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Bank of England 'oblivious to crash'

21/01/15

The Bank of England did not appreciate what was actually happening at the start of the 2007-09 financial crisis, new documents have revealed.

In a speech following the financial crisis, the then Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King related that, when briefing the queen on the situation, she had asked: "Why did nobody see this coming?"

Many others will have asked that question - and suspicions that the Bank itself had no idea what was on the horizon have been essentially confirmed by the release of new papers covering the 2007-09 period.

Meetings of the Bank's I think court revealed, for example, that its members were not even aware how bad the situation was at Northern Rock until the decision was made to rescue it.

There were also rapid changes of mind over the level of regulation that was appropriate to prevent a crisis in the financial sector - demonstrating that previous assumptions that the system was adequate had proved ill-judged.

Indeed, even after the near-collapse of Northern Rock, the board concluded that the tripartite system then in place that split regulatory responsibility between the FSA, Treasury and the bank itself had proved effective.

These findings may have instructive lessons for financial services firms today, ones that those seeking accountancy and audit jobs could have a major role in tackling.

By indicating that hubris and complacency played a big part in allowing the crisis to snowball, it will act as a reminder that even with new efforts to tighten regulation in recent years, unexpected problems may occur and catch some unawares and ill-prepared to handle them.

For that reason, financial institutions might need to take extra care to ensure their positions are stable, for example by considering potential areas of weakness not covered by the stress tests.

Discussing the release of the papers, Bank of England governor Mark Craney said: “The financial crisis was a turning point in the Bank’s history. These minutes provide further insight into the Bank’s actions during the exceptional period - the policies implemented to mitigate the crisis, the lessons that were learnt and how the Bank changed as a result.”

However, chairman of the Treasury select committee Andrew Tyrie said the papers show how much "groupthink" was taking place among the Bank's higher echelons during the crisis.

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