Lord Griffiths: Restoring Trust in the Banking System

This is an excerpt from the The Mais Lecture: Restoring Trust in the Banking System at Cass Business School, May 24th 2017. For the full text, please click here.


It is a great honour to be invited to deliver the Mais Lecture this year, the 38th occasion on which it has been given.  It is also a particular personal pleasure.

I was appointed to the Chair in Banking and International Finance at The City University in 1976. The funds for the chair had been raised by a previous Lord Mayor, Lord Mais and so out of recognition for his contribution I felt it appropriate that we establish a lecture in his honour. Hence the Mais Lecture.

The first Mais lecture was given in 1978 by Sir Gordon Richardson, the then Governor of the Bank of England, who told me that it was the first time a Governor of the Bank of England had set out in detail the design and implementation of UK monetary policy. The event was a huge success and the text of the lecture was reproduced in full the following day in The Times newspaper. (The lecture has subsequently been given by central bank governors, finance ministers, prime ministers, a French president, a journalist, a chief rabbi and a number of distinguished academic economists including Frederich von Hayek and Lord Robbins. This year I’m afraid you come down to earth!)

The subject I have chosen for this lecture is restoring trust in the banking system and by the banking system I mean central banks, bank regulators and commercial banks. I should make it very clear that this lecture is my own personal view and not that of Goldman Sachs, though I acknowledge a great debt to my colleagues at the firm for their valuable insights.

Since the financial crisis began in 2007 the reputation of the City, and trust in the banking system, have never been more challenged. The UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards described the crisis as “a collapse of trust on an industrial scale.” (Paul Tucker, A deputy governor of the Bank of England has described (with hindsight) the associated failure of regulation as “shocking, astonishing…catastrophic” which “left the credibility of financial regulation in tatters!” (Paul Tucker, Brookings Institution, Regulatory Reform, Stability & Central Banking, January 2014)).    A review of what went wrong in one major UK commercial bank concluded that trust in the commercial banks had been “decimated” by the crisis.

(The pre-crisis factors which led to this loss of trust have been well documented in books and research papers and commented on in plays, novels, films and the news media by academics, journalists, novelists, playwrights and filmmakers.) Since the crisis each of the countries involved has undertaken a sweeping review of its regulatory structures, resulting in the creation of new institutions (the PRA and FCA in the UK), new regulations (covering capital, liquidity, compensation, resolution planning, governance and conduct) and more comprehensive and intensive supervision (UK Senior Managers Regime). Internationally, countries have worked together through the G-20 Financial Stability Board to facilitate harmonization and cross border regulation.

Yet ten years later and after this immense effort, trust remains low. Only 20% of the UK population think banks are well-managed, down from 80% in the 1980’s. (In a recent survey in Germany only 26% of the population expressed confidence in the banking system).  The independence of central banks has been challenged in the US, the Eurozone, Japan and the UK. The view of the new regulatory structures by academics and commentators is ‘could do better’.

(One respected commentator concluded a recent piece on the UK claiming “the haze of mistrust continues to hang over the whole City”, (Juliet-Samuels, D-T, 7th April 2017), while in the US context another remarked that “the world has not come to terms with the crisis of 2008. Justice has not been seen to be done. Remedies to prevent a repeat have not been seen to be applied. Dodd-Frank has failed to instill confidence.” (John Authers, F.T., April 15th 2017))

If a modern advanced economy is to function effectively it needs a sophisticated financial system which is trusted by the public. They must believe that it benefits society as a whole, and not just bankers. They must believe that the services sold by banks are appropriate to their needs and competitively priced. They must have faith in the competence and integrity of bank leadership, and respect for banks’ corporate cultures. The financial system must be seen as making a contribution to society, not being an island within it.

Against this backdrop I wish to explore three challenges which I believe must be met if trust is to be restored and maintained in the banking system.


To continue reading the full text of this lecture, please click here.

Brian Griffiths (Color)

Lord Griffiths is the Chairman of CEME. For more information please click here.