Dek: The Moroccan CSD has spent two decades building systems, processes and personnel whose purpose is to convince domestic and international investors that its services can be relied upon to safekeep their financial assets. Now that those services meet international standards in both resilience and cyber-security, the MAROCLEAR CEO and chairperson Fathïa Bennis is tilting the strategy of the CSD towards helping Morocco become the entrepot for portfolio investment and trading activity in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Trust is the most important asset for an ambitious market,” says Fathïa Bennis, CEO and chairperson of MAROCLEAR. She is reiterating the maxim of the Moroccan central securities depository (CSD). In other industries, the claim that trust takes years to build and minutes to destroy is easily dismissed as platitude but in the case of financial market infrastructures – which depend on a reputation for reliability, dependability and predictability which cannot be earned other than by the passage of time – it happens to be true. Nobody understands this better than Fathïa Bennis, which is why she places trust at the centre of the appeal of MAROCLEAR to the issuers and investors of the world.
At MAROCLEAR trust is more than a slogan
“Trust really does takes years to build,” asserts Bennis, as she looks back over the 20-odd years which have passed since the Moroccan CSD was established in 1997. Since she joined MAROCLEAR as CEO and chairperson in 2007, she has supervised personally a dozen years of investment by the Moroccan CSD to build the trust of domestic and international users. MAD 33 million was invested in upgrading the TCS Bancs platform to deliver real-time gross settlement (RTGS). It went live in September 2010, bringing Morocco into line with international standards. In 2015 she ensured MAROCLEAR became the first African CSD to comply with the G20 commitment to establish a trade repository for OTC derivatives.
Between 2013 and 2016 Bennis directed a three-year plan to invest MD 17 million to enhance the resilience of its operating systems. “We have put in place a risk management framework for regular assessments and action plans in order to mitigate operational and other risks and maintain the stability and the resilience of the institution,” explains Bennis. “The framework also ensures that we comply not only with national regulations but also with international principles laid down by the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI) and the International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).”
Meeting international standards in resilience and cyber-securit
In a 2015 self-assessment of its degree of compliance with the April 2012 CPMI-IOSCO Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures (PFMI), MAROCLEAR concluded it was in full compliance with 11 of the 24 principles and “broadly observed” a further eight. It identified room for improvement in board level conflicts of interest, participant default procedures, equity reserves, back-up sites, risk profiling users, evaluating costs incurred by end-users and communication standards. Action was taken to resolve all the shortcomings, including the construction of a back-up centre.
The CSD has since committed itself to compliance with the June 2016 CPMI-IOSCO Guidance on resilience for financial market infrastructures as well. “To ensure the services we deliver are resilient, we have put security at the forefront of our technology investments and the organisation of our operational processes,” explains Bennis. “We have invested heavily to earn a reputation in the marketplace as a resilient market infrastructure.” MAROCLEAR is now certified to the ISO 27001 information security management standard and the ISO 22301 business continuity standard.
To further reassure its users, Maroclear has adopted a code of personal ethics at work and committed itself to raising the quality and productivity of its employees through transparent communication and effective remuneration practices as well as skills, career and management training programmes. “None of what we have achieved would have been possible without committed, well-trained and autonomous employees,” says Bennis. “We have also promoted the place of women as the key to efficiency and performance. The MAROCLEAR strategy has been driven by the unwavering passion of its people.”
Helping Casablanca become the regional investment hub for sub-Saharan Africa
Highly trained people led by visionary managers are, as it happens, among the ingredients identified by the Moroccan government as crucial to the fulfilment of its ambition to turn Casablanca into important financial centre – and especially into an entrepot for investment in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last decade, public and private Moroccan companies have invested MAD 17.5 billion directly in a variety of ventures in sub-Saharan Africa. The Moroccan banks, Attijariwafa, BCP and BMCE BOA, between them now active in 25 African countries, have accompanied the investing businesses, making it easier for them to fund their investments.
The role of MAROCLEAR in this strategy is fundamental, and not only in providing assurance to domestic and foreign investors that their investments will settle on time, be held safely, collect their entitlements promptly, and be legally secure if something goes wrong. As early as 2006, MAROCLEAR reached an agreement with the Stock Exchange of Central Africa to (BVMAC) to help it develop CSD services. The CSD also has a 12.5 per cent stake in the Casablanca Finance City Authority, the body established in 2010 by the Moroccan government to channel investment into sub-Saharan Africa by offering companies a combination of tax incentives and light regulation.
“After ten years focusing on the completion of the core business, we are now pursuing an agile and constantly updated plan to promote the role of MAROCLEAR as an important actor in the Moroccan capital market,” says Bennis. “We are looking to develop value-added services that do not just meet the needs of our existing participants but anticipate opportunities to support the ambition of Casablanca Finance City to be a regional hub. The fact that we offer services whose standards and market practices are comparable with those of developed markets is crucial to the fulfilment of that ambition.”
In 2015 MAROCLEAR bought UnaVista technology from the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) to underpin an OTC derivative trade repository service that no other African CSD has yet thought necessary. The relationship with LSEG quickly burgeoned into a wider co-operation agreement designed to facilitate the flow of portfolio investment between Morocco and western Europe. LSEG is now also working with the Casablanca Stock Exchange – a 5 per cent shareholder in MAROCLEAR – to help companies grow to the point where they are mature enough to list. MAROCLEAR has assisted by working with local trade associations to persuade unlisted companies to follow the example of their listed counterparts and dematerialise their share certificates ahead of going public.
MAROCLEAR has certainly built up a useful body of experience which can help sub-Saharan African countries modernise their financial market infrastructures. It has the further advantage of being based in a growing economy and stable polity led by a government with a clear strategy to position Morocco as the regional hub for investment in the countries to the south of it, with which it has natural and longstanding trading ties. “We have achieved our initial goal of becoming a major player in the Moroccan financial markets,” says Bennis. “Now we want to support the ambition of Casablanca to become a financial hub with a regional dimension.”
Tuesday 9 April 2019
Fathïa Bennis, CEO and chairperson, MAROCLEAR
Mohamed Abdel Salam, Chairman, AMEDA
Byungrhae Lee, Chairman, WFC
 MAROCLEAR, Assessment of observance of the CPSS-IOSCO principles for financial market infrastructures, Detailed assessment of observance, Version 2.0, 13 January 2015.