Business

'Too big to fail' bank rules unveiled by global regulators

  • 10 November 2014
  • From the section Business
Media captionMark Carney: "The system we've had up until now has been totally unfair"

New global rules to prevent banks that are "too big to fail" from being bailed out by taxpayers have been proposed.

The rules, created by the Financial Stability Board (FSB), a global monitoring body, would require big banks to hold much more money against losses.

Mark Carney, FSB chairman and governor of the Bank of England, said the plans were a "watershed" moment.

He said it had been "totally unfair" for taxpayers to bail out banks after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

"The banks and their shareholders and their creditors got the benefit when things went well," he told the BBC.

"But when they went wrong the British public and subsequent generations picked up the bill - and that's going to end".

Mr Carney explained that the new system would ensure that bank shareholders, and lenders to banks such as bondholders, would become first in line to bear the brunt of future losses if banks could not pay out of their own resources.

"Instead of having the public, governments, [and] the taxpayer rescue banks when things go wrong; the creditors of banks, the big institutions that hold the banks' debt - not the depositors - will become the new shareholders of banks if banks make mistakes."

"Let's face it, the system we've had up until now has been totally unfair," he added.

Bigger cushion

Governments around the world spent hundreds of billions of pounds bailing out stricken banks during the financial crisis of 2007-08.

At its peak in the UK alone, taxpayers' direct subsidy to banks stood at more than £1 trillion according to a recent report from the National Audit Office.

In the wake of the financial crisis, world leaders asked the FSB to come up with proposals to prevent similar bailouts from happening in the future.

The proposed new rules, which are up for consultation and should take effect in 2019, require "global systemically important banks" to hold a minimum amount of cash to ensure they will be able to survive big losses without turning to governments for help.

The capital set aside should be worth 15-20% of the bank's assets, the FSB said. That is a far bigger cushion against losses than is required by current banking rules.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The UK government still owns an 80% stake in Royal Bank of Scotland

The FSB hopes this stronger policy will prevent taxpayers from being forced to pay billions of pounds again to stop big banks from collapsing, in the event of another financial crisis.

Anthony Browne of the British Bankers' Association welcomed the proposals.

"The banking industry strongly supports this work, which is a really important step in ending 'too big to fail' and ensuring that never again will taxpayers have to step in to bail out banks," he said.

"We agree with the aims and objectives of the proposals for total loss absorbing capacity ('TLAC'), that there should be sufficient resources available to absorb losses in the event of bank failure and provide new capital to ensure critical economic functions can continue to be provided," he added.

Less disruption

"Agreement on proposals for a common international standard on total loss-absorbing capacity for [big banks] is a watershed in ending 'too big to fail' for banks," said Mr Carney.

"Once implemented, these agreements will play important roles in enabling globally systemic banks to be resolved without recourse to public subsidy and without disruption to the wider financial system."

According to the BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed, analysts estimate the new capital requirements could cost €200bn (£157bn) for Europe's banks alone, with the cost for globally significant banks in the US, Japan and China likely to be much higher.

The FSB has published a list of 30 banks it regards as "systemically important", meaning their collapse could have a wider impact on global financial systems.

In the UK, the banks are Barclays, Standard Chartered, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Lloyds Banking Group has been removed from the list as its potential impact on financial systems has declined in recent years.

The UK government spent around £65bn directly bailing out RBS and Lloyds during the crisis. The government still owns an 80% stake in RBS and 25% of Lloyds.


Analysis: Andrew Walker, economics correspondent, BBC News.

Lehman Brothers was the classic case of a financial institution that was too big to fail - or at least it probably was according to the previous Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Of course it DID fail, and the financial crisis entered a new and more dangerous phase after Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008. The immediate lesson that many policy makers drew - and this is contested - was that it should have been rescued.

And so they decided that other big financial firms would not fail and taxpayers' money was thrown at the banks around the world.

But there is another lesson drawn from the Lehman episode: that it would be far better to change the rules of finance to ensure that any bank could safely fail if it gets into serious difficulty no matter how big it is.

That's where the Financial Stability Board's new proposals come in.


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