REG: Regulation and NEDs

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Our Regulation Evaluation Group (REG) kicked off its new series of lunchtime roundtable discussions this week at the headquarters of the British Venture Capital Association in Central London. The speaker was Mark Austen, former head of PwC's global banking and finance practice, and he focused on the role of non-executive directors (NEDs) on company boards, particularly within the banking and finance sectors.

Much of the discussion, however, centred on the problems that NEDs – and other directors too – have in dealing with the Financial Services Authority (FSA). Directors claimed that even a small financial enterprise can face a levy of £750,000 or more for the FSA – that's on top of even costlier insurance requirements – and be required to fill in hundreds of forms each year. But little seems to happen to the data that is connected, and directors are given no indication of whether the FSA considers them acting sensibly or not. The regular meetings with FSA personnel seem to focus principally on how institutions treat their customers, rather than whether they might be taking too large risks and going bust. Which might explain something of our recent troubles.

In other words, we already have plenty of regulation – though most of it is misdirected. That's not preventing the EU from proposing even more extensive regulation, of course, to the point where even the company that makes Kettle Chips would have to be regulated by the FSA – which sounds pretty daft – and the UK economy will be saddled with yet another £1bn burden.

So we have more than enough regulation. What we don't have enough of is supervision of the sort that the Bank of England used to do reasonably well. The box-ticking FSA might have a role in the protection of retail financial-services customers; but the supervision of the banking sector, with a view to keeping them out of the systemic risk that precipitated the current crisis, needs to be done by a central bank.