Global financial integration and the linkages between the financial and the real sides of economies are sources of huge policy challenges. This is now beyond doubt, after what we saw in the run-up to and the unfolding of the 2008 global financial crisis.
The remittances sent home every year by the African Diaspora should create a doorway to still greater opportunities, and the key to this door is financial access. While remittances do impact the living standards of beneficiaries directly, the banks that pay out the remittances month after month should offer recipient families a basic financial package including savings accounts, payment services and small loans for microenterprise. This should facilitate growth from current levels of remittances saved and invested. Leveraging of remittances through financial inclusion is certain to increase their development potential.
Will any government be brave enough to let a big bank fail? (Credit: Ian Kennedy, Flickr Creative Commons)
Five frightening years after the meltdown of the global financial system – with the world’s advanced economies stuck in a painful slump – policymakers are still struggling to reinvigorate job growth. If the unemployed were awaiting some tangible initiative from this summer’s G8 summit, they were surely disappointed: Last week’s G8 summit communiqué offered only boilerplate assertions that “decisive action is needed to nurture a sustainable recovery and restore the resilience of the global economy.”
The financial fiasco of 2008 left human wreckage in its wake. An additional 120 million people worldwide were plunged into poverty at the nadir of the crisis, wiping out years of development progress. According to the World Bank's most recent World Development Report, there are now about 200 million unemployed worldwide; 1.5 billion only marginally employed in tenuous jobs; and 2 billion dropouts from the workforce.
It began as a trickle but has turned into a flood. HSBC, Barclays, Wachovia, JP Morgan, and UBS have all been engulfed by waves of scandal involving, money laundering, fixing interest rates, risky trades, and rigging the money markets. The question now is – have the banks gone bad? The claim by senior bank executives they ‘we did not know’ rings hollow, and must not be allowed to stand if they are to regain their integrity.
The banks have long resisted greater hands-on supervision of their activities, but the recent rash of publicity surrounding their bad conduct proves that left to their own devices market discipline is not enough. Their involvement in dubious transactions, including in greasing the wheels of corruption through money laundering requires the full implementation of existing rules and regulation, and empowered supervision. The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) along with Financial Market Integrity (FMI) have long pressed for the banks to do more to prevent money laundering and to fight corruption. As a rough estimate, it is believed that $20 – $40 billion is stolen from the coffers of developing countries every year. Much of it ends up being laundered through the banks, passing through financial capitals around the world en route to the beneficiaries. Mechanisms to detect illicit cash flows have long been in place, but the existing system is not working, and corruption is eating away at the foundations of the banking system.
In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gives the example of a family in Malawi that improved their lives as the result of a village savings group. We know that access to banks, cooperatives, and microfinance institutions has allowed many adults like the Nasoni family to safely save for the future, invest in an education or insure against risk, but just how widespread is the use of formal financial products worldwide? How do the barriers to access vary across regions? And how do the unbanked manage their finances?
In the past, the view of financial inclusion around the world had been incomplete. With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) Database we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage save, borrow, make payments and manage risk. As cited in the article, the Global Findex data shows that more than 2.5 billion adults around the world don’t have a bank account.
On May 14-18 the World Bank held its annual Overview Course on Financial Sector Issues in Washington, DC. Geared towards mid-career financial sector policy-makers and practitioners, the objective of this one-week event was to discuss issues of current and long-run importance to the development of the financial sector. This year’s course focused on Lessons from Recent Crises and Current Priorities for Finance Practitioners and Policy-Makers. The timing was quite fitting—the course took place the same week that JP Morgan’s billion-dollar trading became public and the European crisis intensified as Greek banks suffered large deposit runs.
Perhaps not surprisingly in light of recent events affecting the financial sector in the US and Europe, three main broad themes resonated in many of the sessions of the course: (1) the need for more and better bank capital, (2) the importance of putting in place the right incentives for banks to limit the risks they take, and (3) the role of macroprodudential regulation in monitoring and limiting systemic risk.
It is no surprise that the recent financial crisis has sparked a new round of regulatory reform all around the world. The crisis has certainly exposed significant weaknesses in the regulatory and supervisory framework and led to a debate about the role these weaknesses may have played in causing and propagating the crisis. As a result, reform of regulation and supervision is a top priority for policymakers, and many countries are working to upgrade their frameworks. But there are more questions than answers: What constitutes good regulation and supervision? Which elements are most important for ensuring bank soundness? What should the reforms focus on?
The Basel Committee – a forum for bank supervisors from around the world – has been trying to answer these questions since 1997. The Committee first got together that year to issue the Core Principles for Effective Bank Supervision (BCPs), a document summarizing best practices in the field. Since then many countries have endorsed the BCPs and have undertaken to comply with them, making them an almost universal standard for bank regulation. Since 1999, the IMF and the World Bank have conducted evaluations of countries’ compliance with these principles, mainly within their joint Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP). Hence the international community has made significant investments in developing these principles, encouraging their wide-spread adoption, and assessing progress with their compliance.
In light of the recent crisis and the resulting skepticism about the effectiveness of existing approaches to regulation and supervision, it is natural to ask if compliance with this global standard of good regulation is associated with bank soundness. This is what I have tried to do with Enrica Detragiache and Thierry Tressel, two of my colleagues from the Fund. Specifically, we test whether better compliance with BCPs is associated with safer banks. We also look at whether compliance with different elements of the BCP framework is more closely associated with bank soundness to identify if there are specific areas that would help prioritize reform efforts to improve supervision.
US-based migrants may find it much harder to opt for formal channels in sending money to needy family members overseas because of an increasing tendency on the part of a number of US banks to close down the accounts held by small, niche money transfer companies—including many that are in full compliance with licensing, auditing, customer reporting and other regulatory requirements of US state and national authorities.
As China’s economy seems to be recovering, many people here have expressed concerns about inflation. I was able to air my views on the subject in an Op-Ed in China’s main English language newspaper, the China Daily, together with two other experts.