European Commission - Press release
Antitrust: Commission makes Standard & Poor's commitments to abolish fees for use of US International Securities Identification Numbers binding
Brussels, 15 November 2011 - The European Commission has made legally binding commitments offered by Standard & Poor's (S&P) to abolish the licensing fees that banks pay for the use of US International Securities Identification Numbers (ISINs) within the European Economic Area (EEA)1. Moreover, for direct users, information services providers (ISPs) and service bureaus (i.e. outsourced data management service providers), S&P committed to distribute the US ISIN record separately from other added value information, on a daily basis for USD15.000 per year, to be adjusted each year in line with inflation.
ISINs are key identifiers for securities, allocated and distributed by national numbering agencies (NNAs). They are essential for managing securities and reporting. The Commission had concerns that S&P, which is the only NNA for US ISINs, may have charged unfairly high prices for their use and distribution in Europe, in breach of EU antitrust rules on the abuse of a dominant market position (see MEMO/09/508). The Commission is satisfied that the commitments, revised in light of observations received in the course of a market test (see IP/11/571), are suitable to solve the competition concerns.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia commented: "The commitments offered by S&P will abolish licensing fees that banks had to pay for the mere use of US ISINs in Europe and significantly reduce their cost for other users such as information services providers. This will improve the efficiency of European financial markets".
Clients that currently have a contractual relationship with S&P for the use of US ISINs will be entitled to an early termination of their contracts. However, users will not be allowed to extract the numerically similar CUSIPs, on which US ISINs are based, from the US ISIN data nor to redistribute in bulk US ISINs to companies other than affiliates located within the EEA. ISPs and service bureaus will be allowed to redistribute US ISIN records in bulk format but not to extract CUSIPs from the US ISIN data. The commitments will be implemented within five months from the notification of today's decision to S&P. S&P will communicate the precise implementation date to the Commission and submit a yearly report on the implementation. The Commitments will apply for five years.
ISINs are international key identifiers for securities based on the international standard ISO 6166, which was developed as a public service to the financial services industry. US ISINs are derived from CUSIPs, the identifiers developed for national purposes in the US.
Securities identifiers are essential for interbank communication, clearing and settlement, reporting to authorities and the management of financial institutions' database on securities in their portfolio. ISINs are generated, allocated and made available to market participants by National Numbering Agencies (NNAs). In respect of US securities, S&P has been designated by the American Bankers Association as the competent NNA and as such enjoys a monopoly for the issuance and the first-hand distribution of US ISINs.
S&P distributes US ISINs to ISPs and to some financial institutions (direct users). However, most financial institutions prefer to source their numbers from ISPs together with other data (indirect users). S&P used to charge both direct and indirect users a license fee.
In a statement of objections of November 2009, the Commission took the view that those fees were unfairly high, in particular with regard to the international organisation of standardisation (ISO) cost recovery principle. In accordance with the latter, which the Commission regards as a benchmark for fair prices, there should be no charges for indirect users, who receive no service from the NNA, and fees for direct users and ISPs should not exceed the distribution costs incurred. In contravention of the ISO benchmark, S&P applied charges to indirect users and its prices for ISPs and direct users were in the Commission's view in excess of the costs incurred, causing financial service providers in Europe undue costs.
The Commission decision, based on Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003 on the implementation of the EU competition rules, takes into account the results of the market test launched on 14 May 2011 (see IP/11/571). It does not conclude whether there has been an infringement of EU competition rules. It legally binds S&P to the commitments and ends the Commission's investigation in relation to S&P's pricing policy for the distribution and use of US ISINs as regards financial institutions and ISPs. If S&P were to break the commitments, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 10% of the company's total annual turnover without having to prove a violation of the EU competition rules.
A non-confidential version of today's decision will be available at:
Amelia Torres (+32 2 295 46 29)
Marisa Gonzalez Iglesias (+32 2 295 19 25)
The EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.