IFCs expect the unexpected
International finance centres must be nimble to weather the next financial crisis, with new challenges arising from regulatory developments, cost pressures and disruptive technology
Learning from past mistakes can be helpful in informing future decisions. Many investors are currently looking back to try to understand what happened to cause the 'lost decade' which followed the global financial crisis. They are trying to figure out what the main lessons are of the events which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers just over ten years ago, and to what extent the world has been made safer by the subsequent actions of the global financial community.
For example, here in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority established the Resolution Office in 2017, to implement international standards on the resolution of non-viable financial institutions that are considered "too big to fail". According to the Authority, this is to help prevent a recurrence of a global financial crisis where public money was used to save failing financial institutions and would minimize the impact of their closures on the financial system.
However, Hong Kong is not the only one to adopt agile measures to enhance financial stability. Some of the international financial centres (IFCs) that have thrived so quickly have shown the importance of being nimble is the key to survive in the global financial crisis. They've understood they need to take steps to ensure a robust and transparent banking system, working to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of regulators and investors.
Jersey is one of the examples worth looking into. Over the past 10 years, Jersey has been impacted, just like other jurisdictions, by consolidation and restructuring in the banking sector globally, the result of the low interest rate environment and the regulatory and stability measures that have come out of the crisis. The key has been to convene a wide group of stakeholders to decide on the actions that need to be taken to prepare the jurisdiction for the challenges ahead.
Jersey's banking sector has remained resilient thanks to actions taken by the financial sector there. Shortly after the crisis hit, Jersey's government, regulators and the industry took the joint decision to commission a strategic review that would support Jersey's efforts to grow and evolve in the long run. The review concluded that there was a strong long-term future for Jersey's IFC, if it could successfully tap into the growth in cross-border investment flows and provide services to wealth creators in the growth markets.
The recommendations made in that review - which spanned a whole range of areas including regulation, legislation, infrastructure, skills, reputation and overseas markets - has been pivotal in shaping the direction of Jersey's financial services sector. The foresight has served Jersey well. Fund levels today are as high as they've ever been and 50% higher than they were in 2008, while alternative funds now represent more than three-quarters of Jersey's total funds business, with private equity activity growing by almost a third over 2017.
So, one of the lessons of the last decade is that there is a huge business opportunity for those IFCs that understand the need to take swift action. That is equally true for preparing us to face the next financial crisis, whenever that may be.
Having weathered the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, Jersey's banking system is now facing new challenges from economic changes, regulatory developments, cost pressures and disruptive technology. Any one of these could cause, or intensify, the next economic downturn. Early identification of such issues and developing a strategy to address them is critical to develop a focused action plan, as is the need to involve and co-operate with the many stakeholders across the whole financial services industry.
Clearly, we will see further disruption in the coming years across different markets, whether economic, social or political, and taking a strategic view (and sticking to it) will be vital for organizations and the IFCs that house them. Robust, forward-thinking, international jurisdictions understand the need to act swiftly and decisively to counteract the effects of an economic crisis. Looking back at the financial crisis demonstrates there are real opportunities for robust, transparent jurisdictions of substance to differentiate themselves positively – provided they take the right action and achieve consensus across all their stakeholder groups.
Geoff Cook, CEO of Jersey Finance, which promotes Jersey's finance industry.
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31 Jan 2019