Banks use it. Asset managers and insurers use it. Energy companies and private equity firms use it. For decades, LIBOR has been the benchmark, or reference rate, behind millions of daily transactions involving derivatives, bonds, loans, and securitizations. Now, it’s going away.
The London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), the benchmark for $350 trillion in financial contracts worldwide, will be phased out at the end of 2021. LIBOR is giving way to several Alternative Reference Rates (ARRs) that vary by region, currency, tenor, and basis. In the US, most of the contracts that now refer to LIBOR will instead use rates based on the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) — a daily rate based on the cost of overnight borrowing, with US Treasury securities posted as collateral.
This is a big deal. As you prepare to make this shift, you may have to update operational systems that handle contracts, pricing, and more. You’ll want to reach out to clients, redefine the way you think about some risks, and redesign some products. The scope of work can seem daunting, especially if you’re just starting to prepare for the transition. Some firms already preparing for LIBOR’s end have found it more time-consuming than they’d expected, as they confront challenges in IT, investment strategy, and coordinating with vendors.
And there’s a lot of work to do. For example, many firms will discover that they have literally thousands of contracts that reference LIBOR — including exposure that they may not have known about. To be sure, some contracts may not require remediation, and others may be easy to fix. But many others could require bilateral negotiation — and before you start, you’ll want to model the economic effects of that change. There are a lot of steps, and many potential missteps.
You may feel you have more significant priorities, including responding to the pandemic. Yet regulators have insisted that the December 2021 cutoff date will remain unchanged, even as COVID-19 has jolted markets and strained balance sheets. In fact, the interim deadlines start in 2020. At this point, if you delay your transition project, you could experience negative financial consequences and reputational consequences as you fall behind well-prepared rivals.
The new ARRs differ from LIBOR in important ways. For example, LIBOR is a forward-looking term rate with a range of seven maturities up to a year, tracking loans that might be made in the future. In comparison, SOFR is a backward-looking overnight rate, reporting on loans that have already been made. And, while LIBOR reflects a measure of credit risk, SOFR is derived from repos: collateralized transactions that are effectively considered risk-free.
SOFR has gradually been gaining appeal, based on daily trading in SOFR-linked futures and the volume of SOFR-linked debt. Still, the number of contracts tied to LIBOR dwarfs SOFR-linked transactions. One reason may be that SOFR still does not offer any forward looking term rates, while many of today’s loans are typically tied to three month LIBOR.
Whether you are a trader, a lender or a borrower, the transition may be more complex than you expect at first. With a lot to do and not much time to do it, you’ll want to start now.
Regulators are working with the financial industry to plot a way forward without LIBOR. In the US, much of this work has been led by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC), a group of industry and public sector organizations convened to smooth the transition. The ARRC has published an implementation checklist, a list of best practices for completing the transition, and a range of other materials to help firms adapt.
Yet regulators aren’t defining how the changeover from LIBOR must take place. The broad outlines are in place, and most of the issues have now been resolved, but you’ll still have to create your own roadmap geared to your specific operations and current uses of LIBOR. For example, if you borrow, lend, invest or hedge in currencies other than US dollars, you’ll likely need to prepare to transition to one or more other ARRs beyond SOFR. Each ARR has its own characteristics, with different start dates and varying liquidity.
Every company’s LIBOR transition plan may be slightly different — because their product offerings and portfolios vary, their business and hedging strategies are unique, their customers have their own priorities, and their industry sector may have distinct characteristics. Still, we’ve found that there are eight elements to developing and implementing a successful LIBOR transition plan:
It’s hard to imagine a LIBOR transition program without advanced technology tools to help. If you need to quickly evaluate thousands of contracts to assess where the risks are, software can help you scale your effort effectively. But firms can burn resources needlessly by jumping too quickly into a technology decision.
In our experience, companies get better results by strategically balancing technology and people. Start by finding all of your contracts. Are they all digitized? Do they follow the same naming conventions? How many use standard, “boilerplate” language? By defining the scope of the project carefully, you may shrink the remediation effort considerably. PwC has developed a tech-enabled solution, LIBOR Strategy and Analytics Contracts Analyzer, using supervised machine learning to quickly identify and extract the clauses that need to be remediated. Our financial products and contract processing specialists analyze this data to accelerate the remediation, while spotting and proactively managing contracts that may have greater risks so you can prioritize the work.
Global Financial Services Leader, PwC US
Partner, PwC US
US Deals, Strategy & Operations Leader for Tax Reporting & Strategy, PwC US
Financial Services, Principal, PwC US
Asset & Wealth Management, Partner, PwC US
Financial Services, Partner, PwC US
Principal, PwC US
Capital Markets Strategy Partner, PwC US