Britain to reform accountability rules for bankers to help drive growth

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain on Thursday launched a long-awaited consultation on reforming rules brought in after the global financial crisis to make top bankers accountable for their decisions, saying a globally competitive finance sector is key to economic growth.

Britain broke regulatory ground with its Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SM&CR) which applies to senior bankers, and officials at insurers and asset managers.

The regime followed public outrage in the 2007-09 financial crisis over taxpayer bailouts of lenders that saw few individuals punished.

“Overall, the government understands there is broad support for the principles and objectives underpinning the regime,” the finance ministry consultation said.

“However, firms operating within the regime have raised some concerns on certain aspects of the regime with government.” The Bank of England also called for industry views.

Bankers say SM&CR is too bureaucratic and regulators take too long to vet top hires, but City minister Andrew Griffith has already signalled there will be no sweeping roll back of the rules.

UK Finance, a banking industry body, said the regime has led to improvements in behaviours and processes within firms.

“It is sensible to review the overall regime on a periodic basis to ensure it operates effectively, including looking at the current broad criteria for Certified Staff,” a UK Finance spokesperson said.

The consultation asks what impact financial sector officials think the rules have on Britain’s competitiveness as a global financial centre, and what lessons can be learned from other countries which have introduced similar accountability regimes.

“The government also recognises that high standards of regulation and individual conduct are at the heart of the UK’s long-standing success as a global financial hub,” it said. Richard Burger, partner at WilmerHale law firm, said a wholesale change would not be welcomed by the financial services sector, given the significant time and costs incurred in implementing the current regime.

“But any revisions that speed up the authorisation process and reduce the regulatory burden should be well received by both senior managers and their firms,” Burger said.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Jon Boyle, Kirsten Donovan)