Will Basel III help the U.S.?

A bank sign

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: For all those many months that Congress spent wrangling over financial reform, lawmakers intentionally left plenty of loose threads. Some of those threads are supposed to be worked out at some point by U.S. banking regulators. Others are going to be decided by a group of international officials. They're developing a set of global standards that are named for the town where those regulators meet -- Basel, Switzerland. And the question is, will those new international rules go beyond what Congress delivered?

Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: After years of life in the fast lane, the world's bankers are about to have their financial vehicles loaded down with new safety equipment.

Douglas Elliott: In good times, it's more fun to have the hot rod, but it doesn't leave you enough protection for when things go wrong.

Douglas Elliott is an expert on economic studies at the Brookings Institution. He says the global committee of financial regulators wants to cushion banks from unexpected shocks. They'd have to keep more cash in their vaults -- $3 for every hundred they loan. Elliott says that's somewhat less than the rainy-day nest egg the panel originally had in mind.

Elliott: The more that you require safety margins, the more expensive it is to make loans -- and we want banks to make loans. So you've got this delicate balancing act: Add some safety to the system without making it too expensive.

Emphasis on the delicate. Elliott suggests the last rules out of the panel in 2004 may have inadvertently encouraged the riskier behavior that led to the global collapse.

Elliott: In being too tough on some of the aspects, they forced banks to try to find clever ways to get around it, which did help compound the problems.

Elliott says that's why the panel is allowing up to eight years for its new standards to be fully implemented. And banking industry consultant Bert Ely points out the clock on that hasn't even started yet.

Bert Ely: They are reaching agreement on basic principals, but that's like getting the first 100 feet in a mile run. They have a long way to go in refining these rules, making them workable on a global basis, and then these rules have to be implemented by the individual countries.

Ely says he expects by that time, bankers will be ready with a new round of workarounds.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...