A couple weeks in, the FPC is ALREADY calling for "drastic reform"

Bank of England’s Andy Haldane calls 'em like he sees ‘em.

It seems a bit odd for one of the key figures in the UK’s newly installed financial regulatory structure to be calling for drastic reform of bank regulation already, but the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane seems to be calling them like he sees ‘em nonetheless.

Haldane is executive director of financial stability for the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the forward-looking systemic risk identifier created alongside the FCA and PRA as a result of 2012’s Financial Services act.

Given his position, it was interesting to hear him identify a “Byzantine” regulatory structure as a credible threat to the stability of the banking system, at a dinner held by the International Financial Law Review (IFLR) yesterday.

Complex regulation, he said, has only acted to the advantage of those with most resources to devote to exploiting gaps in the rules, arguing instead that “Simple measures of bank leverage, untainted by such complexity, were ten times better at predicting banking failure during the crisis than complex regulatory alternatives.”

Along with proposing a leverage ratio “north, possibly well north” of international requirements (a view that makes sense given Haldane’s work on the Basel committee), he suggested a “restructuring rule” facilitating simple wind-downs of banking operations, and a “resolution rule” governing restructuring, as the main building blocks of a stripped-down regulatory system.

Perhaps the most insightful back-to-basics comment made by Haldane this week, however, came at an event held the day before the IFLR dinner by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Speaking on the subject of executive bonuses, he built on comments made in January (regarding the proposed deferral of bonuses by ten years to encourage prudence) to suggest that debt, rather than equity, should make up the mainstay of management compensation structures.

“Equity can give strange incentives” to the management of banks in crisis, he argued, adding that during the financial crisis, “many big firms gambled for their resurrection when, if you look at how top management was remunerated, it was heavily in equity.”

Debt elements facing wipeout in the event of business failure, he explained, could act as a major counter to these “strange incentives” if built into pay structure, concluding that “more can and should be done to have those sorts of debt form a larger part of compensation structures.”

This approach – to look at the incentives that drive how banks behave, rather than creating a web of rules to restrict what is possible – feels very much in line with the current zeitgeist.

Steven D. Levitt, the economics world’s answer to Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, had this to say in the first chapter of bestselling pop-econ book Freakonomics:

“The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme. His solution may not always be pretty -- it may involve coercion or exorbitant penalties or the violation of civil liberties -- but the original problem, rest assured, will be fixed. An incentive is a bullet, a lever, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

With this in mind, it’s tempting to think that a creative look at executive remuneration, a subject which currently enrages a large slice of the world’s population, and which has been blamed for a lot of the misery to affect global markets since 2008, may be the tool capable of cutting the Gordian knot of post-crisis regulation.  

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.