Tag Archives: Bank regulation

Fintech Regulation in Switzerland: Open Questions

In the NZZ, Jürg Müller reports about the developing regulatory framework for fintechs in Switzerland. A proposal by the federal finance department drew—reasonable—criticism by various lobbies and industry associations, including the CFA Society Switzerland.

Die CFA Society Switzerland will das systemrelevante Bankensystem von anderen Finanzdienstleistern trennen. Dafür sei eine präzisere Bankendefinition nötig, als sie heute vorgenommen werde. Nur Banken sollen demnach dem Bankengesetz unterstehen. Finanzdienstleister, die kein traditionelles Bankengeschäft betreiben und keine Liquiditätsrisiken eingehen, sollen einem anderen Regulierungsmodell unterstehen. Dabei sollen je nach Tätigkeit unterschiedliche funktionale Lizenzen zum Zuge kommen – dieser letzte Punkt wird von vielen Vernehmlassungsteilnehmern ebenfalls eingefordert.

Schliesslich identifiziert die CFA Society Switzerland auch zentrale Fintech-Themen, die in der Vernehmlassung aussen vor gelassen wurden. Eine dieser Lücken sei der direkte Zugang zur Schweizerischen Nationalbank (SNB). Aus heutiger Sicht sei nicht ersichtlich, weshalb nur Banken elektronisches Zentralbankgeld halten dürften. Auf Anfrage wollte die SNB zu dieser Forderung keine Stellung nehmen. Andere Zentralbanken wie die Bank of England zeigen sich solchen Ideen gegenüber derweil aufgeschlossen. Auch einzelne Schweizer Ökonomen wie beispielsweise Dirk Niepelt stehen allgemein zugänglichem elektronischem Notenbankgeld positiv gegenüber.

Link to my article mentioned above.

Have Banks Become Less Risky?

In BPEA, Natasha Sarin and Larry Summers argue that bank stock has not:

… we find that financial market information provides little support for the view that major institutions are significantly safer than they were before the crisis and some support for the notion that risks have actually increased. …

… financial markets may have underestimated risk prior to the crisis … Yet we believe that the main reason for our findings is that regulatory measures that have increased safety have been offset by a dramatic decline in the franchise value of major financial institutions, caused at least in part by these new regulations.

This table is taken from their paper:

bpea-fall-2016-web-sarin-new

However, their finding need not be as bad as it sounds. After all, bank regulators intended to insulate taxpayers against bank failure and to render the financial system more shock proof, not bank equity.

McMillan’s “The End of Banking”

Jonathan McMillan proposes a systemic solvency rule which stipulates that

[t]he value of the real assets of a company has to be greater than or equal to the value of the company’s liabilities in the worst financial state. (p. 147)

That is, the financial assets of a company have to be financed by equity. This reminds of Kotlikoff’s limited purpose banking, see here and here. McMillan (who is actually two persons, a banker and a journalist) argues that Kotlikoff’s proposal

is a step in the right direction to address the boundary problem, [but] it creates an overwhelming public authority [that monopolizes monitoring]. Moreover, it does not solve the boundary problem. Limited purpose banking requires the regulator to differentiate between financial and nonfinancial companies. … Finding clear legal criteria to categorize a company as financial is impossible. (p. 140)

“Dirk Niepelt über die Folgen eines Brexit für die Schweiz (What Brexit Means for Switzerland),” SRF, 2016

SRF, Tagesgespräch, June 16, 2016. HTML with link to MP3.

  • Half-hour-long interview on the Swiss news channel.
  • Topics include monetary policy, exchange rates, financial stability, Brexit.

Commitment Against Alchemy?

In the FT, Martin Wolf discusses Mervyn King’s proposal to make the central bank a “pawnbroker for all seasons” as laid out in King’s recent book “The End of Alchemy.”

Lord King offers a novel alternative. Central banks would still act as lenders of last resort. But they would no longer be forced to lend against virtually any asset, since that very possibility must create moral hazard. Instead, they would agree the terms on which they would lend against assets in a crisis, including relevant haircuts, in advance. The size of these haircuts would be a “tax on alchemy”. They would be set at tough levels and could not be altered in a crisis. The central bank would have become a “pawnbroker for all seasons”.

The key part of this quote is “could not be altered in a crisis.” Central banks and governments have always found it very difficult to commit not to support systemically (or politically) important players ex post. This problem lies at the heart of many problems in the financial system and elsewhere. By assuming that central banks could commit under the proposed arrangement, the proposal abstracts from a key friction.

Banks Without Debt

In his blog, John Cochrane points to SoFi, a FinTech company, as proof that banking services can be delivered by institutions without the traditional characteristics of a bank.

SoFi finances loans by selling equity. The loans are securitized and the cash is reinvested in loans. As John points out:

  • A “bank” (in the economic, not legal sense) can finance loans, raising money essentially all from equity and no conventional debt. And it can offer competitive borrowing rates — the supposedly too-high “cost of equity” is illusory.
  • There is no necessary link between the business of taking and servicing deposits and that of making loans. Banks need not (try to) “transform” maturity or risk.
  • To the extent that the bank wants to boost up the risk and return of its equity, it can do so by securitizing loans rather than by borrowing. (Securitized loans are not leverage — there is no promise of your money back when you want it. Investors bear any losses immediately and without recourse.)
  • Equity-financed banking can emerge without new regulations, or a big new Policy Initiative.  It’s enough to have relief from old regulations (“FDIC-free”).
  • Since it makes no fixed-value promises, this structure is essentially run free and can’t cause or contribute to a financial crisis.

Regulation Catches Up with Fintech

The Economist reports that regulation catches up with peer-to-peer lending:

Meanwhile, a case working its way through the courts may subject P2P loans to state usury laws, from which banks with a national charter are exempt. That would prevent the P2P firms from lending to the riskiest borrowers in much of America. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency, announced this month that it would begin accepting complaints about P2P consumer lending.

Rates of delinquency are rising as well.

Binswanger’s “Money Out of Nothing”

In his recent book Geld aus dem Nichts (Money out of Nothing), Mathias Binswanger discusses the role of banks in creating money, and money’s role in affecting the macro economy. The book is written for a non specialist audience and the arguments are often quite loose.

In the first part of the book, Binswanger describes how money mostly is created by commercial rather than central banks.

Part II provides a nice historical overview. Binswanger describes the origins of modern banking with goldsmiths first storing gold for their merchant clients, then lending some of the stored gold to third parties, and finally issuing more “receipts” than what corresponds to the gold deposits they actually accepted. From there, he argues, it was a small step to state licensed national banks like the Bank of England. On p. 120 Binswanger describes how minimum reserve requirements got out of fashion, not least because they suffered from circumvention when they were binding.

Part III lacks precision and is misguided (see also pp. 30 or 66). It covers the link between money creation and growth but confuses national accounting concepts and their relation to money and credit. Clearly, growth can occur without credit (think of an economy with just one agent to see this most directly) but Binswanger seems to dispute this point, in line with earlier writings by his father. A “model” on p. 144 does not help to clarify his views because it is orthogonal to the argument. Binswanger criticizes mainstream economics for refusing to accept the presence of long-run links between money and growth but this critique remains vain. Part IV deals with money creation and its effect on financial markets.

Part V, on reform, is sensible. Binswanger rejects proposals to move (back) to the gold standard or a 100%-money regime (or, essentially equivalent, “positive money”). His arguments against the Swiss “Vollgeld” initiative resonate with points I made here and elsewhere, including the point that it would be difficult to enforce a “Vollgeld” regime (see also p. 122). Binswanger criticizes the “Vollgeld” initiative’s vagueness concerning actual implementation of monetary policy. He ends with more limited, rather standard proposals (relating to regulation, monetary policy objectives and capital requirements) to address problems in financial markets.

Report on the Irish Banking Crisis (And the ECB’s Role)

In the Irish Times, Colin Gleeson summarizes the findings and recommendations of the main Report of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. They are:

  • Incentives were distorted.
  • Banks and the property sector ran out of control.
  • Regulators were too optimistic.
  • “IMF favoured imposing losses on senior bond holders in October/November 2010.”
  • “No Troika programme agreed in November 2010 if Government burned senior bond holders.”
  • “ECB position contributed to inappropriate placing of significant banking debts on Irish citizens.”

Debt Supercycle rather than Secular Stagnation

In a Vox column, Ken Rogoff argues that the world economy experiences a “debt supercycle” rather than the onset of secular stagnation in the West.

Rogoff argues that macroeconomic developments since the financial crisis are in line with historical experience, as documented in his book “This Time is Different” (with Carmen Reinhart): A large fall in output followed by a sluggish recovery; deleveraging; protracted higher unemployment; and a strong rise of the government debt quota are typical after a boom and bust of house prices and credit.

According to Rogoff, policy makers should have implemented more heterodox policies including debt write-downs; bank restructurings coupled with recapitalisations; and temporarily higher inflation targets. Rogoff supports the (in his view, orthodox) fiscal policy responses that were adopted but criticizes that many countries tightened prematurely.

Rogoff acknowledges that secular forces shape the macroeconomy, in particular population ageing; the stabilization of the female labor force participation rate; the growth slowdown in Asia; and the slowdown or acceleration (?) of technological progress. But

[t]he debt supercycle model matches up with a couple of hundred years of experience of similar financial crises. The secular stagnation view does not capture the heart attack the global economy experienced; slow-moving demographics do not explain sharp housing price bubbles and collapses.

Rogoff doesn’t accept low interest rates as an argument in favor of the secular stagnation view. Rather than reflecting demand deficiencies, low interest rates (if measured correctly—Rogoff expects a utility based interest rate measure to be higher) could reflect regulation (favoring low-risk borrowers and “knocking out other potential borrowers who might have competed up rates”) and to some extent central bank policies.

Rogoff argues that the global stock market boom poses a problem for the secular stagnation view. He proposes changed perceptions about the likelihood and cost of extreme events (Barro, Weitzman) as factors to explain both low real interest rates and the stock market boom (after an initial asset price collapse during the crisis).

Regarding policy prescriptions to expand public investment in light of the low interest rates, Rogoff notes that

it is highly superficial and dangerous to argue that debt is basically free. To the extent that low interest rates result from fear of tail risks a la Barro-Weitzman, one has to assume that the government is not itself exposed to the kinds of risks the market is worried about, especially if overall economy-wide debt and pension obligations are near or at historic highs already. [Moreover] one has to worry whether higher government debt will perpetuate the political economy of policies that are helping the government finance debt, but making it more difficult for small businesses and the middle class to obtain credit.

Rogoff considers rising inequality to be problematic (and a possible factor for higher savings rates):

Tax policy should be used to address these secular trends, perhaps starting with higher taxes on urban land, which seems to lie at the root of inequality in wealth trends

He concludes that the case for a debt supercycle is stronger than for secular stagnation:

[T]he US appears to be near the tail end of its leverage cycle, Europe is still deleveraging, while China may be nearing the downside of a leverage cycle.

Extra-Territoriality and Financial Regulation

That’s the title of the annual conference of the Journal of Financial Regulation to be held at the Georgetown University Law Center in June.

The call for papers includes the following paragraphs which provide a nice overview:

Attempts by national regulators to give their regulatory standards extra-territorial effect beyond their own borders have become increasingly popular in fields as diverse as banking, securities and derivatives regulation. The attractiveness of extra-territorial regulation for policy-makers is obvious: in a world still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, regulators can export policy preferences unilaterally while preventing some of the most malicious forms of regulatory arbitrage that can undermine their effectiveness.

But extraterritoriality can also generate a range of legal and even economic tradeoffs. At a most basic level, when practiced haphazardly it risks clashing with principles of public international law and the comity of nations, in particular when such regulation is enforced with public authority. Furthermore, extra-territorial rules can increase, as opposed to decrease the potential for conflicting or duplicative regulatory policies as other regulators respond in kind. This can lead to increased compliance costs for market participants that reduce liquidity and subject market participants to operational and legal risks that themselves can potentially introduce new forms of systemic risk.

The conference Extra-Territoriality and Financial Regulation, the annual conference of the new Journal of Financial Regulation, will seek to enhance our understanding of these and other important problems. More specifically, the conference will seek to explore topics including, but not limited to:

· the policy motivations for writing extra-territorial rules and the conditions for selecting this approach – this would include considerations from political economy, political science, and state organization theory;
· the advantages and the limits of extra-territorial financial regulation, with particular regard to the different current policy initiatives and their impact on both financial innovation and prudential oversight;
· the relationship between extra-territorial rules and the growing consensus on international standards and global soft law, in particular through international bodies such as the G20, the FSB, the Basel Committee, and others;
· regulatory responses in other jurisdictions, including the likelihood of retaliation or counteracting measures;
· responses by regulated market participants, in particular theoretical or empirical accounts of reactions by the financial industry to the adoption of extra-territorial standards;
· legal considerations for enforcing extra-territorial standards, possibly including problems from all of public international law, conflict of laws, and democratic accountability.

“Toward a Run-Free Financial System”

In the tenth chapter of “Across the Great Divide: New Perspectives on the Financial Crisis,” John Cochrane argues that at its core, the financial crisis was a run and thus, policy responses should focus on mitigating the risk of runs (blog posts by Cochrane on the same topic can be found here and here). Some excerpts:

… demand deposits, fixed-value money-market funds, or overnight debt … [should be] backed entirely by short-term Treasuries. Investors who want higher returns must bear price risk. …

Banks can still mediate transactions, of course. For example, a bank-owned ATM machine can deliver cash by selling your shares in a Treasury-backed money market fund … Banks can still be broker-dealers, custodians, derivative and swap counterparties and market makers, and providers of a wide range of financial services, credit cards, and so forth. They simply may not fund themselves by issuing large amounts of run-prone debt.

If a demand for separate bank debt really exists, the equity of 100 percent equity-financed banks can be held by a downstream institution or pass-through vehicle that issues equity and debt tranches. That vehicle can fail and be resolved in an hour …

Rather than outlawing short-term debt, Cochrane suggests to levy corrective taxes on run-prone liabilities. Moreover:

… technology allows us to overcome the long-standing objections to narrow banking. Most deeply, “liquidity” no longer requires that people hold a large inventory of fixed-value, pay-on-demand, and hence run-prone securities.

… electronic transactions can easily be made with Treasury-backed or floating-value money-market fund shares, in which the vast majority of transactions are simply netted by the intermediary. … On the supply end, $18 trillion of government debt is enough to back any conceivable remaining need for fixed-value default-free assets.

Cochrane rejects the claim that the need for money-like assets can only be met by banks that “transform” maturity or liquidity. He argues that current regulation reflects a history of piecemeal responses that triggered the need for additional measures; and he points out that the shadow banking system creates run risks because a “broker-dealer may have used your securities as collateral for borrowing” to fund proprietary trading.

Cochrane debunks crisis lingo and clarifies links between aggregate variables:

The only way to consume less and invest less is to pile up government debt. So a “flight to quality” and a “decline in aggregate demand” are the same thing.

He questions the need for fixed value securities other than short-term government debt as means of payment or savings vehicle; offers a short history of financial regulation; and deplores regulatory discretion.

Perspectives on the Financial Crisis

A Hoover Press book edited by Martin Baily and John Taylor collects articles about the financial crisis. The contributions in “Across the Great Divide: New Perspectives on the Financial Crisis” include (with links to PDF files):

Large Banks Promise not to Terminate Distressed Derivatives Contracts

Philip Stafford and Tracy Alloway report in the FT that under the stewardship of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, large banks

have agreed to give up their rights to immediately end derivatives contracts with crisis-hit rivals after global regulators pressed for an industry cross-border agreement to stop counterparties terminating deals with troubled institutions.

The agreement covers 90% of the OTC derivatives market. Incentives to live up to it are weak; not amending one’s contracts with counter parties amounts to the dominant strategy in a prisoners’ dilemma situation. Moreover, institutional investors may have fiduciary duties to end their contracts if a counter party defaults so attaining the cooperative equilibrium may not be possible without legal changes.

DN: But if the initiative succeeds, could it undermine the effective seniority status of derivatives?

IMF Discussion Note on Banking Union in the Euro Area

Rishi Goyal, Petya Koeva Brooks, Mahmood Pradhan, Thierry Tressel, Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Ross Leckow, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu et al discuss the case for a banking union in the Euro area in an IMF Staff Discussion Note. The authors argue in favour of both a single supervisory-regulatory framework and a common resolution mechanism as well as safety net.

Iceland’s Deposit Insurance Found Non-Discriminatory

The Economist reports about an EFTA court decision concerning Iceland’s decision to discriminate among depositors after the collapse of Icesave, an online bank. The bank had collected deposits in the UK and the Netherlands, using a European “passport” which relied on the notion that the Icelandic deposit insurance scheme would back those deposits. After the collapse, the insurance turned out to be insufficient; while Icelandic savers received their money back, British and Dutch depositors did not. But eventually, their respective governments bailed them out—and now went to court.

… the court found that Iceland was obliged only to make sure that it had a deposit-insurance scheme. The state was not required to pay out if the scheme had no money because of a banking crisis. Oddly, the court also found that Iceland had not breached an obligation not to discriminate between domestic and foreign depositors, even though it made only the domestic ones whole.

“Banken und Staaten (Banks and States),” FuW, 2012

Finanz und Wirtschaft, June 20, 2012. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, June 22, 2012. HTML.

  • Changes in bank regulation reflect changed views about whether banks contribute to the social good. Those views have become less favourable.
  • In Switzerland, bank secrecy is no longer defended because the perceived cost to the general public exceeds the benefits to the banks.
  • Similar doubts start to arise regarding money creation by banks. A proposal to shift to a 100% money regime offers some advantages.