July 09, 2018

The Basel Committee stupidly made banks substitute savvy loan officers with equity minimizing financial engineers

Sir, John Plender, reviewing Philip Augar’s “The Bank That Lived a Little” writes: Not so long ago banking was a relatively simple business whose main focus was on deposit-taking and lending. Then in the 1980s everything changed as a powerful tide of deregulation swept through the industry… courtesy of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher”, “Head rush”, July 7.

Was it “deregulation” or plain missregulation? The main change that was introduced in banking, in 1988, with the Basel Accord, was the risk weighted capital requirements for banks. 

That meant that from there on, the risk-adjusted returns on bank equity were not to be maximized by savvy loan officers, but by equity minimizing financial engineers.

And clearly “increasing amounts of risk in relation to dwindling cushions of capital” allowed the bonuses of bankers to be so much higher.

Has banking “turned into an ethics-free zone”? Yes, but blame the regulators for much of that. Now, 30 years later, I would think there is no room to put the blame on Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. 

Frankly, since FT has not dared to ask regulators why banks have to hold more capital against what is dangerous perceived as safe than against what is made innocous by being perceived as risky, as I see it, FT is so much more responsible for all this mess.