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Plan to harmonise national rules on UCITS depositaries
The European Commission would like to reduce the divergences that exist between the national rules governing depositaries entrusted with the safe keeping of assets on behalf on investors in undertakings for collective investment in transferable securities (UCITS) * such as unit trusts, common funds and SICAVs. By following a step-by-step approach, the Commission, in cooperation with the national regulators, intends to facilitate the cross-border activity of such UCITS. There are four main areas of action: prevention of conflicts of interest, clarification of the depositary's liability, convergence of national prudential rules, and moves to enhance invstor transparency and information. UCITS are established in all Member States and their assets total some four thousand billion euros.
Commission Communication to the Council and the European Parliament of 30 March 2004 on "Regulation of UCITS depositaries in the Member States: review and possible developments" [COM(2004) 207 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In response to the conclusions of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council in June 2001 calling on it to prepare a report on the regulation of UCITS * depositaries and on the need to amend such regulation, the Commission is examining the existing legal framework. It notes that there are significant differences between Member States as regards, for example, minimum capital requirements, statutory and regulatory obligations, and the liability regimes for depositaries.
If cross-border activity is to expand, these rules must be harmonised. Fund managers and supervisory authorities will want to know exactly the resources and liabilities of depositaries established in other Member States before they are authorised to do business. In addition, investors will need to be better informed.
Favouring a step-by-step approach, the Commission is planning to entrust to regulatory experts in the European Union (EU) four areas of work for the period 2004-06: to promote better prevention of conflicts of interest; to clarify the extent of the depositary's liability; to promote convergence of prudential requirements, notably those relating to capital and to the taking-up and exercise of the function of depositary; to tighten the standards on investor transparency and information.
The Commission states that a chapter on depositaries will initially be attached to its overall UCITS report under Directive 2001/108/EC in 2005. This chapter will specify to what extent EU legislation on the relationship between fund manager and depositary will have to be strengthened and what degree of harmonisation is needed as regards the typology of eligible depositary institutions and, consequently, their missions and resource requirements. A subsequent report reviewing progress is to be adopted in 2006. It will also evaluate whether is a need to legislate at Community level in order to create a fully-fledged European passport for expanding the cross-border activity of depositaries.
Better prevention of conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest arise when the interests of investors are not the prime concern of the depositary or fund manager. The Commission is proposing measures to strengthen convergence of the relevant national rules. Such convergence will relate notably to the list of the functions that the fund manager can delegate to the depositary and, conversely, the list of the functions that the depositary may delegate.
Clarification of the extent of the depositary's liability
The differences in the level and extent of the depositary's liability are a major obstacle if there is to be a high level of investor protection throughout the EU and if the scope for depositaries to engage in cross-border activities is to be expanded. The Commission thus regards it as essential that there should be a common reading of the main task of the depositary, namely asset safe keeping, and of the specific control duties assigned to the depositary.
Convergence of prudential requirements
The prudential rules governing the taking-up and pursuit of the activity of depositary differ significantly between Member States as there is no common European definition of eligible institutions. The Commission is proposing to align these rules more closely, particularly those relating to capital requirements, by identifying a specific group of institutions subject to prudential supervision.
Enhancement of transparency and investor information
The Commission identifies the areas where public information standards should be strengthened: organisation of the depositary's tasks, measures to prevent conflicts of interest, the depositary's liability and all the costs connected to his services.
This communication is in response to the remit assigned to the Commission in June 2001 by he Economic and Financial Affairs Council. The approach it advocates is based on an extensive survey and on an Internet consultation in the autumn of 2002 concerning the different national rules impeding the development of the internal market in the case of UCITS depositaries. The survey identified major disparities between national rules that help to explain the current fragmentation of the market (in virtually 95% of cases UCITS depositaries are national institutions). The internet consultation revealed significant differences in connection, for example, with minimum capital requirements, statutory obligations and the extent of the depositary's liability. For there to be a genuine internal market in depositaries' services, these rules need to be brought into line.
Alongside the fund and its manager, the UCITS depositary is the third pillar of the European UCITS system set up by Directive 85/611/EEC.
In 2001 the EU adopted two other UCITS Directives amending Directive 85/611/EEC (one focuses on the instruments in which funds may invest and the other on management companies, thereby setting in place a "European passport" scheme).
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