Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Has the culture of banking changed?

In her Guardian column, Alison Benjamin asks in the wake of the Libor manipulation scandal if the culture of banking has changed since the financial crisis.

Everyone knows the answer is no.

To make matters worse, since the beginning of the financial crisis, the large global banks have received confirmation that they are both Too Big to Fail and Too Big to Jail.

This confirmation was the direct result of pursuing the Japanese Model for handling a bank solvency led financial crisis and protecting bank book capital levels and banker bonuses at all costs.  The Japanese Model can be summed up by Yves Smith's Geithner Doctrine:
Nothing must be done that will hurt the profits or reputation of any bank that is pretty big and/or well connected.
Regular readers know that there is only one way to change the culture of banking:  require the banks to provide ultra transparency.

When banks have to disclose on an ongoing basis their current global asset, liability and off-balance sheet exposure details, bankers become subject to market discipline.  Bankers' behavior and bank culture changes because sunshine is the best disinfectant.
News that Swiss banking giant UBS has been fined Sfr1.4bn (£944m) for rigging the Libor rate, raises the question: "Has the culture of banking changed since the financial crash?". 
The scale of the attempts to rig the inter-bank lending rate by traders, managers and senior managers at the Swiss bank may make one sceptical in this regard. 
The £160m portion of the fine levied by the Financial Services Authority is the largest ever imposed by the City regulator. But UBS is not the only bank to have been caught trying to manipulate the rate at which the major international banks based in London lend money to each other. In June, the FSA imposed a £59.5m fine on Barclays for attempted manipulation of the Libor and Euribor rates. 
Speaking on the Today programme, Lord Myners, a former city minister, said: 
"We've not seen the end of a greed culture in the City. Basically, if you can game the system and get away with it, it's fine and dandy to do that." 
Myners thinks fines won't change the culture. The UBS fine was less than 2% of the company's market value and is tax deductable. 
He suggests that we need a truth and reconciliation process in our banks that says "in the past we got the pursuit of profit out of context with trust and behaving in an honourable way". That, he says, requires a fundamental change in the leadership of the banks and for the banks to be much smaller – and split between retail and investment banking – because they are currently seen as too big to fail. 
Tracey McDermott, FSA director of enforcement and financial crime, says that she was aware this year of a "recognition [by the big banks] that the culture needs to change".
She thinks fines do work because they have a negative impact on the reputation of the banks.
Even a $1.5 billion fine is essentially a parking ticket for these big banks.  Fines are nothing more than the cost of doing business and the banks will factor paying them into their misbehavior.

The only way to change banker behavior and the culture of banks is to require them to provide ultra transparency.  Without ultra transparency, bankers will continue to operate behind the veil of opacity and engage in bad behavior as greed that involves unacceptable behavior will continue to be rewarded.

An answer to what is needed to change the culture of banking:



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