James Moore: Colour code could shed light on risky business

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The Independent Online

Outlook An example of the trouble that can be caused by an investment bank that has not been "de-risked" was provided by UBS. Its apparently healthy profit was largely due to the figures being massaged by a number of accounting quirks. They couldn't altogether hide the continuing impact of its rogue-trader scandal.

It is the ability of traders to blow huge holes in their employers' balance sheets that tends to worry small depositers whose savings are put at risk as a result.

Perhaps it's time to better inform them about the nature of the businesses with which they deposit their hard- earned. Perhaps with a traffic light system, like the one operated by the Association of British Insurers for corporate governance purposes.

For banking, green could indicate that a business is strongly capitalised and the business is low risk and a bit boring. Amber might say this institution is basically OK but it does have some risky businesses you might like to think about. Or it might not be as strongly capitalised as some. Red would mean deposit at your peril.

Governments and regulators would run a mile before involving themselves in such a system, even though states these days own large parts of Europe's banking system. Just imagine the wailing of those categorised as "red". But surely this idea could be taken up by, say, a savvy consumer group?

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