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International rules needed on banking.


WE may be facing a run on the banks, but at least we are not threatened by an invasion of kilted Scotsmen. At least not until the next big cross border sporting fixture.

In 1745 it was different. Then, there was a run on the Bank of England when news reached London that Bonnie Prince Charlie, at the head of a Jacobite army of Highlanders, had marched as far as Derby.

Anxious depositors besieged the Bank to withdraw their money, but it survived by paying them out in sixpences, which slowed things enough to allow the panic to subside.

Last summer I tried ringing Adam Applegarth to advise him to do the same at Northern Rock, but, for some reason, he wouldn't take my calls.

But maybe it wouldn't have worked, and not just because we no longer have sixpences.

In fact, modern information and communications technology means we could have a run on a bank and hardly be aware of it.

It is reported that Northern Rock lost pounds 14bn in withdrawn savings between the start of the crisis and the end of 2007 and two thirds of these withdrawals were by telephone and online. While this may not look as damaging as having queues snaking around the block, it can happen a lot faster and so its results can be even more devastating.

This should be remembered when the dust settles and politicians set about devising new and tighter regulations for the financial sector. The first lesson to be derived from it is that there is no point in legislators behaving like generals preparing to fight the last war. Rather they must draw up a regulatory framework which will be relevant to the technology and financial systems and instruments, not just of today, but of tomorrow.

Secondly, they must bear in mind that people can move their money easily and they can move it more or less anywhere. If a future UK banking sector is overburdened with rules that make it and its products unattractive to savers, then other banks, perhaps in the Far East or Middle East, may offer better deals and they will win the business.

It is in the UK's vital interests, therefore, that any new regulatory regime is international. Otherwise, the most important part of our economy could be lost.

Today, we could have a run on a bank and hardly be aware of it
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 9, 2008
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