The regulation of securities and commodities products and brokers1 in the U.S. is administered by two distinct federal agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for securities including stocks, ETFs, bonds, options and mutual funds and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for commodities including futures and options on futures.2 While both agencies seek to safeguard customer assets by restricting their use and “segregating” them from assets of the broker, the regulations and manner in which they accomplish this differs. The following article provides a basic overview of two segregation models and additional considerations relating to IB accounts.
Differences between the CFTC and SEC segregation models originate largely from the products themselves, whose characteristics are fundamentally unique. Commodity products, by nature, do not involve an extension of credit by the broker to the customer as a futures contract is not an asset but rather a contingent liability which is marked-to-market and a long futures option, while an asset, must be paid for in-full. Consequently, non-option assets in a commodities account are generally comprised of funds deposited as margin to secure performance on the contracts therein. Since the broker may not use the funds of one customer to margin or guarantee the transactions of another, the commodities segregation requirement (CFTC Rules 1.20 – 1.30) is equal to the gross assets of all customers and the broker needs to add its own funds to segregation to cover customers whose net equity is in deficit.
A securities margin account, in contrast, can facilitate the extension of credit for the purpose of long securities (e.g., stocks, bonds) purchases or short securities sales on a secured basis. The segregation or reserve requirement rules recognize this through special provisions for the protection of each of the cash and securities components, further distinguishing fully-paid securities from those whose purchase the broker has financed and maintains a lien upon. Here, the broker must deposit into a separate bank account the net amount of customer cash balances3, in accordance with a formula set forth in SEC Rule 15c3-3. In addition, the broker must identify and segregate in a good control location (e.g., depository, bank) customer securities which meet the definition of “fully paid” or “excess margin”.
The table below provides a comparison of the main principals of each model.
|COMPARISON OF CFTC & SEC SEGREGATION MODELS|
Separation of Customer Balances
|Commodity customer balances must be maintained separate from firm assets and cannot be used to finance proprietary business activities or to satisfy firm debts.
Funds used for trading on non-US commodity exchanges must be kept separate from those used for trading on U.S. exchanges (even for the same customer).
Commodity customer balances must also be maintained separate from securities customer balances (even for the same customer).
Securities customer balances must be maintained separate from firm assets and cannot be used to finance proprietary business activities or to satisfy firm debts.
Securities customer balances must also be maintained separate from commodity customer balances (even for the same customer).
Priority in the Event of Broker Default
|Commodity customers maintain priority and equal claim over assets in each their respective U.S. segregated and non-U.S. secured pools.
No claim on assets in a commodity pool in which one is not a participant and no claim on securities customer assets.
If commodity segregated assets are insufficient to meet claims and broker is insolvent, customers share equally in shortfall and become general creditors for residual claims.
|Securities customers maintain priority and equal claim over assets.4
No claim on commodity segregated assets.
If securities segregated assets are insufficient to meet claims, broker is insolvent and claims exceed SPIC coverage, customers share equally in shortfall and become general creditors for residual claims.
Gross – the broker may not use the funds of one customer to margin or guarantee the transactions of another and must segregate assets in an amount at least equal to the sum of all customer credit balances.
|Net – broker may use customer cash credit balances to finance, on a secured basis, margin loans to other customers and may lend or pledge a portion of customer securities purchased on margin to other customers selling short.
|Investment of Cash Balances||
Broker is allowed to reinvest commodity customer’s cash balances and retain an interest in the income generated.
Permissible investments include: U.S. government securities, municipal securities, government sponsored enterprise securities, bank CDs, corporate obligations (commercial paper, notes and bonds) fully guaranteed as to principal and interest by the U.S. under the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program and money market mutual funds.Securities which are the subject of reinvestment must be maintained in segregated account.
Broker is allowed to reinvest securities customer’s cash balances and retain an interest in the income generated.
Permissible investments limited to “qualified securities” defined as securities which are guaranteed as to both interest and principal by the U.S. government.Securities which are the subject of reinvestment must be held in Special Reserve Bank Account (i.e., segregated).
|Insurance||None||Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) provides insurance of up to USD 500,000 with a cash sublimit of USD 250,000.|
In addition to the safeguards afforded through segregation, IB employs a number of policies and practices which serve to enhance the safety and security of accounts beyond that outlined above. These include the following:
- IB computes its securities segregation or reserve requirement on a daily rather than weekly basis as allowed by regulation, thereby ensuring timely determination as to the amount required to be reserved and the deposit of funds necessary to satisfy the requirement.
- IB’s does not avail itself of the generally more permissive rules with respect to the investment of commodity customer cash balances. These balances are instead invested in a manner similar to that of securities cash balances (i.e., U.S. government securities) with the exception of an occasional investment in money market funds.
- All customer securities positions are held in the securities segment of the Universal Account as opposed to the commodities (commodities margin met with cash and/or futures options), thereby limiting their hypothecation to the more restrictive rules of the SEC.
- In addition to SIPC coverage, IB maintains an excess SIPC policy with Lloyd's of London which, in aggregate with SIPC, offers insurance totaling $30 million (with a cash sublimit of $900,000), subject to an aggregate firm limit of $150 million.
- IB offers account holders the ability to sweep cash balances in excess of that required for margin purposes in either the securities or commodities segment to the other segment. Details as to this feature may be found in KB1851.
- For additional information regarding IB strength and security, please review the following website page.
Other Relevant Knowledge Base Articles:
1The term broker as used in this article is intended to refer to an organization registered with both the SEC as a Broker-Dealer and the CFTC as a Futures Commission Merchant for the purpose of conducting customer transactions
2Single stock futures are a hybrid product jointly regulated by the SEC and CFTC and allowed to be carried in either account type.
3Including cash obtained through the use of customer securities such bank pledges or stock loans less cash required to finance customer transactions (e.g., stock borrows, customer fails to deliver of securities, or margin deposited for short option positions with OCC).
4Assets, or customer property, which securities customers share in proportion to their net equity claim, include cash, margin securities and fully-paid securities held in “street name”. IB does not hold securities in the customer’s name which are not considered bulk customer property.