Money men join calls for tougher bank regulation
This week saw the publication of two very interesting reports, both advocating that banks be more strictly regulated in order to avoid future financial crises and meet their social obligations. However, what makes these two reports so particularly interesting is that they are not from social justice-minded charities and social enterprises. They come from respected financial service insiders.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may not be known for its social justice credentials (no doubt it would claim otherwise...but anyway), but it is an important organisation in global financial regulation. So when the G20 Ministers asked the IMF to look at possible regulatory responses to the financial crisis, we didn't quite hold our breath waiting for them to advocate a host of radical interventions. However its report, 'A fair and substantial contribution by the financial sector', which a number of journalists have reported on in advance of its presentation to the G20 Summit this weekend, certainly exceeds my expectations. In it it calls for not one, but two, separate taxes on banks. In addition to a flat-rate insurance levy (or ‘financial stability contribution') it also calls for a tax on financial institutions' profits and pay. The report adds weight to the arguments for a globally-agreed bank tax, though does not support a financial transaction tax, the so-called ‘Robin Hood Tax'.
The report is likely to take some by surprise (not least of all me!), and will no doubt be met with opposition from some governments. Canada in particular is likely to oppose the moves, since they did not have to bail out their banks, who many hold up as the model of good practice. It will also be interesting to see what the British Bankers' Association (BBA) has to say, following its recent line about it being inappropriate to introduce a Robin Hood Tax before the IMF's report - will it now support these proposals? I suspect that is unlikely. The outcome of the G20 discussions will be interesting to see, but the support of the IMF for taxing banks (twice!) adds weight to the Better Banking campaign's proposals.
The other important report to come out this week is the final report of the Social Investment Task Force (SITF), ten years after their original examination of ways that social investment could be grown to support the poorest communities in the UK. Under the stewardship of venture capitalist, Sir Ronald Cohen, the Task Force made a number of recommendations, many of which have been implemented since 2000. However, in its final report, ‘Social Investment Ten Years On' it acknowledges that progress on voluntary-arrangements between banks and government have not delivered the necessary step change. For the first time, the Task Force has called for a Community Reinvestment Act to be introduced in the UK. To have the backing of Sir Ronald and the Task Force in the Better Banking coalition's calls for a CRA is a fantastic fillip and I hope that people within the financial services sector and political parties take note.
The calls for regulation to ensure the banks meet their social obligations are growing. People from the banking sector have now ‘broken ranks' in advocating more radical reform. A breakthrough moment perhaps? Let us hope so.