Financial regulation

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Following the financial crash of 2008, new measures have been put forward to remedy deficiencies in the existing methods of regulating national financial institutions, and there have been international negotiations concerning the coordination of such measures. The necessity has been agreed of both strengthening the "microprudential" measures that are concerned with the stability of individual financial institutions, and introducing new "macroprudential" measures that are concerned with the stability of the financial system as a whole. A paper by the United States Department of the Treasury makes the point that "a narrow micro-prudential concern for the solvency of individual firms, while necessary, is by itself insufficient to guard against financial instability. In fact, actions taken to preserve one or a few individual banking firms may destabilize the rest of the financial system"[1]. A Bank of England discussion paper goes further, explaining that microprudential policymakers might impose severe lending restrictions to guard against individual bank failures, whereas macroprudential policies would take account of the long-term damage to the banking system and to the economy that could result from the consequent credit shortages[2]

Microprudential policy

Pre-crash policies

Governments have long been aware of the danger that a loss of confidence following the failure of one bank could lead to the failure of others, and in the late 19th century they sought limit that danger by regulations that required all banks to maintain minimum reserve ratios. Following the crash of 1929 they also imposed restrictions upon their activities. In the United States, for example, the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 prohibited the participation commercial banks in the activities of investment banks [3]. In the 1980s, however, there was a general move toward deregulation, in which those restrictions were dropped and reserve requirements were relaxed. There followed a period of financial innovation and substantial change in the nature of banking[4]. The perception of a resulting increase in danger of systemic failure led, in 1988, to the publication of a revised set of the regulatory recommendations that related a bank's required reserve ratio to the riskiness of its loans termed the Basel Accord.

Post-crash proposals

Reserve ratios

In its March 2009 report, The Turner Review of the UK banking system recommended raising banks' reserve ratio requirements to levels substantially above those required by the Basel regulations and introducing a discretionary counter-cyclical element that would raise the required ratio during economic booms The The Warwick Commission on international financial reform was also in favour of counter-cyclical regulation but suggested that it should be rules-based to help central banks to resist political opposition to "taking away the punchbowl when the part gets going". Its purpose would be to persuade banks to put away money during a boom-at a time when they would be motivated to run down their reserves.

Risk management

The de Larosière Group of European regulators proposed that the board members of banks should be required to abandon the practice of relying upon risk models that they do not understand, and to make fuller use of their professional judgment. New (Basel II) risk management standards were issued by the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision in September 2008[5].


The rôle of financial derivatives in the crash of 2008 is a topic of controversy among economists. Professor Hyun Song Shin has argued that their use had undermined the stability of the financial system by concentrated risks in the banking system [6], and the eminent economist Joseph Stiglitz has suggested that major banks should not be allowed to hold derivatives, especially credit default swaps[7], but Professor Myron Scholes has described proposals to ban them as "a luddite response". The regulatory authorities do not appear to be considering a ban on their use, but they are formulating measures to improve their ability to monitor them. The United States Department of the Treasury has proposed legislation to require clearing of all standardized over-the-counter derivatives through regulated central counterparties who must impose robust margin requirements and risk controls [8], and similar measures are considered in a European Commission consultation paper on possible derivatives legislation[9] that may be expected to be discussed in forthcoming meetings of an international regulators forum[10]

Off-balance-sheet vehicles

The international Financial Stability Board has issued new disclosure standards for off-balance sheet vehicles, and has recommended the imposition of higher capital requirements where appropriate.

Hedge funds and shadow banks

Tax havens

Macroprudential proposals

Systemic failure and rescue

The "too-big-to-fail" problem

The US Treasury, in a paper published in September 2009, suggested that "systemically important firms" should be subject to higher capital requirements than other firms [11], and a G20 finance summit made the same suggestion[12]. A survey-based analysis of the factors affecting organisation's systemic importance was published by a group of international organisations in October 2009 [13]. The UK's Financial Standards Authority identified three aspects of the too-big-to-fall problem as:

  • the moral hazard created if uninsured creditors of large banks believe that a systemically important bank will always be rescued, removing the incentive to impose discipline and prompting them to reduce their interest rates;
  • the costs of rescue operation and the unfairness of the "socialisation of losses"; and
  • the possibility that rescue might cost more than the host country could afford[14].

The "credit crunch" problem

Asset price bubbles

Frederic Mishkin has noted that asset price bubbles that involve fluctuations in the supply of credit are far more damaging than those that do not [15]. The "" bubble, for example did little damage because it was not credit-financed. A Bank of England discussion paper has examined the regulatory regime of "dynamic provisioning" recommended by the de Larosière Group[16] - a rule-based scheme that requires banks to build up provisions against performing loans in an upturn, which can then be drawn down in a recession. It notes that the scheme did not appear to have smoothed the supply of credit, but may have made banks more resilient[17]. A suggestion by International Fund economists that monetary policy should be used to "lean against" asset price booms[18][19] was not well received by central bank leaders[20][21], but the international Warwick Commission insisted that "inflation targeting ... needs to be supplemented by some form of regulation specifically aimed at calming asset markets when they become overheated" [22]. The possibility of using fiscal policy is also under consideration. In response to a G20 request, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to investigate the feasibility of discouraging speculation by means of a global transactions tax [23]

Accounting Standards

Concern among members of the United States Congress that the mark to market accounting convention can have a destabilising influence on the financial system has delayed the adoption by the United States Financial Accounting Standards Board of the International Financial Reporting Standard issued by the International Accounting Standards Board. The G20 Leaders have recommended that the two boards should "make significant progress towards a single set of high quality global accounting standards", and the Financial Stability Board has urged them to incorporate a broader range of available credit information than existing provisioning requirements, so as to recognise credit losses in loan portfolios at an earlier stage. In November 2009 The International Accounting Standards Board issued an amended version of its standard in an attempt to reach agreement [24] and a response is expected from the Financial Accounting Standards Board .

(for more on the mark to market controversy, see "Mark to market" accounting)

Regulatory structures

Four types of existing regulatory structure have been identified[1]:

  • The institutional approach, in which a firm’s legal status determines which regulator is tasked with overseeing its activity;
  • The functional approach, in which supervisory oversight is determined by the business that is being transacted by the entity so that each type of business activity has its own regulator;
  • The integrated approach, in which a single universal regulator conducts both safety and soundness oversight and conduct-of-business regulation for all the sectors of financial services business; and,
  • The twin peaks approach, in which one regulator performs safety and soundness supervision function and the other focuses on conduct-of-business regulation.

The "G30 report" by an eminent international consultative group stressed the need for regulatory systems with "clearer boundaries between those institutions and financial activities that require substantial formal prudential regulation for reasons of financial stability and those that do not"[25]. An earlier report by the same international group had concluded that none of the four categories of regulatory structure then in use appeared to offer a significant advantage over the others, and had attributed greater importance to the calibre of their managements. The Warwick Commission argued that "macro and micro-prudential regulation require different skills and institutional structures, and suggested that where possible, micro-prudential regulation should be carried out by a specialised agency (and that) macro-prudential regulation should be carried out conjunction with the monetary authorities, as they are already heavily involved in monitoring the macro economy and the de Larosière Group also stressed the importance of coordination between regulators and central banks.

International coordination

Notes and references

  1. Principles for Reforming the U.S. and International Regulatory Capital Framework for Banking Firms, US Treasury Department, September 2009"
  2. The Role of Macroprudential Policy, a discussion paper, Bank of England, November 2009
  3. The Glass-Steagall Act was largely repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999
  4. Claudio Borio and Renato Filosa: The Changing Borders of Banking, BIS Economic Paper No 43, Bank for International Settlements December 1994
  5. Principles for Sound Liquidity Risk Management and Supervision, Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, September 2008
  6. C Securitisation and Financial Stability, Vox 18 March 2009
  7. Ben Moshinsky: Stiglitz Says Banks Should Be Banned From CDS Trading , Bloomberg October 12 2009
  8. Regulatory Reform Over-The-Counter (OTC) Derivatives, US Department of the Treasury, May 13 2009
  9. Possible initiatives to enhance the resilience of OTC Derivatives Markets, (Consultation Document), European Commission, 3 July 2009
  10. A Global Framework for Regulatory Cooperation on OTC Derivative CCPs and Trade Repositories, Banque de France, September 24, 2009
  11. Principles for Reforming the U.S. and International Regulatory Capital Framework for Banking Firms, US Treasury Department, September 2009
  12. Declaration on Further Steps to Strengthen the Financial System, Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, London, 4-5 September 2009
  13. Guidance to Assess the Systemic Importance of Financial Institutions, Markets and Instruments: Initial Considerations — Background Paper, Prepared by: Staff of the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements, and the Secretariat of the Financial Stability Board, October 2009
  14. Turner Review Conference Discussion Paper: A regulatory response to the global banking crisis: systemically important banks and assessing the cumulative impact, Financial Services Authority, October 2009
  15. Frederic Mishkin: Not all Bubbles Present a Risk to the Economy, Financial Times, 9th November 2009
  16. Report of the High-Level Group on Financial Supervision in the EU, European Commission, February 2009
  17. The Role of Macroprudential Policy, a discussion paper, Bank of England, November 2009
  18. Asset Prices and the Business Cycle, World Economic Outlook, Chapter 3, International Monetary Fund, May 2000
  19. Lessons for Monetary Problems from Asset Price Fluctuations, (World Economic Outlook October 2009 Chapter 3) International Monetary Fund 2009
  20. Ben Bernanke: Asset-Price "Bubbles" and Monetary Policy (Speech to the New York Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics, New York, New York, October 15 2002) Federal Reserve Board 2002
  21. Jean-Claude Trichet: Asset price bubbles and monetary policy,(Mas lecture, 8 June 2005) European Central Bank, 2005
  22. The Warwick Commission on International Financial Reform: In Praise of Unlevel Playing Fields, (The report of the second Warwick Commission) University of Warwick, November 2009
  23. Speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn (the IMF's Managing Director), to the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference November 23 2009
  24. IASB completes first phase of financial instruments accounting reform, International Accountancy Standards Board, 12 November 2009
  25. A Framework for Financial Stability, G30 2009