In the wake of Asia's economic crisis, Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig on Monday criticized the weak standards of many foreign regulators.
To protect the international financial system, he called for international agreements that would set global accounting standards, toughen supervision of foreign banks, and reduce the power of politicians to influence credit decisions.
"The stability of financial institutions and the quality of their supervision are critical elements in the whole global financial structure," he said in a speech here to the Institute of International Bankers. Mr. Ludwig's concerns echoed comments by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and bankers earlier in the day.
"Weak banking systems have been shown to be the Achilles' heel of Asia's tiger economies," said Citicorp vice chairman William R. Rhodes.
Without stronger regulation, Asian economies will have trouble restoring confidence in their economies, predicted Mr. Rhodes, senior coordinator of the banking industry's debt renegotiations with South Korea.
Mr. Ludwig complained that inconsistent accounting rules allowed Asian banks to conceal inadequate capital levels and other problems. Foreign regulators must also require institutions to make more financial information available to the public, he said.
"In Southeast Asia, banks' balance sheets were telling us one thing, and the reality was another," Mr. Ludwig said. "We must move rapidly toward achieving worldwide accounting standards that are at least as rigorous as the generally accepted accounting principles in the United States."
He also called on overseas officials to act more quickly to enforce regulations. "Supervisory forbearance in some countries aggravated matters by inhibiting the identification of problems which might otherwise have been addressed in a comprehensive and timely manner."
Governments must also give regulators sufficient staffing and political support to take tough enforcement measures. "Supervisory services in those countries too often were hamstrung by too few examiners with too little training. In a number of cases, banks went four or five years without an on-site examination."
Finally, regulators must take tough enforcement action when needed, he said. "Everything else will count for little if supervisors lack effective powers of enforcement and the will to use them."
Mr. Rubin also pointed to the perilously close links among government, banking, and commercial sectors as a key cause of the crisis. "The essential underpinnings of a modern financial system were either weak or relatively nonexistent," he said.
Mr. Rubin emphasized that International Monetary Fund policies must be updated to ensure that they promote efficient economies, improved public disclosures, better domestic policy management, and burden sharing by lenders.
Though banks and other creditors will suffer "enormous losses" in Asia, international economic bailouts may protect them from some losses. The international financial system should be fixed to make sure that "creditors should bear the full consequences of their actions," Mr. Rubin said.