Clegg warns against banks that are too big to fail

Chief Finance Officers World reports:

Nick Clegg has called for widespread reform of Britain’s banking sector in the hope that the country becomes less reliant on what he called “overwhelmingly important” companies.

An interim report on the subject from the Banking Commission is due out next month and Clegg has pre-empted its release with calls for the influence of the banks to be reduced in the interest of the wider economy…

The banking commission will deliver initial findings on April 11th, with a final report due by the end of September.

In an interview with Reuters this month, Lib Dem business minister Vince Cable warned the banking industry that heavy lobbying would not affect the government’s zeal to reform the sector.

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  • toryboysnevergrowup 25th Mar '11 - 2:58pm

    The concept of having “banks that are not too big to fail” really is something of ideological construct of free marketeers which fails to understand that the concept of perfect markets made up of small entities all operating efficiently, on which they base their theories, really isn’t possible in the real world. Yes you can have banks “that are not too big to fail” but I’m afraid you will also have banks which are not big enough to compete with others on the world stage or to achieve the economies of scale that are necessary to offer decent services to their customers. If you look at most develioped economies and certainly all in Western Europe – you will see that they all have some concentration in their banking sector and there are always some banks where the state would have to step in were they too fail. I don’t think that any of our competitors are going to contemplate having banks that are too big to fail – when I see the Germans proposing to break up Deutsche Bank or the Americans saying they will break up Citibank, or the Chinese looking to break up the Bank of China – then there might be some argument for the UK doing similar – in the meantime Clegg and Cable are just engaging in pointless kite flying.

    If they were serious about banking reform then they would focus their efforts on improving the regulation and governance of the banks and financial sector (which also includes the fund managers, insurers, hedge funds and private equity) we have so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated – rather than allowing the Tory deregulators just allowing the bankers to carry on with business as usual under the pretence of the moving the deckchairs around exercise of breaking up the FSA an moving the bits to different places.

    In two years time – I predict that breaking up the banks will be of the agenda on the grounds that we do not want to hamper the international competitiveness of an important sector of the UK economy and it will just be business as usual in the financial sector.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 25th Mar '11 - 5:47pm

    As we can see here Clegg isn’t exactly on top of his brief is he?

  • David Evans 25th Mar '11 - 6:00pm

    The aim must be not to have banks that are big enough to beggar the country. Gordon Brown allowed that to happen and we are all paying.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 25th Mar '11 - 8:52pm


    It is what the banks do and how they are run and governed, how regulation works and perhaps more importantly how the shareholders exercise control that is important rather than the size of individual banks that is important. If you have lots of smaller banks all doing the same stupid things then then you will still have problems.

    Yes Labour when it was in power was too hands off when it came to regulation and in dealing with the appalling fund management sector in the UK – but I didn’t hear the Tories and LibDems arguing against deregulation, and while Labour has now gone some way to acknowledging what went wrong the Coalition isn’t really doing much of any substance – look at what has happenned with bonuses and the Remuneration code and this wittering about breaking the banks up, which as I’ve explained above will not happen to any degree.

    If you really want to understand happened with banking – rather than using glib slogans which attribute it all to Gordon Brown there are a number of books around that provide the details – Fool’s Gold by Gillian Tett of the FT is pretty good as a starter. Think of the financial sector as a herd of animals, which quite frequently gets stupid ideas, and you will get the general idea.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 26th Mar '11 - 5:54pm

    Liberal Eye

    It is a nice debate as to what is the optimal size for banks – but the realpolitik is that big banks are not going to disappear in the rest of the world and I suspect that even if we were to have smaller optimal sized banks (from an ease of management perspective – which is what the studies say) they would not be able to complete with the bigger banks elsewhere who would probably have cheaper funding and would use their clout to close access to more lucrative markets (especially the likes of the Bank of China and Sberbank). In the meantime this debate about breaking up the banks – which I beleive is bound to fail – will end up diverting attention from the imposition of effective regulation and market discipline on the London (and international markets). The end result will be business as before the deregulators of the financial sector – in which camp I’m afraid Osborne, Cameron and Laws are enthusiastic flag wavers. I’m afraid Clegg and Cable really are showing their naivety by picking the wrong battles – we have already seen their effective defeat on bank bonuses.

    PS Even the free marketeers have to slighly modify their arguments in light of what has been the massive failure of the financial markets to price credit risk properly which led to the crisis in the first place.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 10:00am

    I’m sorry Liberaleye its your arguments that just don’t stack up – and the point that Geoffrey makes about demutualization of the building societies really reinforces my point that is effective regulation and market discipline that is of more importance than pursuing the objective of breaking up the banks that will just not be achieved in practice.

    First of all Liberaleye you “While there might be an issue if foreign megabanks set up in the UK and used their weight to gain advantage”. Well unfortunately Liberaleye the issue has been with us here in the UK for rather a long time – the foreign megabanks are here and they are pretty dominant players in corporate, investment and wholesale banking which is where all the problems have originated. You may want to argue that that they still do not dominate retail banking – but even that is changing. One of the problems is that the investment banks have been driving the industry in recent years – this is where securitization came from – and the standard view has become that the retail markets are just cash cows to be milked for the investment banking machine. I’m sorry that the big banks now bestride the world – and the likes of the Bank of China and Sberbank will not change the picture, but you are not going to get this particular genie back into the bottle. The Americans tried to do so in the past with their anti-trust legislation, and all I ask is that you look at Wall Street and the oil industry today.

    Geoffrey you are not correct about Cable being opposed to demutualization of the building societies when it was actually happening – he wasn’t even in Parliament when the Building Societies Act was passed in 1996 and the last demutualization was in 2000. But then it is worth looking at what actually happened to the building societies which converted, and what you will see is that is the Societies which were not taken over by big banks and tried to carry on as independent entities which are the ones which actually failed and where the State needed to step in to protect depositors and to encourage bigger banks to take them over i.e. the Halifax, Alliance and Leicester, Bristol and West (via the Bank of Ireland), Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley, Abbey National, Birmingham Midshires and the National Provincial (via the Abbey). And why did they fail – I would argue that it was poor regulation that allowed the building societies to expand into new areas and grow rapidly (supported by a lax capital regime) even though they didn’t have sufficient management resource to do so. And don’t you think that there might be a repeat if some of the big banks are broken up. My guess is that at this very moment there is someone merrily putting all Lloyd’s rubbish into the bits that are required to be sold off – which then might be sold to a new market entrant which doesn’t have the necessary management skills and which will try to grow their business rapidly in order to achieve critical mass.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 12:05pm

    And in the meantime next to nothing happens with regard to regulation and improving market discipline – apart from moving a few deckchairs around between the FSA and the Bank of England. What stance do you think the UK Govt is taking in Basel 3, Solvency II or the regulation of Hedge funds – talk about fiddling while Rome burns. You will only get the restriction you talk about at an international level – and I see little or no enthusiasm for such moves – do you seriously believe that European banks which have free entry to UK markets would sit around doing nothing while UK banks were being broken up.

    So the Standard Oil behemoth was broken up and replaced by what? Strangely enough I don’t see an oil industry not dominated by multinationals. Multinationals and globalism are facts of life now I’m afraid – the only effective counters to them are sovereign states and multilateral state bodies. The LibDems are allied with a party that realises this and has no intention of making such a challenge – and is quite happy to tolerate all this futile talk of breaking up the banks as a fop to keep them quiet while meanwhile doing very little about the issues that actually matter.

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