The Spider of Finance

The Financial Stability Board has now been in operation for five years. Though no international audit of its performance has been undertaken, a fair verdict would be that the FSB has done no more and no less than what its political masters have been prepared to allow it to do.

LONDON – The global system of financial regulation is extraordinarily complex. Partly for that reason, it is little understood. In order to explain it to my students at Sciences Po in Paris, I have devised a kind of wiring diagram that shows the connections among the different bodies responsible for the various components of oversight. It makes a circuit board look straightforward.

Many people show some spark of recognition at the mention of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which sets capital standards for banks. They may also have heard of the Bank for International Settlements, the central banks’ central bank, in which the Basel Committee sits. And the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), which sets standards for exchanges and securities regulators, has name recognition in some quarters. But when you get to the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, brows furrow.

There are many other groupings. The International Accounting Standards Board does roughly what you might expect, though the Americans, while members, do not in fact use its standards – which are now confusingly called International Financial Reporting Standards. But the IASB has spawned other committees to oversee auditing. There is even – reminiscent of Hermann Hesse’s last novel, The Glass Bead Game – an international body that audits the bodies that audit the auditors.

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