Bankers leave Davos battered by blame game

DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) – The global banking elite left Davos on Sunday battered and bruised by the latest round of the blame game over the world financial crisis.

Scolded by presidents, prime ministers, central bank chiefs and even billionaire investors over regulation and their salaries, the heads of the institutions which dominate the financial markets have had to admit that some kind of reform is necessary.

A demonstrator holds a banner during a rally against the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum attended by the world's business and political elite on January 30, 2010 in Davos. AFP photo

US President Barack Obama's plans to limit the size and activities of banks prompted an urgent call at the World Economic Forum for new regulations coordinated on an international level.

Bankers at first acted with shock. But they were jolted by criticism of their attitude. "Don't feel sorry for yourselves," declared British finance minister Alistair Darling. And now ministers and bankers agree that if there are rules they have to be for every country.

"We must have global rules to treat global issues. This is absolutely essential. If not, it's a recipe for catastrophe," said Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, at the Davos forum in Switzerland.

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said "my fear is that we may forget key lessons of crisis that is coordination." He was "a bit afraid that we're not exactly going in that direction."

During the London Group of 20 summit on the crisis in April 2009, world leaders asked the Financial Stability Board and the Basel Committee to draft new banking regulations.

The issue was left to the two institutions while governments turned their focus to lifting economic crisis management.

In September, the issue was brought up at the Pittsburgh summit. Britain and France made a call in December for a global banking regulation pact, and have since both followed that up by announcing a tax on traders' bonuses.

Obama announced plans to limit banks' size and activities, forcing them to choose between proprietary activities such as trading in stocks and sometimes risky financial instruments for their own benefit -- and traditional activities, like making loans and collecting deposits.

The initiative annoyed some politicians in Europe who said that it went against the international coordination principles agreed on by the G20.

"Giving in to unilateralism, to 'every man for himself', would also be an economic, political and moral error," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his keynote address to the forum, even though he agreed with the essence of Obama's plans.

In an interview with AFP, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle pointed out that "due to competition between financial centres, we should not implement (reforms) in an isolated way on a national or European basis."

The private sector has also asked for international coordination. Tidjane Thiam, who heads British insurance group Prudential, said "consistency" was needed.

Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank, said an international harmonisation of regulations was required.

Standard Chartered bank's group chief executive Peter Sands asked for Asia's voice to be taken into account on reforms.

"What we don't want is a situation where we shape the future regulatory reform too dominated by western voices with the effect of Asia having to take medicine for an illness" that it didn't have, he said, pointing out that the region's banks suffered little from the crisis.

Signalling the urgency of the issue, ministers, bankers and central bankers held an informal meeting at Davos on Saturday.

Barney Frank, chairman of the US House of Representatives' financial services committee, who took part in the meeting, said bankers now saw there would have to be "tough" regulation.

"There's going to be regulation, they understand that. We are willing to talk to people about the specifics of how to achieve the goals, but ... there is general agreement that there has to be international coordination."

He added that "They aren't in charge of this. The political leadership certainly in the US is going to go ahead with tough, sensible regulation."

Source: AFP

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