The scale, ferocity and rapidity of the global financial crisis
have scared governments, regulators and markets throughout
the world. What have we learned over the last two years?
And what lasting changes are now needed?
History will be the final judge, but here is one person’s European policy perspective on some of the key issues.
Recent events have shown that, thanks to the interconnectedness of global markets, contagion spreads quickly in times of stress. An unprecedented level of global co-operation is therefore required to strengthen financial stability and prudential soundness. Such co-operation can help avoid “beggar my neighbor” regulatory arbitrage,
the practice of trying to derive competitive advantage through the deliberate espousal of a “light touch” regulatory regime.
The new G20 process has begun well in this regard. The new Financial Stability Board, although in its early days, is developing into a powerful global watchdog driving micro-financial regulatory convergence.
In Europe we are beginning to transform our regulatory arrangements. The setting up of a new systemic Risk Board to issue macro-prudential warnings is being supported on the micro side by three new Authorities (Insurance, Banking, Securities) to embed higher standards of supervision in
the European Union and a single rule book for all. Many
of the United States Administration’s proposals go in the same direction.
The overwhelming view is that the global financial system was undercapitalized ahead of the crisis. The standard of risk assessment and due diligence was inadequate, and there were too many unregulated, unaccounted for off-balance sheet arrangements.
Through the Basle Committee, regulators around the world are working to tighten capital requirements for banks. This will involve more Tier 1 capital, countercyclical buffers to offset expected and unexpected losses, more capital charges for trading books, and leverage ratios to rein in the wilder elements. A strong global consensus is emerging on these issues: the challenges will be to not “overload the boat”, to get the timing right, and to ensure that the cumulation of measures makes sense as a whole.
Plugging the gaps
Too many parts of the financial system were not regulated, misunderstood by regulators or opaque. What we need now is a “Gruyère” approach, not an “Emmental” one. That means, inter alia, hedge fund regulation; stricter rules for credit rating agencies to avoid conflicts of interest; safeguards, proper incentives, transparency and due diligence requirements for securitization products; and stricter international disciplines over non-co-operative jurisdictions. We must strive for level playing fields between different products, between large and small firms and between developed and emerging countries.
The crisis has exposed many weaknesses in current accounting standards. Differences have emerged between the IASB and FASB. Repair is underway. But most want to move to one global set of standards – with the US accepting IFRS in the near future.