Business Irish

Monday 21 January 2019

Sheriff Elderfield rides in to clean up town

Joe Brennan

There's a new sheriff in town. And 10 weeks into the job, he has made it clear to the country's top financial figures that the days of lax financial regulation are over.

Matthew Elderfield, the country's new head of financial regulation, acknowledged yesterday that "weakness in regulation contributed to the financial crisis in Ireland".

He vowed to undertake a "fundamental overhaul" of the regulatory regime.

He didn't mince his words when he said there had been "fundamental failings in corporate governance" in financial institutions in this country.

He plans to come up with a set of proposals covering corporate governance standards, tougher fitness and probity requirements and guidelines on remuneration and risk trading.

The watchdog does not currently have any statutory powers in the area of fitness and probity of top bankers -- a fact that is likely to have shocked its new boss.

This needs to change.

Drill deep

Mr Elderfield has also vowed to drill deep into the risk models of the so-called high impact firms -- the likes of the systemically important banks and some of the larger IFSC firms.

"Those with a poor track record should not expect to receive the benefit of doubt from me or my staff when the best approach to addressing a risk is a point of contention between us," he said.

An obvious solution for wayward bank boards in future would be for the regulator to put up their capital requirements or restrict their activities -- powers that it already has.

Many of the regulations coming down the tracks, however, are being set internationally, by the likes of the influential Basel Committee on banking supervision and the European Union.

Mr Elderfield will also have a head of policy and risk in future, which should hopefully help Ireland influence the important debates on future capital and liquidity requirements.

It should also oversee the enforcement of important new solvency rules for insurance companies and the so-called hedge funds directive for the funds industry.

"We need to enhance our advocacy and policy capability so that we can punch above our weight to influence these debates in Europe and to help assist industry with the process of implementation in Ireland," said Mr Elderfield.

It is encouraging that the regulator has also, at last, decided to set up a special investigations unit for the first time, rather than dragging staff off other projects to probe alleged wrongdoings on an ad-hoc basis.

The new head of enforcement, due to be announced within weeks, will initially be tasked with reviewing his or her staffing and necessary powers.

"Ireland is competing as a premier financial services centre. But you can't referee a Premier League match with one linesman and no red card in your pocket," said Elderfield.

"It's important that we have the resources and powers needed to do the job."

While the new financial marshal delivered a strong mission of intent yesterday, his ability to deliver largely depends on whether the Government is prepared to give him the right set of sharp gnashers.

Irish Independent

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