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BERN, Switzerland – Switzerland’s financial regulator deflected blame for the collapse of the country’s second biggest bank, Credit Suisse, saying it had been quick to respond, calling instead for more powers to take lenders to task.
“We reacted very fast,” FINMA Chair Marlene Amstad told journalists, adding that it was the responsibility of management to avoid such a situation and that regulations alone could not solve a crisis of confidence such as the one that toppled the bank.
The remarks of the regulator, which has primary responsibility for oversight of one of the world’s biggest financial centers, were in stark contrast with the humbling apology issued by Credit Suisse’s chairman a day earlier.
Axel Lehmann had told shareholders he was “truly sorry” for taking the Swiss bank to the brink of bankruptcy.
That triggered a hastily arranged takeover by Zurich-based UBS, bankrolled with more than 200 billion Swiss francs ($221.02 billion) of state support and guarantees, which all but wiped out shareholders, as well as swathes of bondholders.
Its final meeting of shareholders on Tuesday, April 4, marked an ignominious end to the 167-year-old bank founded by Alfred Escher, a Swiss magnate affectionately dubbed King Alfred I, who helped to build the country’s railways and then the bank.
FINMA’s Amstad called for more power to penalize and name and shame banks that break the rules. Her agency is largely powerless to call banks to account, as Switzerland pursues a hands-off approach to industry, giving it free rein.
“Our instruments hit their limits…as seen in the case of Credit Suisse,” said Amstad, making a rare public appeal for more power.
“FINMA has no power to fine,” she said, adding that she would welcome such clout. “It’s an exception when compared with other regulators.”
She also said that most of the regulator’s probes into banks had to remain secret, adding that this should change. Switzerland built its financial industry on secrecy and this discretion is deeply ingrained in the country.
“FINMA is keen to ensure that we can make our work more visible to the public in future – as our supervisory colleagues in other countries are often allowed to do,” she said.
The agency also wants bankers to be held to account in a special regime that singles them out as responsible.
“Imposing fines would be a step forward. But, as we have seen, Credit Suisse paid billions in fines and that didn’t change its catastrophic business strategy,” said Dominik Gross of the Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations.
“There must be the power to pursue top managers of banks for criminal negligence.”
While the takeover of Credit Suisse has been agreed, many hurdles, such as winning regulatory approval from countries around the world, lie ahead.
People familiar with the matter said the Bank of England had approved the deal in the United Kingdom, a key market. – Rappler.com
$1 = 0.9049 Swiss francs