Ireland: Credit Unions – Regulatory Regime – July 2013

Last Updated: 23 July 2013
Article by Barry McGrath, Stephen Carty, Paul Dobbyn and David Nolan

Introduction

The Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act 20121  (the "Act") was enacted in December 2012. The Act will be introduced on a phased basis with certain sections and schedules commenced by the Minister for Finance on 19 December 2012. The Act has major implications on how credit unions operate with a very significant increase in the level of regulatory requirements.

Prior to the introduction of these requirements, the Central Bank of Ireland ("CBI") is expected to undertake a regulatory impact analysis having regard to international best practice and enter into a consultation process in accordance with its Consultation Protocol2  for Credit Unions.

The CBI has announced that the new governance and prudential requirements contained in the Act will apply to Credit Unions from 1 October 2013.

Onerous obligations

The Act requires credit unions to establish and maintain a range of new measures including: 

  • a Strategic Plan;
  • regulatory policies and procedures (for example: a business continuity plan; an outsourcing policy; a conflicts of interest policy; governance arrangements; remuneration policies; and a code of conduct);
  • investment related policies and procedures (for example: a lending policy; liquidity and management policies; reserve management policies; and investment policies);
  • a compliance monitoring programme; and
  • risk management processes (for example: a risk management framework; an internal audit function; and a risk management system).


Initially it is not envisaged that the CBI will review the documented regime put into effect, but will require each credit union to provide an annual compliance statement. This annual compliance confirmation needs to be made by the board of each credit union, whereby they will be required to certify to the CBI, in writing, that the credit union is in "compliance with the requirements of this Part and any other regulations prescribed under it by the Bank including regulations setting out the form and content of that statement."

It is not sufficient that credit unions just have these policies and procedures documented. They must be aligned to the credit union's business model and be embedded into their systems and controls environment.

The Act also requires credit unions to enhance their organisational framework to include a board oversight committee; nomination committee; credit union manager; compliance officer; risk manager; internal audit function; credit officer; and company secretary.

Fitness and probity

The F&P regime will come into force from 1 August 2013 and is being introduced on a phased basis to be fully implemented by 1 August 2016.

The first phase will commence on 1 August 2013 and will implement the F&P requirements for credit unions whose total assets are greater than €10 million.

The second phase will begin on 1 August 2015 when all remaining credit unions will come within the remit of the regime. Credit unions that are also authorised as retail intermediaries will fall under the scope of the F&P regime that applies to other retail intermediaries.

The regime is aimed at individuals holding senior positions and significant influence roles within a credit union i.e. chairman; management; board members, management; compliance; risk; money laundering reporting officer; and supervisory positions. Similar to the F&P regime for other regulated sectors, these individuals will need to evidence they are competent and capable with appropriate skills, experience, knowledge and integrity to carry out their respective roles. A comprehensive due diligence project will need to be undertaken by the credit union or an appointed third party service provider.

Central Bank of Ireland

The CBI is responsible for regulating and supervising the credit union sector. The CBI has commenced issuing guidance on regulatory requirements following discussions with the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Department of Finance. We are recommending to our credit union clients that they engage at an early stage of the consultation process in order to highlight any issues they have with the draft guidelines/regulatory codes.

The CBI has also published the Credit Union handbook which serves as a compilation of a number of legal and regulatory requirements for credit unions.

Sanctions

Following a thematic inspection of a credit union's compliance with its obligations under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, the CBI issued a fine of €21,000. The fine related to failures surrounding the Credit Union's anti-money laundering/counter terrorist financing framework. This fine was quite lenient in comparison to other fines issued by the CBI but should be viewed by the credit union sector as a mark of intention from the CBI. Sanctions of this kind should be considered in the context of their extremely negative publicity as well as the direct financial implications.

Against the new requirements shortly coming on-stream under the Act, the CBI has greater powers under the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013 which provides for an increase in the CBI's powers of enforcement to €10,000,000 for a corporate body or 10% of turnover (whichever is highest) and €1,000,000 for a natural person.

Action to be taken

We are advising our credit union clients to carry out an assessment to identify new policies and procedures and other measures required and then consider the steps necessary to put relevant measures in place. As a guide we have highlighted some of the documentation required and what operational measures need to be implemented to comply with this new regime at Appendix I of this memorandum.

How Maples can help

As a leading international law firm, Maples and Calder has vast experience in dealing with regulatory matters, drafting and review of regulatory policies, processes and procedures and advising clients on interpreting legislation, regulatory codes and how to prepare for regulatory inspections.
We can assist in carrying out this assessment; advising what documentation is required; developing tailored solutions; and assisting credit unions during the implementation phase of the Act.

This Update is further to our previous News Article Credit Union - A New Regulatory Regime


1Aspects of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill were inserted into the Act and passed on 19 December 2012 to facilitate the memorandum of understanding with IOSCO. 

2The Consultation Protocol for Credit Unions was published by the Central Bank in November 2012 and is located on its website

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Authors
Barry McGrath
Stephen Carty
 
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