospective clients.”

Bloomberg

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Business

AfDB Approves $50M Trade Finance Deal with Standard Chartered Bank

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The African Development Bank Group has approved a $50m Trade Finance Unfunded Risk Participation Agreement (RPA) for StandardChartered Bank.

This was contained in a statement titled ‘African Development Bank approves a $50m Multinational Trade Finance Risk Participation Agreement facility for Standard Chartered Bank’ published on the bank’s website on Wednesday.

The statement said, “The board of directors of the African Development Bank Group has approved a $50m Trade Finance Unfunded Risk Participation Agreement facility between the African Development Bank and Standard Chartered Bank.”

The essence of this agreement is to promote intra-Africa trade, ensure regional integration and lessen the trade finance gap in Africa.

“The agreement is expected to boost intra-Africa trade, promote regional integration, and contribute to the reduction of the trade finance gap in Africa, in line with implementation aspirations of the African Continental Free Trade Area,”

The bank’s Director for Financial Sector Development, Stefan Nalletamby, stated that “We are excited about finalising this facility with Standard Chartered Bank as it offers us the flexibility to use our strong AAA-rated risk-bearing capacity to increase access to trade finance and boost intra/extra-African trade on the continent, in support of the AfCFTA.

“This partnership is expected to catalyze more than $600m in value of trade finance transactions across multi-sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and energy over the next three years.”

Director-General of the bank’s Southern Africa region, Leila Mokadem, was quoted to have said, “The advent of COVID-19, coupled with stringent regulatory/capital requirements and Know Your Customer compliance enforcement, has seen many global banks reduce their correspondent banking relationships in Africa, while some are exiting the market altogether.

“There is, therefore, an urgent need for financing to reenergise Africa’s trade, which requires more participation of institutions like the African Development Bank.”

The parties in the agreement are expected to share the default risk on a portfolio of eligible trade transactions originated by African Issuing Banks and indemnified by Standard Chartered Bank.

Beneficiaries of this facility are issuing banks in Africa with the ability to grow their trade finance business has been constrained by inadequate trade confirmation lines from international banks.

Other beneficiaries are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and domestic firms which rely on these issuing banks to fulfill their trade finance commitments.

The RPA facility is aligned with the AfDB’s High 5 priority goals which are: light up and power Africa, feed Africa, industrialize Africa, integrate Africa, and improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

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SMEs

Standard Chartered Launches Flexible ‘Smart Business Loan’ Product To Support SMEs

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Standard Chartered on Wednesday launched its Smart Business Loan (SBL) product to support Small and Medium Scale Enterprise (SMEs) in Nigeria.

David Idoru, Head of Consumer, Private and Business Banking, of the bank in Nigeria, said in a statement in Lagos that SBL was an unsecured installment/term loan available to SME clients within key target sectors.

“Qualified SMEs would be able to access up to N20million loan, without providing tangible security/collateral to purchase asset, finance business expansion and other capital expenditure needs.

“This loan was designed to help SMEs meet their short to medium-term needs.

“As a Bank, our purpose is to drive commerce and prosperity in the locations we operate in. This is done through offering cash, lending, trade and wealth management solutions that specifically drive economic growth,” he said.

Idoru said that the bank was constantly looking for ways to ensure SMEs get access to the needed support to enable their businesses to thrive, adding that prior to the product launch, clients were required to provide full collateral cover to access loans from the bank, but SBL had been designed to provide the necessary flexibility to the clients.

“It is accessible to new and existing clients of the Bank with no waiting period, including small and medium scale organisations, who can access up to N20million in loans without collateral for a maximum tenure of two years,” he said.

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Brands

Microsoft Overtakes Apple to Become World’s Most Intangible Company

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Every year, the Brand Finance Global Intangible Finance Tracker (GIFT™) report ranks the world’s largest companies by intangible asset value.

This year’s number one company in terms of total estimated intangible value is Microsoft (US$1.90 trillion), which has jumped from 4th position in 2020 to overtake Apple (US$1.87 trillion), Saudi Aramco (US$1.64 trillion), and Amazon (US$1.47 trillion).

Microsoft Teams has become embedded into business life for global organisations, once again proving the value of Microsoft’s ability to innovate and roll-out at scale. Microsoft is investing heavily in its business suite solutions. Although Apple is the more valuable company by approximately $200 billion, Microsoft is estimated to have more intangible value with its portfolio of brands and business operations.

Intangible assets are identifiable, non-monetary assets without physical substance. Intangible assets can be grouped into three broad categories – rights (including leases, agreements, contracts), relationships (including a trained workforce), and intellectual property (including brands, patents, copyrights).

Intangible assets boom during COVID-19 pandemic

Over the past year in particular, global intangible asset value has grown faster than usual, and at $74 trillion it exceeds pre-pandemic levels by nearly a quarter, having increased 23% compared to $61 trillion in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated even further the importance of people, innovation, reputation, and brand for businesses all around the world. Intangible assets are now unequivocally a boardroom priority.

Increases through the pandemic were primarily fuelled by the growth of the world’s largest organisations which were resilient to investor uncertainty due to their scale and their focus on technologies which we continued to rely on through lockdowns. This year, growth has been driven by China and the USA, with several industries recovering from the downturn in 2020.

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO, Brand Finance Plc, commented: “In times of crisis, brands – especially those most valuable and strongest in their categories and markets – become a safe haven for capital. Like gold or fine art during past economic downturns, nowadays well-managed, innovative, and reputable brands are what the global economy turns to in the hour of need. There can be no better evidence for why brands matter than the role they have already played and will continue to play in the post-COVID recovery.”

Global intangible value grows by over 1000% in 25 years

25 years ago – when Brand Finance was established – global intangible assets were worth only an estimated $6 trillion, less than a tenth of the same value today. As of September 2021, global intangible assets are worth over $74 trillion. This is a 1145% growth over 25 years – approximately 11% per annum.

Annie Brown, Associate at Brand Finance, and author of the GIFT™ report, commented: “It is a pivotal moment in financial reporting for intangibles. Total estimated intangible value has grown by over 1000% in the past 25 years. At the same rate, total global intangible value could stand at over $1 quadrillion by 2050 (that is $1,000,000,000,000,000). As investors grapple with balancing various issues such as Climate Change and ESG over the coming years, it is essential that the data they need to understand these vast sums is readily available.”

Internally generated intangibles should be recognised in financial reports

The majority of intangible assets are not recognised, due to the limitations set by the financial reporting rules, which state that internally generated intangible assets such as brands cannot be disclosed in a company balance sheet.

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO, Brand Finance Plc, commented:

“Investors should not be deprived of this critical information. Intangible assets such as strong, valuable brands and innovative technology can be the differentiators that drive a $2 billion company to $2 trillion in 25 years – as witnessed with Apple. This information vacuum for investors is part of the reason why Brand Finance endeavours to estimate the extent of “undisclosed intangible value” in our GIFT™ study each year.”

To truly aid investors and provide them with useful information, we believe management should be allowed and required to:

  1. Identify the key intangibles of the entire business – both internally generated and acquired.
  2. Provide an opinion on the value of those intangibles in the notes to the financial statements.
  3. Provide an opinion of the overall business value at the reporting date, to help investors to understand whether or not their capital is allocated efficiently.

Kevin Prall, Technical Director, International Valuation Standards Council (IVSC), commented: “Despite the importance of intangible assets to the capital markets, only a small percentage are recognised on balance sheets, typically via acquisition from a third-party transaction. The pandemic has further exacerbated the disparity between market values and book values for those industries most reliant on brands, technology, and human capital for value creation. The IVSC supports Brand Finance, and all others, that look to make progress on this most critical issue.”

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