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June 19, 2013

New U.K. Bank Reforms Miss the Big Threat

“The U.K.’s Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards published a report this morning – almost 600 pages in two weighty volumes — focused on “changing banking for good.”

There are many sensible ideas here, including “making senior bankers personally responsible, reforming bank governance, creating better functioning and more diverse markets, reinforcing the powers of regulators and making sure they do their job.” And there are some entirely reasonable specific suggestions such as “The Chief Risk Officer, Head of Compliance and Head of Internal Audit should all have their independence protected, responsibility for which should lie with a named non-executive director.”

If these measures were proposed for any other industry, everyone would nod in agreement and get on with the hard work of implementation. But this is the financial sector, and we should look forward to a huge amount of pushback, counter-reports from purported independent research groups and a flood of misinformation intended to delay any real change.

The bigger problem is that, for all its good intentions, the parliamentary commission missed the main point. The reason that incentives have become so distorted and behaviour so bad in some parts of the U.K.-based financial sector -– remember Libor? -– is simple. U.K. banks have been allowed to operate with very low levels of equity capital and huge amounts of debt relative to their balance sheets.”

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Read the full Bloomberg op-ed here

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