Shadow banks helped cause the financial crisis. Better regulated, they could help avert the next one
MARK CARNEY, governor of the Bank of England and head of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an international watchdog set up to guard against future financial crises, was recently asked to identify the greatest danger to the world economy. He chose shadow banking in the emerging markets. Shadow banking certainly has the credentials to be a global bogeyman. It is huge, fast-growing in certain forms and little understood—a powerful tool for good but, if carelessly managed, potentially explosive.
The argument is about credit. In some ways, it is a good thing that lending outside the banking system is expanding. Banks are regulated for a reason: they have big “maturity mismatches” (borrowing money largely for short periods while lending it out for the longer term), enormous leverage and are tangled up in complicated ways with other financial institutions, so they are especially fragile.
The sooner the regime spells out which assets are protected, the sooner investors will take more care about risk. Shadow banking can make finance safer, but only if it is clear whose money is on the line.