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financial and banking services

Uncanny resemblance: Greedy bankers and critics of PPPs

Michael Klein's picture
Normally critics of the private sector like disparaging the greed of bankers. Many bankers in turn take a dim view of people who do not see the value of endeavors involving the profit motive. Yet, as the French say: “Les extremes se touchent” – sometimes extreme views have more in common than they care to admit.
In one such case, both bankers and critics of public-private partnerships (PPPs) are happily united in dumping risks on unsuspecting taxpayers – precisely the citizens whose interests they profess to serve. How so? 
Banks are unusual firms. They carry little equity relative to debt – often no more than five percent of total assets at best. Typical firms in other sectors would find such levels of equity positively dangerous. They often carry equity worth 50 percent of assets, many even more. 
Bankers say equity is expensive and debt cheap. Hence low leverage – little equity as a share of assets – makes sense. If that were it, firms other than banks would be fairly dim-witted. They should also load up on debt and thus lower costs. So why don’t they?

Forging the link between inclusion and integrity in Ethiopia

Emily Rose Adeleke's picture

How can financial inclusion and financial integrity policies complement each other? That question was addressed in a report recently released looking at the state of Ethiopia’s anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework.
The assessment was conducted by a World Bank Group team of experts and published by the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). This is the first assessment of a developing country to be published that uses the revised 2012 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards.
Ethiopia’s compliance with the international standards on AML/CFT had never been assessed before, and this report sheds light on the functioning of a unique and vibrant economy in Africa. In addition, this is the first AML/CFT assessment to highlight the connection between financial inclusion and financial integrity policies.
As noted in an earlier blog post, entitled "The Royal Stamp of Inclusion," the FATF has confirmed that financial inclusion and financial integrity are mutually reinforcing public-policy objectives. The revised FATF standards have a more explicit focus on the risk-based approach in implementing an AML/CFT framework. This approach allows for the identification of lower risk scenarios and the application of simplified AML/CFT measures in certain areas (primarily customer due diligence, or CDD).
The Ethiopia assessment notes that only about 28 percent of the population is served by the formal financial system – leaving 72 percent of the population dependent on cash or informal financial service providers. The Ethiopian government has identified the expansion of formal financial services as a national priority, through its “Growth and Transformation Plan” and the “Ethiopian Financial Inclusion Project.”
The assessment makes suggestions as to how the Ethiopian authorities can “link up” the policies of inclusion and integrity – for example, by allowing for simplified customer due diligence processes, and by providing guidance to financial institutions on the issue.

Capping the Bank-Fund Annual Meetings: Chiding Ethics Lapses, a Spokesman for an Even Higher Authority

Christopher Colford's picture

Amid the week-long procession of buttoned-down, business-suited speakers who commanded the stage during the Annual Meetings week of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the most thought-provoking comments may have come from someone who was not outfitted in business attire at all – but who was instead wearing a clerical collar.

It seemed fitting that the remarks by (some might say) the week’s most authoritative participant occurred on a Sunday morning, at an hour when many Washingtonians habitually heed an authority even more elevated than the Bank and the Fund. The major attraction at the IMF’s day-long “Future of Finance” conference was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose stature lent a special gravitas to the already-serious tone of the Fund forum’s focus on scrupulous ethics as a bedrock principle of sound capitalism.

On a panel with some of the titans of worldly finance – including the leaders of the IMF and the Bank of England – only someone of Welby’s ecclesiastical renown could have stolen the show. Although he did his down-to-earth best to try to avoid upstaging his fellow panelists – quipping, “I feel rather like a lion in a den of Daniels at the moment . . . slightly nerve-wracking” – the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion was clearly the marquee draw for the throng that packed the Jack Morton Auditorium, spilled beyond the extra overflow rooms and jammed the adjoining corridors.

Citing the need for “heroism in the classic sense” to overcomethe spirit of “recklessness” that recently pervaded much of the financial industry, Welby called for a return to “ethical and worthwhile banking.” He urged everyone working in finance to aim to “leave a mark on the world that contributes to human flourishing.”

Welby – himself a former financier, who traded derivatives and futures before he joined the clergy – recounted the misgivings of the mournful bankers whom he had interviewed while serving as a member of the U.K.’s Banking Standards Commission in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Welby recalled the lamentations of a deeply penitent banker who had been “broken by the experience” of leading his bank to ruin: In retrospect, reasoned the banker, “you can either have a big bank that’s simple, or a small bank that’s complex, [but] you cannot have a big complex bank and run it properly. . . . If only we had kept things simple.”

Welby’s call for the highest standards of conduct in the financial sector was matched by the exhortations of his fellow panelists – including IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who reminded the audience that every financier must see himself or herself as “a custodian of the public good.” Lagarde's message was underscored by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney – who also leads the global Financial Stability Board – who deplored the pre-crash “disembodiment and detachment of finance” from the rest of the economy.

Only by upholding the most exacting ethical standards, said Largarde and Carney, can financiers rebuild public confidence in the financial sector – confidence that, in Lagarde's words, “builds over time and dies overnight.”

The regrets voiced by the panel’s private-sector financiers contributed to the panel’s almost confessional tone.

“If we can’t get the basic incentives right, it’ll be hard to get the right outcomes,” said Philipp Hildebrand, who had served as a senior central-bank official during the financial crisis before returning to the private sector. He reflected that “with wrong incentives, you end up with a wrong business model,” which in turn attracts “the wrong kind of people” who are prone to take excessive risks. Thus he underscored the need for “a personal transformation” within the spirit of every business leader.

Putting an even sharper point on the source of the problem, longtime financier Kok-Song Ng regretted that “a virus entered the system” in the years leading up to the crash, as financial firms deliberately recruited profit-driven “mercenaries” to run their trading desks. Those firms ignored the explosive risks being taken by their hired-gun traders, because they succumbed to “the great temptations for those in ‘the money world’ to want to make a quick buck” no matter how dangerous their tactics might be.

PISA data on financial literacy: Unanswered questions on developing financial skills for the broad student population

Margaret Miller's picture

A few weeks ago, the results of the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) module on financial literacy were revealed, with Shanghai taking top honors in this category – just as it has in the last two rounds (in 2009 and 2012) on the traditional academic curriculum (reading, math and science).
This is no coincidence, as the OECD results and many other studies suggest a close relationship between education levels and academic performance in math and reading comprehension and scores on financial literacy tests.
In the PISA report, the correlation coefficients between financial literacy scores and performance in mathematics and reading were 0.83 and 0.79 respectively across 13 OECD countries in the survey sample. For high performers like Shanghai and New Zealand, these correlations were even stronger: 0.88 for mathematics, 0.86 for reading.

While waiting for general improvement in academic performance is one path to improved financial literacy, the urgency of addressing financial skills for today’s youth has led many educators and policymakers to look for more immediate steps that can be taken, including financial education interventions at school. The PISA results, however, don’t include an assessment of the value of possible financial literacy curricula, due to the “limited and uneven provision of financial education in schools.” That factor makes comparisons across countries difficult, as described in the report.

LDC IV Conference calls for facilitating migration and remittance flows, and fostering their development impact

Dilip Ratha's picture

The program of action of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, Istanbul, 9-13 May 2011 explicitly calls for reducing remittance costs and improving the development impact of remittances.

The conference calls on the LDCs to:

 (a) Make efforts to improve access to financial and banking services for easy transaction of remittances;
 (b) Simplify migration procedures to reduce the cost of   outward migration;
 (c) Take appropriate measures to better utilize knowledge,  skills and earnings of the returning migrants;
 (d) Provide necessary information, as available, to workers seeking foreign employment.