(as extracted from Annex II of DIRECTIVE 2014/65/EU, known as MIFID II)
Professional client is a client who possesses the experience, knowledge and expertise to make its own investment decisions and properly assess the risks that it incurs. In order to be considered to be professional client, the client must comply with the following criteria:
I. CATEGORIES OF CLIENT WHO ARE CONSIDERED TO BE PROFESSIONALS
The following shall all be regarded as professionals in all investment services and activities and financial instruments for the purposes of the Directive. (1) Entities which are required to be authorised or regulated to operate in the financial markets. The list below shall be understood as including all authorised entities carrying out the characteristic activities of the entities mentioned: entities authorised by a Member State under a Directive, entities authorised or regulated by a Member State without reference to a Directive, and entities authorised or regulated by a third country:
(a) Credit institutions;
(b) Investment firms;
(c) Other authorised or regulated financial institutions;
(d) Insurance companies;
(e) Collective investment schemes and management companies of such schemes;
(f) Pension funds and management companies of such funds;
(g) Commodity and commodity derivatives dealers;
(i) Other institutional investors;
(2) Large undertakings meeting two of the following size requirements on a company basis:
— balance sheet total : EUR 20 000 000
— net turnover : EUR 40 000 000
— own funds : EUR 2 000 000
(3) National and regional governments, including public bodies that manage public debt at national or regional level, Central Banks, international and supranational institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the ECB, the EIB and other similar international organisations.
(4) Other institutional investors whose main activity is to invest in financial instruments, including entities dedicated to the securitisation of assets or other financing transactions.
The entities referred to above are considered to be professionals. They must however be allowed to request non-professional treatment and investment firms may agree to provide a higher level of protection. Where the client of an investment firm is an undertaking referred to above, the investment firm must inform it prior to any provision of services that, on the basis of the information available to the investment firm, the client is deemed to be a professional client, and will be treated as such unless the investment firm and the client agree otherwise. The investment firm must also inform the customer that he can request a variation of the terms of the agreement in order to secure a higher degree of protection.
It is the responsibility of the client, considered to be a professional client, to ask for a higher level of protection when it deems it is unable to properly assess or manage the risks involved.
This higher level of protection will be provided when a client who is considered to be a professional enters into a written agreement with the investment firm to the effect that it shall not be treated as a professional for the purposes of the applicable conduct of business regime. Such agreement shall specify whether this applies to one or more particular services or transactions, or to one or more types of product or transaction.
II. CLIENTS WHO MAY BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS ON REQUEST
II.1. Identification criteria
Clients other than those mentioned in section I, including public sector bodies, local public authorities, municipalities and private individual investors, may also be allowed to waive some of the protections afforded by the conduct of business rules.
Investment firms shall therefore be allowed to treat any of those clients as professionals provided the relevant criteria and procedure mentioned below are fulfilled. Those clients shall not, however, be presumed to possess market knowledge and experience comparable to that of the categories listed in Section I.
Any such waiver of the protection afforded by the standard conduct of business regime shall be considered to be valid only if an adequate assessment of the expertise, experience and knowledge of the client, undertaken by the investment firm, gives reasonable assurance, in light of the nature of the transactions or services envisaged, that the client is capable of making investment decisions and understanding the risks involved.
The fitness test applied to managers and directors of entities licensed under Directives in the financial field could be regarded as an example of the assessment of expertise and knowledge. In the case of small entities, the person subject to that assessment shall be the person authorised to carry out transactions on behalf of the entity.
In the course of that assessment, as a minimum, two of the following criteria shall be satisfied:
— the client has carried out transactions, in significant size, on the relevant market at an average frequency of 10 per quarter over the previous four quarters,
— the size of the client’s financial instrument portfolio, defined as including cash deposits and financial instruments exceeds EUR 500 000 ,
— the client works or has worked in the financial sector for at least one year in a professional position, which requires knowledge of the transactions or services envisaged.
Member States may adopt specific criteria for the assessment of the expertise and knowledge of municipalities and local public authorities requesting to be treated as professional clients. Those criteria can be alternative or additional to those listed in the fifth paragraph.
Those clients may waive the benefit of the detailed rules of conduct only where the following procedure is followed:
— they must state in writing to the investment firm that they wish to be treated as a professional client, either generally or in respect of a particular investment service or transaction, or type of transaction or product,
— the investment firm must give them a clear written warning of the protections and investor compensation rights they may lose,
— they must state in writing, in a separate document from the contract, that they are aware of the consequences of losing such protections.
Before deciding to accept any request for waiver, investment firms must be required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the client requesting to be treated as a professional client meets the relevant requirements stated in Section II.1.
However, if clients have already been categorised as professionals under parameters and procedures similar to those referred to above, it is not intended that their relationships with investment firms shall be affected by any new rules adopted pursuant to this Annex.
Firms must implement appropriate written internal policies and procedures to categorise clients.
Professional clients are responsible for keeping the investment firm informed about any change, which could affect their current categorisation. Should the investment firm become aware however that the client no longer fulfils the initial conditions, which made him eligible for a professional treatment, the investment firm shall take appropriate action.