WASHINGTON — Seeds of further global cooperation on financial services oversight may be sown as the Group of 20 leaders meet here this weekend, but changes are likely to be subtle.
No one is expecting countries to give up any supervisory discretion, but hopes are high that the talks will lay the groundwork for closer collaboration through entities like the Financial Stability Forum, a nine-year-old coalition of national regulatory authorities, central banks, and international supervisory bodies that studies the international financial system's weaknesses and proposes improvements.
A representative from the Forum will attend this weekend's meetings, along with the presidents of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Both the World Bank and the IMF are vying for a stronger international voice, but the Forum's close coordination with the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the International Accounting Standards Board, as well as the specificity of the regulatory changes it has already proposed, could give it an edge.
Greg Wilson, a Treasury official turned industry consultant, said the G-20 countries could agree to do "a better job of working through the FSF on cross-border regulatory and supervisory issues."
"At least give somebody the ability to issue a public alert or go quietly to the regulators in that home country and say, 'Based on these principles that we all agreed to, at the G-20 summit, this is an unsafe and unsound practice, we wanted to bring it to your attention,' " he said. "We'll give you 60 days to correct it. If not we're going to blow the whistle."
In April the Forum released a set of recommendations for financial institutions to strengthen their capital and liquidity standards, adopt better accounting practices, revamp risk management operations, and improve the way they use credit ratings from private agencies. An update released in October was designed to address specific issues that emerged during the height of the financial meltdown.
Svein Andresen, the Forum's secretary general, said regulators need to reduce the procyclical nature of oversight, which exacerbates downturns by requiring higher capital and loss reserves.
"This is not an issue that has any short-term answers, but it is very important that we find ways of dampening the tendency of the financial system to amplify cycles in our economy that produce a lot of damage when they collapse in the manner that they did just now," he said. "We are of course interested in broad-based support for and involvement in these recommendations being taking forward in a very wide context internationally."
Other international bodies have also called for more authority in regulatory oversight. Most notably, the IMF's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has said he would put forth a five-point plan for regulatory restructuring at the G-20 meeting. But the countries involved are unlikely to cede real supervisory power.
"I think that historically there are going to be nations that shy away from the idea of an international regulatory body," said V. Gerard Comizio, a partner at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP. "But perhaps the best that can be hoped for is a consensus on the steps that each country must take to meet a minimum level of adequate supervision."