Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Osborne gets tough as banks start to tow line

It's probably not a coincidence that George Osborne decides to lay down the law in the financial sector in the same week as banking results season gets under way.

His move from concerned headmaster of a badly behaved child has gradually turned to that of a Victorian prison governor and he wants to make sure everyone understands the new rules in his institution.

The introduction of the ring fence between bank's retail and investment arms was always a good idea but there had been a worry in the Chancellor's mind that some might try to circumvent the rules.

The same kind of rules are meant to have existed in investment banks for years, with so-called Chinese walls designed to stop a bank or trading house from 'front running' (taking their own position in shares or the like to ride any expected move) a big order to buy or sell shares placed by a customer.

The reliability of that particular method wasn't exactly watertight and it's the memory of such self-regulated practices that has Mr Osborne taking matters into his own hands.

Not his own hands per se but he is promising to strike down with great vengeance any bank who tries to get around the ring fencing rules (that's pretty much what he said although relayed in a Quentin Tarantino manner).

The Chancellor is also taking control of the Payments Council, a regulatory committee which has traditionally be run by the banks themselves. No longer, says Mr Osborne, who you would hope has lots of underlings ready to take on all these tasks while he gets on with running the country's finances.

It might not seem as if these new rules will impact our own banks, but Barclays has already had to pay up for it's hand in fixing Libor rates and Ulster Bank owner RBS doesn't look to be far behind.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of evidence that the banks are starting to tow the line with UBS starting to pay bonuses in bonds which can be wiped out if capital requirements aren't met.

So at the same time as the Chancellor is starting to get tough, there's growing evidence the banks are seeing some worth in using their own incentives for good, rather than Bollinger.

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