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Evans sets out his views on regulation

I took advantage of Incisive Media's close relationship with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services to invite Jonathan Evans, the new chairman, into our offices to meet some of our editors. It led to a fascinating round table discussion on the likely course and impact of regulatory reform.
I think there were two things that struck us most about his views on this: firstly, the importance on the international perspective and, secondly, the relative lack of political blame he attached for the failures of the current system. Of course, he was critical of what he described as "the lack of clarity" in the tripartite regime and its failure to get to grips with systemic risk that eventually almost overwhelmed the entire sector but he implicitly acknowledged that most people went along with the general thrust of regulatory structures (if not delivery) over the last 13 years. This lack of all out criticism of the previous regime meant that he welcomed the decision of Hector Sants, chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, to stay to head up the new prudential regulator that will sit within the Bank of England: "Most people in Parliament think that the continuity offered by Hector Sants is beneficial. The idea that we sack everyone would lead to such a lack of legacy knowledge and that would be a retrograde step."

It was his warnings about the change of mood internationally that deserve the greatest attention. Most of his focus was on Europe where he spent ten years as a member of the European Parliament closely involved in the debates on most of the financial regulations that came out of Brussels in that time. His key warning was that we are can expect alot more regulation from Europe: "We will see significantly more European activity in the financial markets post-crisis. We will see a more activist regime". This, he said, would manifest itself on several levels.

There are going to be new European financial bodies set up in the next few months and the challenge will be to keep these operating at the level of setting out clear principles and acting in a supervisory capacity, leaving detailed regulation to national regulators. There will, nevertheless, continue to be detailed new regulations coming out of the European Union with Solvency II heading the list followed by narrower issues such at the Insurance Mediation Directive which is currently being reviewed. The challenge with all of these will be to ensure uniformity of implementation and enforcement, Mr Evans told our editors. Too often he said he saw MEPs and ministers from countries like France demand amendments to legislation that they had very little intention of enforcing. This will be a familiar secnario to brokers and intermediaries who complain bitterly about UK regulators "gold plating" directives like the IMD while France and Germany drag their heels in implementing them and certainly do little to enforce them.

There was some good news in his views on European attitudes, however. He felt that the initial knee-jerk phase of heaping all the blame onto the Anglo-Saxon model of financial services was now passing. Much of the hostility to British and American banks and investment markets in the immediate aftermath of the financial storm breaking was because they were quick to acknowledge the problems they had while other European institutions kept quiet: "Now the pressure is on non-UK and non-US banks who are having to come clean about the extent of their own holdings of poor quality debt and other threats to their solvency".

He was also asked about the levy on banks that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in his recent Budget which he said was "more modest than the banking sector feared but has still left the public feeling that the banks should pay more", suggesting that the way may be open to come back for more depending on how the economy responds to the crisis measures put in place by the coalition.

His attitude to the coalition? This came up - inevitably. He is an enthusiast. As a pro-European, pro-electoral reform Tory he sees much to praise in the way the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have launched their joint programme and set about implementing it.

For those interested in more of Jonathan Evans' views on regulation and how it will affect the retail financial services sector I made a video with him on this after the round table - this is on
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