UK banking industry an ‘accident waiting to happen’

Bank of England stress tests have given 'false comfort' to the financial sector
Bank of England stress tests have given 'false comfort' to the financial sector

Britain’s finance sector is an “accident waiting to happen”, according to a report branding the Bank of England’s stress tests as “worse than useless”.

A study by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) said the Bank’s tests - designed to measure whether a bank could withstand a severe financial shock - give false comfort by overstating the resilience of the finance sector.

It said major UK banks remain too highly leveraged and would all fail a stress test if it was based on market value of bank capital rather than book value.

It comes as the banking industry marks 10 years since the collapse of Northern Rock, which acted as a precursor to the global financial crisis.

Prof Kevin Dowd, senior fellow of the ASI and author of the report, said: “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer.

“They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of the UK banks that simply isn’t there.

“It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measure of leverage - those based on market values - indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then.

“The biggest risk facing the UK banking system now is the Bank of England’s own complacency.”

The report said high bank leverage had helped fan the flames of the financial crisis, while market valuations of UK lenders indicate that some have hidden losses.

Asked whether efforts to root out bad behaviour within the financial system have worked, Prof Dowd told the Press Association: “The reform of corporate governance has been pretty menial.

“The problem is that senior bankers don’t have enough incentive to avoid excessive risks.

“There has to be strict liability of bank directors so they have serious skin in the game.”