1 March 2021 was the 75th anniversary of the Bank of England’s nationalisation. While its stock formerly passed into public ownership in 1946, Lord Catto (the Governor) and Hugh Dalton (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had negotiated the terms of the Bank’s nationalisation the summer before. During these negotiations Catto lobbied for the Bank not to be given more powers to regulate banks. Why? The answer hinges on how the Bank understood its role. And it helps explain why, as David Kynaston sees it, the Bank and the government ‘missed a historic opportunity’ to comprehensively redefine the Bank’s responsibilities.
Zahid Amadxarif, James Brookes, Nicola Garbarino, Rajan Patel and Eryk Walczak
The banking reforms that followed the financial crisis of 2007-08 led to an increase in UK banking regulation from almost 400,000 to over 720,000 words. Did the increase in the length of regulation lead to an increase in complexity?
The interest-only product has undergone tremendous evolution, from its mass-market glory days in the run-up to the crisis, to its rebirth as a niche product. However, since reaching a low-point in 2016, the interest-only market is starting to show signs of life again as lenders re-enter the market.
In the 2007-8 global financial crisis, a number of banks were bailed out by taxpayers while their most senior employees were paid extraordinary bonuses up to that point (E.g. here, here and here). The resulting public outcry led to new regulations allowing clawback of bonuses earned on the back of decisions that subsequently damage their banks and the wider economy. But will these rules work? Our theoretical research shows that sophisticated banks can game clawback regulations by altering pay contracts so as to incentivise bankers to take risks that benefit shareholders but that are excessive for society. The entire pay package matters, and so, understanding how it shapes risk-taking incentives is as important as monitoring compliance with clawback rules.
Risky asset prices plummeted following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Whilst driven partly by deteriorations in fundamental news, these falls were amplified by ‘flighty’ investors that sold at the first signs of trouble. Conventional wisdom dictates that life insurers, with their long-term investment horizons, are better placed than most to ‘lean against the wind’ by looking through short-term fluctuations in asset prices. They could thereby stabilise prices when others are selling. But the structure of regulations can greatly influence insurers’ investment incentives. Using our model of insurers’ asset allocations, we find that new ‘Solvency II’ regulations reduce UK life insurers’ willingness to act as the white knights of financial markets, particularly in the face of falling interest rates.
For some years, financial regulations have been becoming more complex. This has led some prominent commentators, regulators and regulatory bodies, to set out the case for simplicity, including Adrian Blundell–Wignall, Andy Haldane, Basel Committee and Dan Tarullo. In his contribution, Haldane illustrates how simple rules can achieve complex tasks: by simply adjusting its speed to keep its angle of gaze fixed, a dog can manage the complex task of catching a Frisbee. In this post, however, we argue that some financial risks are hard to catch with simple rules – they are more like a boomerang’s flight path than that of a Frisbee. Complex rules can sometimes do a better job at catching risk; and simple rules can be less prudent.
Last autumn, Charles Goodhart gave a special lecture at the Bank. In this guest post he argues that regulators should focus more on the incentives of individual decision makers.
The incentive for those in any institution is to justify and extol the virtues of the decisions that they have taken. Criticisms of current regulatory measures are more likely to come from outsiders, perhaps especially from academics, (with tenure), who can play the fool to the regulatory king. I offer some thoughts here from that perspective. I contend that the regulatory failures that led to the crisis and the shortcomings of regulation since are largely derived from a failure to identify the persons responsible for bad decisions. Banks cannot take decisions, exhibit behaviour, or have feelings – but individuals can. The solution lies in reforming the governance set-up and realigning incentives faced by banks’ management.
Matteo Benetton, Peter Eckley, Nicola Garbarino, Liam Kirwin and Georgia Latsi.
Do financial regulations change bank behaviour? Does this create new risks? Under Basel II, some banks set capital requirements based on their internal risk models; others use an off-the-shelf standardised approach. These two methodologies can produce very different capital requirements for similar assets. See Figure 1, which displays a snapshot of recent risk weights for UK mortgages. In a new working paper we show empirically that this discrepancy causes lenders to adjust their interest rates and to specialise in which borrowers they target.
Francesc R. Tous, Puriya Abbassi, Rajkamal Iyer, José-Luis Peydró.
What are the consequences of proprietary trading? Banks typically hold and trade a significant amount of securities, and during the financial crisis, many of these securities suffered strong price declines. How did banks react? This is precisely what we investigate for the case of Germany in a recently published paper. We find that some banks increased their investments in securities, especially for those securities that suffered price drops. This strategy delivered high returns; but at the same time, these banks pulled back on lending to the real economy, since during the financial crisis they could not easily raise new (long-term) funding. Our findings suggest that proprietary trading during a crisis can lead to less lending to the real sector.