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Center for Financial Studies

Financial Regulation in Europe – just science or also an art?

The fact that financial regulation is a science would hardly be argued by anyone. But looking at financial regulation as an art – this connection is not easy.

The address given by the President of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin), Felix Hufeld, on March 16, focused precisely on the question of whether financial regulation is a science or an art. More precisely, which part of regulatory processes are considered as science and which are considered an art. Hufeld’s address was hosted by the Center for Financial Studies (CFS) at the Financial Centre Frankfurt’s Goethe Universität, whose lecture series is well known for its top-class speakers.

Hufeld described the basic concepts, models, and quantitative methods of regulation as scientific, but, further on in his lecture, he shifted focus to shed light on the parts of regulation that transcend these scientific elements, which Hufeld designated as art. These questions and decisions which cannot be answered by mathematical models, which necessitate consideration between different regulatory objectives, which can also intersect in a tense relationship. “In short: questions that rely primarily on one’s personal judgment,” as Felix Hufeld summarizes. These difficulties are exacerbated by regulation moving towards a context of global development, by the continuous process of Europeanisation, the dynamism of the markets, as well as the fundamental changes brought by digitalisation.

Using four examples, Hufeld dove deeper into this understanding of regulation as an art: financial stability vs. profitability, risk sensitivity vs. procyclicality, principle-based vs. rule-based regulation, and consumer protection vs. credit institutions’ capacity to act. These and other areas of tension require individual, creative and pragmatic decisions from regulators based on principles of stability and continuity, which must be balanced by the tension between contradictory regulatory objectives and dynamic developments. At the end of this process, the goal of regulatory authorities is to realize a sustainable, viable order in financial markets and to avoid the vicious cycle of crisis to regulation to deregulation and back to crisis.

The full text of Felix Hufeld’s lecture can be found here (German).

BaFin-Tech – Fintech caught between Regulation and Digitalisation

On June 28, 2016, Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) hosted a new conference, BaFin-Tech 2016, in Frankfurt. The sold out conference was attended by around 200 participants representing FinTechs, investors and the broader financial sector. The aim of the conference was to explore regulatory issues that could affect young FinTech companies and new business models. BaFin-Tech consisted of panel discussions and smaller workshops where attendees could gain closer insight into specific themes like Blockchain, Robo-Advisory, Crowdfunding or alternative payment methods.

In his opening address, President of BaFin Felix Hufeld explained that they operate under the principal of same business, same risk, same rules. Hufeld continued, elaborating that, “Supervisors are not a jury delivering verdicts on business concepts. We don’t put up barriers to insulate established companies and we don’t run an incubator for cool newcomers. We are supervision and will remain so. However, what we do want, is to align our administrative procedures accordingly for you as a growing and increasingly more important audience. Accordingly means understandable, fast and, as far as possible, electronic.” Hufeld even invited promising business models which may fall below the required threshold to work with BaFin.

The second panel discussed whether FinTech is a disruption or an innovation. This conversation juxtaposed those in the FinTech sector like Dr. Oliver Vins of vaamo with established actors like Michael Mandel of Commerzbank. After this discussion, FinTech can arguably be characterised as inspirational. While the new innovations from the start-ups may shake up business models and customer demands, it also inspires the old guard to put their full weight behind their digitalisation efforts. Mandel detailed that Commerzbank’s efforts, like integration with PayDirekt, and the board’s goal to completely digitise the customer experience. The conference ended with a reflection from Hufeld, who reminded the audience not to overlook all factors that go into deciding whether a technology is permitted, such as security, anti-money laundering and consumer protection.

As the German FinTech scene has grown substantially over the past year, BaFin-Tech 2016 clearly demonstrated that Germany’s top regulators take FinTech seriously and are invested in fostering innovation in Germany and Europe’s financial sector. The event also proved another advantage of the Financial Centre Frankfurt for young FinTech companies looking for a home. Frankfurt is not just a centre for finance in Europe but also a centre for regulation and supervision, home to the ECB, EIOPA in addition to BaFin.

You can find more information and the presentations from the event on the BaFin website.