Risk Management

Clearinghouse Fined $20M for Violating Standards

Regulators say Options Clearing Corp. failed to establish and enforce policies and procedures involving financial risk management.
Matthew HellerSeptember 5, 2019

Options Clearing Corp. has agreed to pay $20 million to settle a first-of-its-kind enforcement action alleging it failed to comply with heightened standards governing clearing agencies.

A joint investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission found that OCC, the sole registered clearing agency for exchange-listed option contracts on equities, failed to establish and enforce policies and procedures involving financial risk management, operational requirements, and information-systems security.

The enforcement action is the SEC’s first charging violations of more stringent clearing agency standards adopted in 2012 and 2016. The settlement requires OCC to pay $15 million to the SEC and $5 million to the CFTC and undertake remedial efforts.

“As a clearing agency, OCC performs a range of services that are critical to the effective operation of the securities markets,” SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in a news release. “Today’s resolution is intended to ensure that OCC will have appropriate policies and procedures in place to meet its obligations to our financial system.”

As a systemically important financial market utility, OCC is subject to enhanced regulation of its risk management systems. It handles some 19 million options trades a day and some futures contracts.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, it “has struggled for several years with compliance issues and the implementation of a new capital plan.” During a bout of market volatility in February 2018, its models erroneously demanded a 10-fold increase in margin from some of its clearing members.

“Disruption to OCC’s operations, or failure by OCC to manage risk, could result in significant costs not only to OCC itself and its members, but also to other market participants or the broader U.S. financial system,” the SEC said in an administrative order.

Regulators said OCC’s violations of the standards included failing to review its risk-based margin models and the parameters for those models on a monthly basis, effectively measure, monitor, and manage its credit exposure and liquidity risk, maintain a comprehensive risk management framework, and protect the security of certain of its information systems.