Threat to oust bosses in UK stress tests goes too far -banks

LONDON Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:09am EST

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LONDON Jan 21 (Reuters) - British proposals to force out bosses at any bank shown as weak under a new regime of health checks go too far and need to be reconsidered, Britain's banks have warned.

The Bank of England (BoE) has said it could install new management at any bank where problems are unearthed by more stringent "stress tests", due to start later this year and which go further than regulators elsewhere.

The proposals are part of efforts to clean up banks and avert a repeat of the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

A joint response this month from the lobby groups of Britain's banks and building societies said management change should not be part of the outcomes of the stress tests, instead arguing the tests should encourage debate and formulation of strategies to address areas of weakness.

"A more proportionate alternative would be to give those banks that are in need of further management actions a period of time to develop and submit revised capital plans in line with the publication of the results," the response paper said.

Regulators around the world are setting up more intense and challenging "stress tests" of bank finances, after criticism past tests have missed trouble spots, especially in Europe.

The aim is to ensure banking systems and individual firms are strong enough to withstand a deep recession or other unexpected problems and avoid a repeat of the financial crisis when dozens of banks needed taxpayer help.

Changing management is one of a wide range of possible remedies the BoE said it could use when it started a consultation in October. It could also force banks to cut dividends, raise equity or axe some activities if they are shown to be vulnerable in the annual health check.

Britain's banks have conducted ad-hoc tests since 2009 and the BoE is stepping up its activities after taking over industry regulation in April. The European Central Bank has also pledged to make tests of more than 100 lenders this year more stringent than in the past.

EVOLVING PROCESS

Britain is making its process more akin to the U.S. testing of its banks, one senior UK banker said. The U.S. Federal Reserve's tests were praised for helping recapitalise banks quickly after the crisis, and they have evolved so they are now a tool for the Fed to tell banks how much they can pay in dividends or buy back shares.

The BoE said evolving its process will take a number of years.

"Stress testing can provide a quantum leap in transparency and accountability," Paul Tucker, former BoE deputy governor, said when the consultation was launched.

Banks will be tested against a common test and a bespoke set of circumstances specific to each lender, which could for example include losses from shipping loans or trouble in Spain.

Measures will this year cover the top eight banks and building societies, including Barclays, RBS and HSBC, and in future could be broadened out to include big UK subsidiaries of major international banks.

Banks said they were supportive of the process, but the timetable for this year's test "seems very challenging".

The Bank of England will tell banks the risks the tests will explore this month and issue the common scenarios by the end of March. Banks have to send in their bespoke test scenarios by April 4. The proposed timeline said they have to submit results by the end of June, with remedial actions proposed and results published in the fourth quarter.

The BoE said it was undecided on whether to release results for individual banks as well as aggregate findings.

Banks said the methodology and aggregated results should be published, but advised "caution over routine disclosure of individual results".

The BoE said it did not intend to set a pass/fail regime under the stress tests, and results "are not expected to be mechanically linked to policy responses".

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