Five years after the credit crunch erupted in August 2007, banking still looks like an industry running amok. Scandals keep tumbling out of the closet: an alleged ring of banks including Barclays that attempted to rig interest rates; money laundering by HSBC; insider tips passed by Nomura to its clients; and terrible risk management by JPMorgan, where traders have so far lost $5.8 billion.
True, some of these scandals date from the rip-roaring days of the bubble. And the industry is now being reformed. But the public is growing impatient with the slow pace of change, especially as recession bites in large parts of the industrialised world. Some observers therefore want to clear out the entire old guard. The idea is that only new teams can clean the cesspit. There are also increasing calls to break up banks into supposedly low-risk retail banks and casino-style investment banks. Even Sandy Weill, the man who created Citigroup, now advocates splitting up financial conglomerates.
Something must be done. The financial industry has made a mockery of capitalism. Despite endless bailouts, bankers are still paid far too much. Profits are privatised, while losses get socialised.
The regulatory noose around the industry is tightening. After the credit crunch, there was a global push to jack up capital and liquidity buffers, while reining in risk-taking. If lenders get into trouble in future, the idea is that they will be wound down safely rather than bailed out. Bankers’ compensation is also being modified – for example, allowing pay to be clawed back in future years if there are losses.
This battery of new regulations is putting pressure on the industry’s profitability – and its pay. Banks are reviewing their business models. They are cutting back on proprietary risk-taking, slashing jobs, and even pulling out of some business lines.