The Spider of Finance

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.

The Financial Action Task Force sounds dynamic, like a rapid-response team one might send to a troubled country. In fact, it is the part of the OECD that monitors the implementation of anti-money-laundering standards. Why it is part of the OECD when its remit is global is a mystery few can explain.