01.29.2013

Banks Demand Better Regulation, Not More of It

01.29.2013
Terry Flanagan

The banking industry has come out fighting against its perceived role of the villain in the financial crisis.

An avalanche of new regulation is now heading towards the financial services sector—with most of it aimed squarely at the banks—following the financial crisis in a bid to alter the system and bring more transparency and less risk to the process.

The banking industry has been blamed by many politicians and the general public for causing the financial crisis with a perception of reckless lending and risk-taking that, around the time of the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008, nearly brought down the entire financial system.

But some of the leaders of the world’s biggest institutions met up at the recent World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, to give their take on the evolving nature of banking regulation.

“Everybody is blaming the banks,” Andrey Kostin, chairman and chief executive of Russia’s VTB Bank, told the ‘Global Financial Context’ stream at the World Economic Forum annual meeting on January 23.

“Yes, we took too much risk, but we took that risk so that everyone could enjoy life—the governments, the bankers, the regulators and the people.”

Kostin says “better regulation, not necessarily more” is the answer and that the sector will not be able to return to a more sound footing “unless we have a proper financial industry that lends money that fuels growth”.

With many of the new banking regulations focused within national or regional boundaries, a more global approach is being urged in a bid to ease extraterritoriality fears.

“Absolutely, there should be global standards for global banks,” Axel Weber, chairman of the board of directors at Swiss bank UBS, told the same gathering.

Although others at the meeting saw it slightly differently.

“The debate should not be a Western debate,” said Tidjane Thiam, group chief executive of U.K. insurer Prudential.

“Global regulatory standards are desirable, but will be difficult to achieve because countries across the planet are in different stages of development.”

Thiam highlighted Solvency II, which is an attempt by the European Union to harmonize insurance regulation across the region, as an example of this. “So far, it has failed,” he said.

Although biggest defense of the banking sector was left to James Dimon, chairman and chief executive of bulge bracket bank JPMorgan Chase. Dimon argued that many banks were opaque for a reason.

“Businesses can be opaque,” he said. “They are complex. You don’t know how aircraft engines work either.”

Dimon also defended banks in general over their role in the financial crisis, saying “some banks were ports in the storm because they were strong and diversified…they helped countries survive”.

He added: “It’s very easy to say ‘don’t take risk’. We have to manage risk; something may go wrong.”

And Dimon was less than convinced that banking regulations were heading in the right direction.

“It is five years after the crisis, okay, and we still have not fixed a lot of things,” said Dimon. “Part of the reason is that we are trying to do too much too fast.”

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