Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Regulators Ignore Innovations In Lending

Politicians obfuscate by blaming banks for not lending, while insisting banks must conserve capital. Lord Myners has even U-turned into believing it's a good idea to split up the banks in order to create more banks, believing this will mean more competition.

But it's tough to see why more high street banks will mean more competition to provide unsecured loans to people and small businesses, given they're all bound by the same capital rules. We had lots of banks, and they had to consolidate to solve their capital problems. Metro Bank is said to be expanding rapidly, raising more cash to buy old bank branches others have been forced to sell for competition law reasons. But I don't see any truly disruptive difference between them and the other high street operators.

There's also a bigger problem here, as suggested by the finding in the latest British Social Attitudes Survey that only 19% of us think the banks are run well, down from 90% in 1983 and 60% in 1994.

Surely these circumstances demand a new regulatory framework for efficiently directing deposits to where they are needed most. Yet the existing framework prevents regulators from spending any time on this problem. Zopa's request for peer-to-peer lending to be included within the regulatory framework has not produced any joy, even though such platforms enable lending that doesn't tie up a bank's balance sheet and unlent funds remain in the banking system as commercial deposits. Loan volumes at Zopa have exceeded £100 million - 1% of the personal loan market - at a default rate of only 0.7%. Ironically, these numbers do not represent the sort of risk to consumers or the financial system that is claimed to command regulatory attention (which is itself debatable, given the lack of timely attention to the problems in the securitisation market).

In other words, if you have a highly capital-efficient financial innovation that represents a great deal for consumers, expect policy-makers and regulators to ignore you.

You're better off developing Kick-out bonds.

Image from Good Design.

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