Although the robo advisory market is only beginning to develop, the first concerns raised by many institutional players Regulators are focusing specifically on consumer’s awareness regarding the type of offered service and data protection issues.
Several hearings on FinTech are also taking place at the Italian Parliament, in order to collect the experts’ opinions as to possible regulatory innovations in the field with a focus also on robo-advisory and advice services. In particular, the design, organization and operation of the digital platforms are under the spotlight.
Although a specific statutory or regulatory framework governing FinTech services has not been issued yet, the described services may fall under the definition of investment services/activities provided by Section 1, paragraph 5, of the TUF when they are related to such services and activities and are provided to the public and on a professional basis. In particular, consulting and robo-advisory services may fall under the category of investment advice. Also auto-trading could be considered as investment service/activity depending upon the specific characteristics of the service offered.
Only authorized entities can provide investment services/activities to the public, that are banks, investment companies and other intermediaries that may be authorized to provide specific investment services/activities. Requirements regarding financial reserves apply depending on the regulated subject providing the services and on the type of provided service. Ancillary services and connected/instrumental activities may be generally provided without the need of ad hoc authorization by authorized entities.
The Italian FinTech sector is only beginning to develop. Compared to other markets (such as the UK or the US markets), much has still to be done. This is reflected in the sector at hand. According to the last 2018 CONSOB’s Report, only two robo advisory operators are significantly active in the local market (with 3,500 and 10,000 clients respectively, corresponding to EUR 160 million and EUR 200 million in terms of transaction value), while other firms have a quite limited client base.
In terms of potential regulatory innovations in the next years it is possible that, as it happened in recent times in more sophisticated markets, the services at hand would be impacted by ad hoc regulations regarding their activities. In particular, two main issues may be of interest for regulators: 1) consumers’ protection especially in connection with fully automatized investments decisions; and 2) algorithm transparency and related information duties for operators.
The CONSOB’s 2019 FinTech Report shows that robo-advisory services are being set up as a hybrid model that allows investors to choose between digital options and human ones. According to the regulator, the interaction between clients and human advisors will continue to be a key factor, enhancing the customer experience and services’ added value also in the automated advice sector.