Banks can be reformed to serve society and its businesses.
During the 1980s and after the banks were successively deregulated. According to David Korten who saw the same thing happening in the US: “This deregulation shifted the focus of the money/banking/finance system from investment in real wealth creation to a focus on using money to make money through unproductive speculation, arbitrage, usury, deception and market manipulation.” Financial institutions which were not subject to banking rules, such as hedge funds and private equity funds started to make huge returns.
Roger Douglas deregulated our banks as one of the first acts of the Lange Douglas Labour Government in 1984. The system’s priorities shifted from funding productive investment to financing speculation.
According to a 1996 speech by the Governor of the Reserve Bank: “All controls on credit, foreign exchange and out-bound overseas investment were lifted in 1984, and the New Zealand dollar was floated early in 1985. Banks were freed from any quantitative limits on their lending growth. The requirement for banks to hold deposits with the central bank, or to hold specified investments in government securities, was abolished. Banking, previously the exclusive preserve of one government-owned institution and three foreign-owned banks, was opened up to full competition. The licensing of those authorised to deal in foreign exchange was discontinued. Competition between currencies was given some scope in that contracts could be denominated in any currency (though taxes must still be paid in New Zealand dollars, and the Customs Act prohibits the importation of other currencies intended for circulation).
In January 1996, the banking system was further liberalised when the Reserve Bank started a rather different way of conducting prudential supervision. Instead of reporting on a confidential basis to the central bank, banks were required to issue detailed quarterly public disclosure statements, which must be audited twice-yearly by external auditors. Instead of limiting their exposure to individual counter-parties to some central-bank-specified percentage of capital, banks must simply disclose how much risk concentration they have in their portfolio at end of quarter, and at peak intra-quarter. Instead of complying with detailed guidelines on internal controls, directors must simply attest, in the quarterly disclosure statements, that the internal controls are appropriate to the nature of the banking business being undertaken.”
Interest-rate and other controls have been removed and regulatory and legislative distinctions between different institutional groups have been reduced.
Deregulation contributed to rapid growth in money market activity, the development of a sizeable secondary market in government securities, the introduction of a wider range of financial instruments, including forward contracts, options and interest and exchange-rate futures, and the growing use of such devices to hedge interest-rate and exchange-rate risk.
And what certainly added very considerable risk to the financial system was the widespread practice of securitising residential and other loans. What was seen by some observers as a powerful innovation enabling credit risk to be diffused across a multitude of financial institutions turned out to be the source of enormous danger. Loan originators had little incentive to ensure borrowers were creditworthy because they had no intention of holding onto the risk. They passed that risk on “down the chain”, with successive financial institutions clipping the ticket as the risk was passed from hand to hand but holding no exposure to the potential default. There was no transparency or accountability in the credit chain, and significant parts of the process were largely unregulated.
So banks are now involved in managed funds, insurance of all types and brokerage functions.
In US the Glass Steagal Act was enacted after the Second World War to prevent banks from speculating with depositors funds and keep banking and investment banking separate. This was repealed. The same has happened in New Zealand. We need to enact separate legislation to regulate the investment banks.
With the ongoing global financial crisis it is clear that this whole process must be reversed. We must:
- Prohibit trading in securities with borrowed money
- Prohibit financial institutions from trading for their own accounts in securities they sell to the public.