A railway boom in America’s Midwest goes spectacularly bust. Sixty-two of New York’s commercial banks close – out of sixty-three. Meanwhile in Britain, a decade gilt-edged by gold discoveries in Australia and fuelled by the Crimean War was beginning to lose its lustre. Thus the scene was set for the first global financial crisis shaking markets in New York, London, Paris and across the world. A crisis so severe it forced the Bank of England to “break the law” to survive.
The collapse of Northern Rock in 2007 and Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG in 2008 renewed the debate over how a lender of last resort should respond to a troubled systemically important financial institution (SIFI). Based on research in the Bank of England Archive, this post re-examines a crisis in 1890 when the Bank, supported by central bank cooperation, rescued Baring Brothers & Co. and quashed a banking panic and a currency crisis, while mitigating moral hazard. This rescue is significant because it combined features similar to those mandated by recent U.K., U.S., and European reforms to ensure an orderly liquidation of SIFIs and increase the accountability of senior management (e.g. Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act (2010); the U.K. “Senior Managers Regime”).
Ben Norman and Peter Zimmerman.
What happens when a country’s banking system shuts down? Just how damaging is it to the economy? During the 20th century, the Republic of Ireland’s banking system suffered industrial disputes, some of which caused the main banks to close for several months. When Greek banks closed temporarily last year, some commentators (e.g. Independent (2015), FT (2015)) recalled how, previously, the Irish public ingeniously circumvented the banking system and kept economic activity going. Using material in the Bank of England’s Archive relating to the 1970 dispute, we shed light on how halcyon those days really were.
In June of 1974, a small German bank, Herstatt Bank, failed. While the bank itself was not large, its failure became synonymous with fx settlement risk, and its lessons served as the impetus for work over the subsequent three decades to implement real-time settlement systems now used the world over. Documents from the Bank of England’s Archive shed light on a lesser known aspect of Herstatt’s failure – the chain reaction it caused across financial centres as banks in different countries delayed settling their payments to each other. The lesson for policymakers today to grapple with is: when a bank fails, could we still expect surviving banks to delay making payments, with a potential chain reaction in the payment system?