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Culture in the banking regulators: the need for challenge

By Dr Holly Powley, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

city-of-london-1In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a debate has been raging about the culture of financial services institutions – both in terms of how individuals working with financial institutions conduct themselves, but also on attitudes towards risk-taking within these institutions. Given that banks are now considered to provide consumers with a service that is essential to the operation of the modern economy, this is an important debate.

However, those tasked with regulating and supervising the banking sector haven’t escaped this scrutiny either. If the UK is to avoid a future financial crisis of the magnitude experienced between 2007 and 2009, there also needs to be a culture change within the institutions tasked with overseeing the UK’s financial services sector. The regulatory bodies need to be capable of challenging themselves, their policies, and the institutions they are tasked with supervising: they need to question the status quo. This means a move away from the ‘light touch’ approach that encompassed the Financial Services Authority’s (FSA) regulatory philosophy, avoiding ‘box ticking’ and introducing the exercise of judgement when making decisions about the supervision and regulation of the banking sector. Before the financial crisis, regulators didn’t challenge the conventional wisdom. It was believed that markets were stable, and that institutions were unlikely to fail. There was very little focus on financial stability issues, a point reflected by the fact that (as highlighted in the report on HBOS’s failure) only one of 61 issues discussed by the FSA’s board in the build up to the crisis related to financial stability. The crisis itself highlighted the flaws in that approach. To avoid this in the future, regulators have to ask difficult questions of themselves, and of the regulated sector. Continue reading