The global financial crisis led to sweeping financial sector reforms, many of which helped the financial system weather pandemic-related disruptions — but Covid-19 has exposed other vulnerabilities that may require further reforms.
The Financial Stability Board (FSB) published a report on Tuesday that set out its preliminary findings from a review of the pandemic’s effect on the financial system. The FSB called the Covid-19 pandemic “the first major test of the global financial system” since the post-crisis reforms were adopted.
So far, the financial system has passed that test, the FSB said, as the reforms implemented after the financial crisis enhanced the resilience of the system — although significant support was still required from world governments and central banks.
Indeed, without that support, it’s likely that the financial system and the global economy would have suffered much greater damage.
That finding was echoed in a separate report published Tuesday by the Bank of England detailing the results of a review it carried out with the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on investment funds. According to that report, the financial system alone wasn’t capable of handling the stress created by the pandemic.
“Market-based finance risked amplifying rather than dampening the stress,” the report said, adding that without action from governments, regulators and central banks, “it is likely that the stress faced by the financial system would have worsened, driven by self-reinforcing dynamics. Wider bid-ask spreads, higher volatility and larger liquidity risk premia would have led to further difficulties in raising cash for financial institutions.”
These added stresses would have cascaded throughout the financial system and the economy as financial conditions “would have materially tightened, placing the continued financing of UK households and businesses at risk,” the report said.
The joint BoE/FCA report concluded that while markets have functioned well since the initial onset of the pandemic, “there have been signs that fragility remains.”
To address those concerns, the report suggested possible measures to further ease liquidity pressures during periods of market stress and address gaps in regulatory oversight data. This work should be pursued on a coordinated basis, the report said, given the global nature of asset management and financial markets generally.
The FSB report also recognized the persistent risk that markets could exacerbate stress rather than dampen it, suggesting capital and liquidity buffers may need to be reworked in light of the pandemic.
While banks generally did not need to tap their capital and liquidity buffers to meet lending demand, “some evidence suggests that banks may have been hesitant to dip into their buffers had it been needed, in spite of the flexibility embedded in the regulatory framework,” the FSB said.
The FSB noted the Covid-19 crisis also exposed vulnerabilities “stemming from liquidity mismatches, leverage and interconnectedness, which may have caused liquidity imbalances and propagated stress during the ‘dash for cash.’”
There are also still concerns about excessive “procyclicality” in the financial system.
For instance, the FSB said that margin calls in some derivatives markets at the height of the pandemic stress “may have been larger than expected or insufficiently anticipated by market participants.” The FSB also said that investor actions may have amplified liquidity pressures, and regulatory requirements may have reduced the incentive for banks to try to mitigate the imbalances that emerged in some markets.
Additionally, the FSB suggested that “further work may be needed to examine the potential procyclicality of loan loss provisioning arising from the new expected credit loss accounting framework.”
The FSB also stressed the need to enhance the resilience of the shadow banking sector, to fortify crisis management preparations, and to promote financial resilience amid rapid technological change generally. Moreover, it warned that it’s too early to sound the all clear on the current crisis.
“Covid-19 may yet test the resilience of the global financial system,” the FSB cautioned. “Banks and non-bank lenders could face additional losses as support measures are unwound. Addressing debt overhang, including by facilitating the market exit of unviable companies and by promoting the efficient reallocation of resources to viable firms, may be a key task for policymakers going forward.”
The FSB aims to discuss the findings of its preliminary review with industry, policymakers and others in the coming months. Its final report, which will include reform recommendations, will be delivered to the next G20 summit in October.