FX

What is the FX Global Code?

Foreign exchange (FX) is one of the most obscure asset classes for ERISA and governmental plans (as well as other institutional investors). The FX Global Code is an important development. The FX Global Code is a set of good practice principles for both buy-side and sell-side participants. It is also voluntary in nature. So, why should plan fiduciaries be aware of it? First, plan fiduciaries that invest in international securities will most likely hedge their exposure to that local currency. So while FX is rarely used as a source of alpha for plans, it is often used defensively. Second, FX is the largest market but probably the least understood. It’s long been obscure, I think. So what are some of the key principles?

(A) a clear understanding of whether a market participant acts as a principal or agent in executing a transaction;

(B) a need to handle orders with fairness and transparency, which includes making clear whether the prices quoted are firm or indicative, time stamping policy, etc.;

(C) pre-hedging as a principal only and in a manner that does not disadvantage the customer;

(D) understanding how reference prices are established;

(E) whether a markup is fair and reasonable (e.g., how much is the spread?); and

(F) having an effective compliance framework governing FX activities, including processes designed to identify and eliminate abusive or manipulative practices, escalation procedures once issues are identified, etc.

Not all of the principles in the Code apply equally to participants, but they do reflect a consensus (for the most part). A plan investment committee may wish to ask its investment managers whether it’s a signatory to the FX Global Code and how they intend to comply with it, and whether those managers will engage dealers on applicable principles.

FX Global Code: One Year Later

The Global Foreign Exchange Committee has an issued a report on the FX Global Code at its one-year mark. Also, here is the updated Code (taking into account changes to last look). I have previously noted, in an op-ed for Pensions & Investments, that “Investment managers that are fiduciaries to plans might want to embrace the code and advertise that fact to their plan clients. If there is skepticism of FX as a transparent market, an investment manager could seek to allay these concerns by explaining the code to its plan clients and how the code aims to make the operation of the market less opaque.”

FX Global Code turns 1 – what does it mean for fiduciaries?

As  I articulated in Profit & Loss, “Though [the FX Global Code] does not have the force of law, it can serve as a useful springboard for fiduciaries to buttress risk controls and fiduciary awareness over an industry that seems obscure to some. The Code can catalyse a change from disengagement and insufficient understanding of common (and, in certain instances, controversial) FX practices to engagement and a deeper understanding of a market whose products are in so many investment policy statements and mandates of retirement plans.” I wrote that the Code’s voluntary nature opened the door to plan investment committees and investment managers the opportunity to gauge the level of the FX service provider’s engagement with the Code and how such engagement (or lack thereof) could implicate their fiduciary duties. I opined: “However, the genius of the Code is that not all principles apply to each market participant, and, as a result, requires at least an active review of the Code to determine which principles apply to a particular market participant, including a fiduciary. An investment committee that outsources currency hedging to a third party may have an interest in how that third party will plan to adhere to the Code. Through awareness comes engagement with service providers. Because the Code’s principles set forth good practice in the market, a plan fiduciary should become aware of the Code and internalise it.” My full op-ed can be found here.