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Creating a better financial system

Milan, 06/11/2017, National Conference

The areas examined by the participants during this National Conference were twofold. On the one hand, the debate focused on the role of the banking system and how it is perceived by savers. It was suggested that banks deal in buying and selling trust, so safeguarding such trust is imperative. Nearly ten years on from the outbreak of the global crisis, such confidence has been severely dented. The media has helped fuel public hostility towards the banking world, as several polls demonstrate. It was observed, however, that precisely as a result of the crisis, the long surge back to value-based banking has begun. The value of sustainability has once again come to the fore to supplant the overweening quest for short-term profit. The balance sheet as a snapshot of the present linking the past to the future has been rediscovered and has come to reflect the continuity of business value over time. The profit and loss account is no longer an end unto itself, but has become a yardstick of the creation or destruction of capital and, hence, of value over time. The bolstering of regulatory capital and liquidity requirements was viewed as a gauge of this revived interest in balance-sheet health on the part of both banks and regulators. It was stressed that the trade-offs to be achieved are many and complex: between stability and growth, but also between systemic risk and idiosyncratic risk, and between the interests of shareholders and those of other stakeholders. The pendulum is swinging between these extremes not just in Europe, but also in Basel, in the search for an equilibrium that is none-too-easy to find.

As to the second issue explored, the participants discussed the latest so-called "fintech" developments in the sector, linked to the digitalization process. It was noted that the upshots of this technological revolution impinge on the entire sector, from the payments system to the credit system and savings management system, with the strategic value of data being at the heart of this transformation of the way banks operate. Organization, processes, and systems are set to change profoundly as a function of the new methods of collecting and processing data. At the same time, on the fringes of the financial system, shadow banking is exploiting regulatory asymmetry to usurp areas of banking business, putting the sector sorely to the test. It was emphasized, however, that these risks are also accompanied by great opportunities for the banking system. Yet in order for these opportunities to be realized, the transition from the traditional to the new must not be reduced to mere replication of past models, while regulators must take a balanced approach, adequately weighing up the risks and opportunities of the new developments that loom ahead. It was observed, in conclusion, that the ways in which banks, shadow banking, regulators, and savers/consumers come to interact will give the measure of how much and in what manner the banking system is destined to change in the not-too-distant future.