LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, Deputy Governor Paul Tucker and executive director for financial stability Andy Haldane spoke on Thursday to a British parliamentary commission on banking standards.
Following are highlights of their remarks.
“As a regulator, my experience would be that I would place as much weight as possible on the clarity. I would be worried if the definition of the ring-fence were left to the regulator to decide.”
”I think the lesson from this ... is (that) for the regulator to be effective, it has to be able to use judgement. But if judgement ends up simply as a negotiation between the regulator and the regulated bank, there’s only one winner in that and I think that will be a very bad outcome.
HALDANE ON DIRECTORS’ DUTY TO A RING-FENCE
“I think there will be value in having the directors of the ring-fenced bank having a duty to ensure the integrity of the ring-fence as the first line of the defence against burrowing under.”
“We haven’t got to the clarity required... Clarity will be in secondary legislation. I think it would be mistaken to have too much detail in primary legislation, because that’s notoriously hard to amend ... but equally I think it would be wrong to leave it purely to the discretion of the regulator, because that would increase the pressure of lobbying of banks directly on the regulator and indirectly on the government and parliamentarians.”
“We’re always told that the Bank is far too powerful, and this is another power that I do not want to receive. I would like it set up in such a way that whatever came out of this there is a mechanism for reviewing - an automatic mechanism for reviewing the ring-fence and whether it’s working - which can’t be dodged or pushed into the long grass.”
“The third rung on the ladder, could be the possibility of vesting in the regulator, a further sanction, which could be to require the reorganisation of the ring-fenced bank to ensure that the objective of the Vickers Bill - insulation of core services and continuity of those core services - was preserved. I think we would need further legal work to see whether that ultimate sanction was practical.”
”I’d be resistant to the notion that the mere having of this sanction power would cause banks to look inwards, to hoard capital and not lend. I think we’ve heard the argument far too much over the last few years and we must not be held hostage in doing the right thing by the notion that the banks will stop lending. At the same time, I think the way to avoid any averse behavioural consequences would be to ... seek absolute clarity about where the boundaries of the ring-fence were drawn.
”What he’s done is gone to other end of the spectrum and said what is it that we clearly don’t want to have contaminating the basic core services - proprietary trading - and put that into a different organisation.
If a bank screws up and mismanages itself it can be resolved and ownership changed without any disruption to those basic core banking services. Now if that’s the approach, the natural thing to do is to start with the banking services, define those and put the ring-fence around them. And I would need to be persuaded to go much further than that.
So that’s how I would start doing it and that really, I think, illustrates the approach that is different from the Volcker rule approach.
“I feel that the economics of investment banking is changing - has changed considerably - and that itself is driving the new generation of leadership in banks to recognise that it is in their own interest now to change the culture ...”
“If the resolution directive going through Europe is passed in its current form, that will give the PRA a power where a bank - including a ring-fenced bank - is not resolvable to say: you need to do one of a number of things, including shift around your organisational structure to ensure you are resolvable.”
Even if we were to go to full separation, the challenges of culture in retail banking stem in part from infection from investment banking but I don’t think they arise entirely from that. There’s been an industrialisation of high street banking. They’ve drifted away from relationship banking, branch managers are much less empowered than they were 20 or 30 years ago and that is a major problem of culture change in its own right - irrespective of what happens to global investment banking.
Asked whether he agreed with King’s preference for full separation, Tucker said:
”Not completely. First of all, I absolutely agree that we should get on with Vickers and I think it will be damaging in all sorts of ways, most importantly to credit conditions if there is a further prolonged period.
”The question about should there be full separation is not well defined. Do I think we should go back to Glass Steagall? Do I think we should draw a line between the ring-fenced and the non ring-fenced banks? Those are completely different things.
”Under Glass Steagall, the securities dealers could not take deposits and if you draw a line under the ring-fenced banks and the non ring-fenced banks, the crucial thing would be - the non ring-fenced bank is a bank. It could take deposits, it could take non-insured deposits.
”We’ve also learnt since Glass Steagall that the securities dealers even at their narrowest fall are now resolvable because they finance themselves by repo, so the really big question is, if the society of the economy went for full separation, it isn’t about how to make the domestic retail banks super resolvable, it’s what kind of beast do you want to allow in the rest of the financial system?
”The thing that has worried me most about this debate from the beginning ... is that people fall into thinking ‘if only we could make retail banking safe, the financial system will be safe’ and frankly I think that is nonsense.
”I think the financial system and the economy will be capable of being blown up by vast wholesale dealers and non banks, so the question of separation is part of a much wider debate of how do you make non-banking finance safe and so we would need a very careful review of how to do that.
”I don’t think that the objective in primary legislation needs great clarification, I think that is broadly OK. I think what the FSA is concerned about - certainly what we are concerned about - is that, as drafted, the primary legislation allows the meat of the regime to set out either in secondary legislation or in PRA rules or a combination of the two. And therefore, technically, it would be possible for the secondary legislation to be almost silent, leaving the whole of the regime to be set out in PRA rules.
KING AGAINST RING-FENCED BANKS BEING ABLE TO SELL DERIVATIVE PRODUCTS TO BUSINESSES
Questioner: “So your advice to us would be: don’t permit the sale of derivative products in a ring-fenced bank, but if you feel you really have to do it, make it a very small number and don’t be tempted to try and define the difference between a simple and complex product.”
”It is very important to go much further than the current state about where the ring-fence is. Secondary legislation has to contain more detail about what is in the ring-fence and what is outside it. And if you allow far too much flexibility to the regulator we’ll be right back to the problems we’ve discussed earlier.
“So I would like to see more specification of what’s in and what’s out. And I think with mortgage lending for example ... there is a good debate to be had about what to do about SME lending because I worry about the definition of SMEs. But certainly you’ve got to spell out much more clearly what is in the ring-fence.”
”The important thing about SME lending or indeed about mortgage lending is that the ring-fenced bank has the capability to do it, by which I mean the technical capability, the know-how to do it, because in the worst crises, that is the bit of the financial system - it needs to be super resolvable. That’s the bit that we will keep going without tax payer money somehow.
”The fact that the ring-fenced entity should have the capability to do these things doesn’t mean they should do all of that business and it’s quite different from insured deposit-taking where you do want all insured deposits inside the ring-fenced bank.
HALDANE : LOANS, MORTGAGES AND SME LOANS SHOULD BE DONE BY RI NG-FENCED BANKS
”I would, working backwards from the continuity objective, personally mandate a broader set of services to lie within the ring-fence, including loans, mortgages and SME loans. The reason for doing that is to think backwards from the unintended consequences of not having that.
“Imagine a world in which all SME lending was done by one bank. It was permitted to do all that lending out of the non-ring-fenced part of the business. Alongside that it decides to run a proprietary trading operation which gets itself into trouble.”
”I do think one of the lessons of the crisis and one that hasn’t been discussed enough is, we had a great concentration of UK business banking and I think that has ended up being a bit of a disaster for the UK now.
“Vickers proposed that leverage would be restricted to 25:1, the current legislation says 33:1. For my taste, 33:1 is much too high, but it’s a matter of measurement. If you asked me, I’d go back to the original Vickers proposal.”
KING ON IMPACT OF LIBOR CLASS ACTIONS ON FINANCIAL STABILITY
”I think there are two areas in which there might be, in your phrase, aftershocks. One is we do not know how the class-action suits will evolve. I think one of the additional burdens on banks at present and for which they will need to provide capital is the increasing consequence of regulatory fines of all kinds, not just Libor, but other kinds.
The transactions could potentially be large but I‘m no lawyer and I don’t understand how big they could be. But it’s certainly an uncertainty - it’s one of the uncertainties that is weighing on banks and will add to the difficulties they will have in obtaining funding.
”The other (aspect) is that ... problems may not be confined to Libor but to commodity markets or other areas in which quotes were used as a basis for transactions. And I think the biggest consequence of all this is not a shock of any kind but a big improvement.
“People around the world and certainly the central banks are discussing it in Basel... to try and encourage the market to move away from quote-based transactions - prices set by quotes - as far as they can. It doesn’t make sense to have so much of the derivatives market linked to a quote based on a small number of banks that can’t easily be monitored or checked.”