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Much of my work in banks was concerned with IT systems, which are of critical importance in banking. I designed risk management systems for Treasury and Capital Markets at Nat West, and a group consolidated financial & regulatory reporting system for RBS Group. I'm moderately proud of the fact that RBS used that system to report its appalling financial results! I was also involved in the design of an asset & liability management system at Midland Bank prior to its takeover by HSBC. That project was cancelled by HSBC, but I learned a lot both then and at RBS about bank capital and liquidity management, and those experiences inform my current writing, much of which is on those subjects.
Q: What was your initial motivation for joining the financial blogosphere?
A: Well originally it was my brother who suggested that I wrote. On Twitter I found myself in conversations with his friends, who were talking about economics and finance, and I read a number of articles through them that I didn’t agree with so I started to write about those. I think the first one was an article by George Monbiot in the Guardian on short selling. I read it and thought: you don’t really know what you’re talking about. And I did know something about that so I wrote an article explaining short selling in a way that people could understand. I reckoned that even if only a few people read it, it would still be worth doing. After that I wrote several things along the lines of trying to help people get a better understanding of banking, both the investment and the retail side. In the end I wrote because I thought I had something to say.
Q: One of the big discussions of the crisis has been about “too-big-to fail” banks. Do you think that this is leading us towards the causes of the crisis or obscuring them further?
A: As time has gone on I’ve been convinced that the myths about what went wrong in 2007-2008 are becoming more firmly established. For example, the belief that investment banks caused the crisis is simply wrong. They didn’t. In the UK it was retail banks that failed while the US crisis can be traced to mortgage originators. It’s very interesting that in response to the crisis the US actually created universal banks while in Europe we’re talking about splitting them up. It seems to be a case of assuming that the way the banking sector was operating must have been the problem so you just seize on the next available model. For me neither side is really seeing the wood for the trees. They are looking too much at institutions and too little at a system. If you have 60 small banks all failing at once they can pose as much of a systemic problem as one large bank going down, as we saw in the UK in the 1970s.
Q: Do you think that the general public understand the role that we as individuals played in creating the conditions of the crisis?
A: I would agree with that. We got used to a type of lifestyle and a short-term outlook whereby we didn’t have to wait for things we could simply get them on credit. I think we all bought into that. We can blame banks, or governments but anybody who bought and sold their house or used rising house prices to fund their spending benefitted hugely from that environment. However you look at it, a lot of people were doing very well out of it and nobody was really looking at whether it was sustainable. People like to talk about “black swan events”, but this was not unforeseeable, indeed it was quite widely predicted by a lot of people. It is just that people weren’t listening.
Q: Do you think that it is possible for people on an individual basis to moderate their expectations when wages are rising and credit is easy to access?
A: I think it’s really difficult actually. If you believe that you’re working very hard, you’re being well paid for it and your company’s doing well it’s not surprising that people feel they can borrow against that. Rising productivity fuels the credit bubble, and vice versa. So it really helps to fuel itself. Where we went wrong was not seeing that the rising productivity was being fuelled by credit. In Minsky’s terms it was effectively a Ponzi scheme. The problem is that you don’t know when you’re in it that what you’re buying into isn’t real.
Q: Do we simply need to become more self-aware in these situations or do you think it will take a regulatory response to curb these types of credit bubbles?
A: It’s immensely difficult for people and governments to recognise when you’re in a bubble. You’re part of it, and the government is part of it so how can you expect to see the problem? Though we castigate Gordon Brown for claiming that we had fixed “boom and bust” nonetheless you can kind of see why he believed it. Along with a number of others I have been arguing that productivity growth is currently rebasing itself to a lower, shallower trend. If much of the pre-crisis productivity was the consequence of a credit bubble we can’t simply jump back to it because it wasn’t real, unless we want to re-inflate that credit bubble. We will do better if our productivity growth is sustainable, even if it means we have a lower standard of living.
Q: What does that suggest about the output gap in the UK economy?
A: I don’t see this crisis as the end of UK Plc. I think we are a creative, hard- working bunch of people and are capable of producing great things. That said, I don’t think it’s either necessary or desirable to quickly return to pre- crisis levels of productivity. It would be more sensible to look at what we really can do given our resources and our energy availability. To my mind not enough attention is being paid to the impact of the rising cost of energy on growth and output.
Q: Do you think that the advent of new technology will ultimately put a cap on labour demand?
A: People got new jobs, better jobs and previously unanticipated jobs as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. There were losers, there always are, and they suffered terribly but overall many of the jobs that were lost were in low-skilled areas that could easily be automated. I’m of the opinion that we need to start working out what we value in we regard as human skills. We have a tendency not to value very highly those things that people naturally do – our interpersonal skills and social interactions. Currently jobs such as childcare or caring for the elderly are not highly prized, or well remunerated but I think that might well change in future. Once you can replace things that we train people to do now, such as pushing paper around or doing complex sums, you’re left with human interaction. Robots may be able to interact with people but will there be a premium paid for human companionship? I rather like the idea of freeing people from the burden of having to work doing things that they don’t enjoy in order to earn a crust, and making them able to do things that they enjoy and can create value from.
There is a prevalent view that part of the reason for the UK’s slow recovery is the existence of "zombie companies" that should have died in the recession. But what is the evidence for this?
Throughout history, humans have dreamed of a world of plenty....but now it is on the horizon, it doesn't look quite so attractive. Do we really want abundance?
Banking is different from any other business. At the heart of it are risks that cannot be eliminated, only managed. So those who run banks must be competent to manage those risks.
It seems negative interest rates are being seriously considered as a monetary policy instrument. But they may have some extremely strange effects. Would the world ever be the same again?
Some think the future will be networks of independent cities, others supranational groupings such as the EU. But Frances Coppola argues that reports of the death of the nation state are premature.
The ever-smaller size of modern houses is due to planning restrictions that aim to preserve green belt, not profit-seeking housebuilders, says Simon Cooke.
The Coalition's plans for new towns appear to have been put on the back burner. Could short-term political objectives be sabotaging structural reforms in the housing market?
Smart technology can transform the lives of those who live and work in large cities - but it is not without costs and dangers.
P0pular belief has it that big banks are intrinsically unsafe due to systemic risk. "Break them up!", is the call. But the most systemically dangerous banks are small unregulated property lenders.
In the second of two articles discussing matters raised at the ICAEW's recent conference on banking, Frances Coppola wonders if the extent of regulatory reform may make banking impossible.
The ICAEW's Audit Insight report into banking discusses the challenges ahead in banking reform. Restoring trust in banking will take a long time and be very hard work.
Hedge funds serve a useful purpose. They clean up the mess others leave behind - such as the mess the Co-Op Group management have made of their bank.
Alex Marsh argues that Help to Buy is not an appropriate Keynesian stimulus for a weak economy, but a profound policy error which puts at risk the quality of life of millions of households.
Sargent & Wallace's 1981 paper "Some Unpleasant Monetarist Arithmetic" said fiscal policy should be constrained by the monetary policy framework. But austerity-addicted governments ignore this.
People like to believe that property rights are both simple and easily enforced. But in fact ownership is difficult to define and almost impossible to enforce in a civilised society.
The high price of housing is driven not by the dream of home ownership, but by the desire to save for the future. Property has become the safe savings vehicle of choice.
The apparently irrational response of markets to monetary policy signals from central banks is too often caused by simple ignorance. Trading strategists should do their homework.
Five years on from the collapse of Lehman, Frances Coppola explains the psychological game-playing that caused the 2007/8 financial crisis - and that still continues today.
The Co-Op Bank is in a mess. The former CEO says it's not his fault. Is this believable? If it's not his fault, whose fault is it? And just how bad is this mess, anyway?
Simon Rose of Save Our Savers describes the Bank of England as "Stalinist" and calls for an end to managed interest rate policy. Is he right? Far from it, according to Frances Coppola.
Frances Coppola says it is time that people took responsibility for managing their own money, and stopped expecting banks to do it for them.
Current deposit insurance schemes are flawed, creating distorted incentives for banks. We propose a new approach that would help to ensure safety and stability while avoiding moral hazard.
The UK has a trade balance problem. It imports too much and doesn't export enough. It should aim to become more like Germany - or so we are told. But who has the biggest problem really?
Are flexible labour markets and structural reforms always a good thing? Or are there circumstances under which they make matters worse? A lesson from the Eurozone.
The rise of China as a new superpower, and the increasing indebtedness of the US, has led to calls for reintroduction of the gold standard. Could this end currency wars and preserve US dominance?
If the world as a whole starts putting up significant barriers to trade, the global rebalancing that is bringing prosperity to millions will be replaced with global misery.
If automation means that the majority of people either won't work at all or will do poorly paid unskilled work that doesn't use their skills and talents, it is a shocking waste of human capital.
The financial system has become dislocated from the real economy, seeing its own activities as an end in themselves. It must be restored to its real function of supporting people and businesses.
As traditional skilled jobs are automated, the labour market is splitting in two. A highly-paid, internationally mobile elite is surrounded by a "shanty town" of low-paid, insecure workers.
There is a fundamental conflict at the heart of banking that makes it untenable as a business proposition in the current climate. The traditional model of deposit-taking and lending is broken.
Frances Coppola makes the case for why the banking industry is unlikely to return to business as usual after the crisis.
Frances Coppola explores how increasing automation is fundamentally shifting the nature of work away from 'making stuff' towards personal services.
Frances Coppola argues that flexibility in the labour market could be harming the UK's prospects.
Pieria expert Frances Coppola argues Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff not only missed some data, they also missed the point.
Frances Coppola, Finance writer, talks about 'too-big-to-fail' banks, the role we all played leading up to the crisis, and how George Monbiot got her into blogging.
The entire culture in bank executive management is one of irresponsibility. While people with this attitude remain in place at the top of banks, there will be no real change in banking.
For the first time in history, people have the real prospect of no longer having to work long hours in boring, repetitive and physically debilitating jobs to meet basic needs. We will have more time to spend interacting with each other, caring for each other.
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Why the Euro hasn't depreciated by @Euronomist_Blog - http://t.co/MQJ4Kop5gy
This week's Newsletter is live! - http://t.co/QppAa4cApZ
Offshore wind is too expensive, and that's unlikely to change - http://t.co/l3V2kKf0Eq
Book Review: The Political Integration of Ethnic Minorities in Britain - http://t.co/jPaQsCXuXR
RT @Frances_Coppola: America's greatest export is its debt. My post at @TheWeek now has some very sensible comments http://t.co/0hOYNIxXaq