James Moore: A more stable banking sector does not mean our finances are safe again
James Moore is the Independent's Associate Business Editor and writes the Outlook City comment column from Tuesday to Friday. He also has a keen interest in disability issues and when not attempting to further injure himself playing wheelchair basketball.
Wednesday 09 October 2013
Outlook Where's the next financial crisis going to come from? Up until now, regulators have been focused on preventing a repeat of the last one.
That's understandable, and if it leads to a stronger, more conservative banking sector which can stand on its own feet if the global money markets dry up again, fair enough.
The trouble is the next flare-up will almost certainly come from an entirely different direction. Paul Tucker, the outgoing deputy governor of the Bank of England, pointed to a couple of potential hotspots in what amounted to a valedictory appearance before the Treasury Select Committee.
"Shadow banking" – for which read hedge funds and the like – has long worried people, with good reason. The sector is high risk, high reward and perhaps the greatest talent of those working within it might be their unrivalled ability to find ways to evade rules and regulatory scrutiny.
Clearing houses, responsible for ensuring financial transactions are completed if a participant defaults, receive generally less attention. But they could pose just as great a danger. Given their function, just what happens if it is the clearing house that defaults?
That's a thought that gives some of the brighter regulators sleepless nights, and so it should, given the way they have been allowed to operate with comparatively low levels of capital while being sold off to commercial entities whose interests lie in keeping it that way.
But perhaps his best point was that the most recent crisis was the last that will be resolvable across the Atlantic with Asia looking on from the sidelines.
Has regulation over there kept pace with the speed with which financial markets have developed? That's an interesting question.
In certain areas it was actually tighter than what existed in the West prior to the financial crisis. HSBC, for example, has long had to provide details of the salaries of its top earners thanks to its listing in Hong Kong. And the Securities & Futures Commission there was previously run by one Martin Wheatley, who currently heads up the Financial Conduct Authority.
Mr Tucker is quite right to say that the oversight of banks is now a global, and not just a transatlantic issue and that British, European and American banking supervisors need to engage with their colleagues in Asia.
But they should think very carefully before they start telling their opposite numbers in the tigers how they should be doing their jobs given the mess that was made in the transatlantic time zones.
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