Barrie Wilkinson, a London-based partner at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, believes we're headed for another financial crisis in 2015.
In a report unveiled during the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Wilkinson argues that government regulators--in superficially combating the excessive risk-taking that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis by raising capital requirements for banks and banning lucrative activities like proprietary trading--may actually be driving financial institutions into the shadow-banking sector, where they can reap the higher profits their shareholders demand.
Wilkinson couches his thesis in a hypothetical: A British bank called Garland Brothers relocates to Singapore to escape U.K. regulators and, along with many other Western banks, expands aggressively into emerging markets, fueling a commodities bubble. When commodity prices crash, Garland Brothers declares bankruptcy and debt-saddled Western governments are unable to diffuse the ensuing banking crisis. The rest of the story isn't pretty.
The report offers a rather dismal assessment of the prospects for tight regulation:
In a game of cat and mouse between regulators and shadow banks, the mice will always win.
There are far more mice; they are typically better informed and motivated than the cats; and the extraordinary complexity and the global scope of the industry give the mice a nearly limitless supply of nooks and crannies to hide in.
So what are the schools of thought on this new crisis scenario?
- Wilkinson Is the 'Loneliest Man in Davos', states Bloomberg's Christine Harper. She notes that Wilkinson's "message clashed with the optimistic tone of many at the center of the meeting, who were eager to emphasize the progress made after two years of hand-wringing in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis."
- Is He Right? wonders Benzinga's Gary Cassady: "The Dodd-Frank Act created many new commissions and regulatory agencies in response to the crisis. How exactly will the new reforms prevent other loophole-mining or sneaky ways around the rules?"
- This Sounds Like a Likely Scenario, asserts Chris in Paris at AMERICAblog: "The financial reform was gutted by the bankers who threw money at lobbying to limit the extent of the reform. The Democratic reform was mild but now we have Republicans in the House who want even less oversight. Of course this can't end well."
- I See Two Solutions, declares Tony Jackson at The Financial Times:
In the end, there are only two ways of restoring sanity to a mad system. The first is that banks and their shareholders come to accept that the banking supercycle really is over; that the old returns are no longer achievable, and cranking up the risk is ultimately futile.
The second way, of course, is another and bigger crash.