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Why It Matters

Risks remain in banking sector

Ten years ago, the United States sub-prime housing bubble began to burst, setting off shockwaves that buried US banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and threatened the entire global financial system.

In the decade since, an international effort has been mounted to prevent a repeat of that crisis by overhauling the world's banking system. Today, there are signs this effort may be stalling.

In the US, the Trump administration wants to scrap much of the Obama-era banking reforms, saying the burdensome regulations are needlessly hindering economic growth.

Last Monday, the US Treasury Department called for the scrapping or softening of some of the post-crisis rules for banks and other financial firms. It also proposed giving the White House and Congress more say over bank supervision, taking away some power from independent regulators.

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Last week, it was reported that Singapore's banking regulator joined its counterparts in Hong Kong and Australia to delay by a year the implementation of global rules designed to rein in some trading risks.

The so-called "fundamental review of the trading book" or FRTB would require banks to hold more capital against their trading books. This capital is a small proportion of a bank's total buffer, and so a delay in the FRTB, it is argued, does not materially affect the banking sector's overall capital health.

It is important to note that these countries are delaying - not scrapping - plans to implement the FRTB, and that the Monetary Authority of Singapore has said it is "committed to a full implementation" of Basel III bank reforms.

For any delay or roll back of banking reforms must be carefully approached. Mr Mark Carney, Bank of England governor and head of the Financial Stability Board, warned leaders of the Group of 20 countries last month against "reform fatigue".

Banks today may be generally better regulated and capitalised. But risks remain, as we saw just two weeks ago when the Italian government had to mount a €17 billion (S$26.8 billion) bailout of two regional banks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Risks remain in banking sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe