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Where It Pays to Be a Banker

A decade and a half after the global financial crisis, the past sins of the banking industry weigh more heavily on some jurisdictions than others. Recent regulatory and tax-policy developments suggest that European banks will remain unloved and unfree, especially compared to their American and British counterparts.

LONDON – It has now been more than 15 years since the white heat of the global financial crisis, when Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and the Royal Bank of Scotland (among others) failed. At the time, big banks deserved the tidal wave of opprobrium that came their way, and they duly accepted huge increases in capital requirements, dividend bans, and other controls on distributions and pay. Just a few years ago, those who put their heads above the parapet to argue that enough was enough still found bullets whistling past their ears.

But has the mood finally changed? Have banks’ political reputations been rehabilitated now that the ravages of financial crisis have receded into the past, and following a pandemic in which they were part of the solution, rather than the origin of the problem? The answers to such questions depend very much on geography.

For example, if you are in the United States, three notable bank failures in 2023 – Silicon Valley Bank, First Republic, and Signature Bank – might lead you to expect that banks are pariahs. But that has not stopped US banks from adopting an aggressive stance in relation to the US Federal Reserve’s proposals for rigorous implementation of the final part of the Basel 3 capital reforms.