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The elephant in the room: The need to deal with what banks do


  • Adrian Blundell-Wignall
  • Gert Wehinger
  • Patrick Slovik


Contagion risk and counterparty failure have been the main hallmarks of the current crisis. While some large diversified banks that focused mainly on commercial banking survived very well, others suffered crippling losses. Sound corporate governance and strong riskmanagement culture should enable banks to avoid excessive leverage and risk taking. The question is whether there is a better way, via leverage rules or rules on the structures of large conglomerates, to ensure volatile investment banking functions do not dominate the future stability of the commercial banking and financial intermediation environment that is so critical for economic activity. While there is a main consensus on the need for reform of capital rules, dynamic provisioning, better co-operation for future crises, centralised trading of derivatives etc., the question is whether such reforms will be sufficient if they do not address contagion and counterparty risk directly. The world outside of policy making is waiting for a fundamental reassessment of banks’ business models: what banks are supposed to do and how they compete with each other. It is the “elephant in the room” on which some policy makers have not yet had the time or inclination to focus. This article emphasises not only the need for transparent and comparable accounting rules and for improvements in corporate governance, but also supports the imposition of a group leverage ratio to provide a binding capital constraint (that Basel riskweighted rules have been unable to achieve) and proposes a Non- Operating Holding Company Structure (NOHC) – reforms that are essential to deal with contagion and counterparty risk that are so integral to the ‘too big to fail’ issue.

Suggested Citation

  • Adrian Blundell-Wignall & Gert Wehinger & Patrick Slovik, 2010. "The elephant in the room: The need to deal with what banks do," OECD Journal: Financial Market Trends, OECD Publishing, vol. 2009(2), pages 1-27.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:dafkad:5kmn0vzk29g6
    DOI: 10.1787/fmt-v2009-art11-en

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    Cited by:

    1. Paul Atkinson & Adrian Blundell-Wignall & Caroline Roulet, 2013. "Integration versus Interdependence and Complexity in Global Trade and Finance in the Post-War Period," SUERF 50th Anniversary Volume Chapters, in: Morten Balling & Ernest Gnan (ed.), 50 Years of Money and Finance: Lessons and Challenges, chapter 6, pages 195-228, SUERF - The European Money and Finance Forum.
    2. Adrian Blundell-Wignall & Caroline Roulet, 2013. "Business models of banks, leverage and the distance-to-default," OECD Journal: Financial Market Trends, OECD Publishing, vol. 2012(2), pages 7-34.
    3. Gunnar Lang & Michael Schröder, 2013. "Do We Need a Separate Banking System? An Assessment," Credit and Capital Markets, Credit and Capital Markets, vol. 46(3), pages 331-355.
    4. M. A. Petersen & J. B. Maruping & J. Mukuddem-Petersen & L. N. P. Hlatshwayo, 2013. "A Basel perspective on bank leverage," Applied Financial Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(17), pages 1361-1369, September.
    5. Sergio Masciantonio & Andrea Tiseno, 2013. "The rise and fall of universal banking: ups and downs of a sample of large and complex financial institutions since the late �90s," Questioni di Economia e Finanza (Occasional Papers) 164, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    6. William R. White, 2014. "The Prudential Regulation of Financial Institutions: Why Regulatory Responses to the Crisis Might Not Prove Sufficient," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1108, OECD Publishing.
    7. Giuseppe Mastromatteo & Giuseppe Mastromatteo, 2016. "Minsky at Basel: A Global Cap to Build an Effective Postcrisis Banking Supervision Framework," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_875, Levy Economics Institute.

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