The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB) report, published today by Sir John Vickers, calls for vital ringfencing of operations, but completely ignores the “common sense” of using formal data analysis in preventing a crash, according to the scathing comments of IT industry association Intellect.
The report argues that banks should operationally separate, or “ringfence” retail and riskier investment units, so that if one part of a bank collapses, the other does not. It leaves the exact separation decisions to the banks.
Intellect, which represents IT suppliers, said regulators will be “unable to spot a future crisis” without the “basic requirement” of banks properly and methodically collating and analysing risk data.
There was a “common acceptance that it was this poor data that led to the financial crisis reaching the scale it did”, Intellect said, highlighting that both the Bank of International Settlements and the European Central Bank have cited data deficiencies as a major factor.
On the lead up to the crisis, regulators were “unable to interpret the sheer quantity of often meaningless risk data received from banks”, Intellect said. The banks were also unable to retrieve data of sufficient quality across their often disparate units.
Numerous government reports have shown executives at banks also expressing concern on the lead up to the 2008 crash over the complex financial products they were selling at the time. The products continued to be sold until disaster hit. But they were often met with objections from other management who felt the risk was within safe enough limits.
With little mention of data analysis in the Vickers report, Intellect said the government needed to step in and undertake a separate review. The banks’ inability to “collate and deliver data of suitable quality to regulators, so that risk can be monitored and mitigated”, needed to be addressed urgently.
Keith Saxton, chairman of financial services at Intellect, also an IBM director of global banking and financial markets, said: “If the full set of reforms suggested by the ICB were to be implemented tomorrow, we would still be in the situation that the next financial crisis could be upon us and both the banks and regulators would be none the wiser until it was too late to act to avoid it. “
There was little point in ringfencing alone, which would help in the event of a crash, without addressing how to prevent the problems with data analysis, Intellect said.
While ringfencing would protect “the economically critical processes that banks house”, Saxton said, the report’s ignoring of data issues was “another missed opportunity for both the regulators and banks to improve the market infrastructure”.
Intellect said transparency was crucial to bringing back market stability. It depended upon banks being able to identify and manage risk on their balance sheets, and regulators being able to track and measure it.
“Insisting that banks reform their ability to measure their own risk is not revolutionary, it’s common sense,” said Saxton. “Now is time for the banks to invest in rebuilding a market infrastructure that is fit for purpose, this would go much further than operational changes that will take until 2019 to implement .”
Ben Wilson, head of financial services programmes at Intellect, added: “You have to look at why the crisis hit the depths it did in 2008 and why the government was required to bail out the banks in the first place.”
Poor standards of risk data at banks meant that they and regulators “simply did not know” what risks they were facing, he said.
“The Commission has not dealt with this issue, despite there being a clear necessity to do so and now the government must step up and address the unanswered questions left by this report,” said Wilson.
“As the ICB has suggested that banks be given a very generous eight years to complete the reforms, Intellect believes that this is ample time to undertake a review of the risk frameworks within banks, identify how weaknesses can be addressed and indeed implement the necessary changes to make our banks fit for purpose.”