Former Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig warned banks Thursday to shield their auditing and accounting departments from the cost-cutting ax.
"Cut into the meat of these areas at your peril," Mr. Ludwig told the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' annual conference on banks. "It is precisely at this point in the economy-when one sees a little less robust economy-that sound accounting and control practices are most crucial."
The Asian financial crisis offers a cautionary tale for the industry, said Mr. Ludwig, who in April became a vice chairman of Bankers Trust Corp. Banks in East Asia with lax internal controls collapsed, brought down their local economies, and then sparked economic problems in Russia and other parts of world.
He also advised banks to abandon their staid traditions and embrace new technologies such as electronic delivery of financial services to homes. Information technology, high-speed communications, and globalization will be the three key forces shaping the banking industry in the future, he said.
"The hallmarks of banking and finance in the 21st century will be change and speed," he said.