Your browser is not supported

Our website does not support the browser you are using. For a better browsing experience update to a compatible browser like the latest browsers from Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Memorandum on trans-Tasman banking supervision regulation and crisis management

The content of a memorandum and background paper dated 9 July 2004 from the Governor of the Reserve Bank (Alan Bollard) to the Minister of Finance (Michael Cullen) in advance of a discussion with the Australian Treasurer (Peter Costello). The memorandum covers trans-Tasman banking supervision, regulation and crisis management.

The Chairman of the Reserve Bank Board, Dr Arthur Grimes, briefed me on his meeting with you on 6 July regarding the joint trans-Tasman banking report. On the basis of his briefing, I am providing you with some talking points that you could draw on in your next discussion with Peter Costello.

I believe that it is important to emphasise the significant benefits for both parties of the 'enhanced home-host' banking supervision model for New Zealand and Australia, as discussed in the report. These benefits were not adequately highlighted in the working group's joint report due to the significant distraction caused by some team members' focus on specific, and short-term, commercial considerations for banks.

Putting those distractions aside, the Reserve Bank is not alone in considering the advancement of home-host and crisis management issues both necessary and of significant mutual benefit. [...] (Section 105(8) Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act) and was highlighted in the recent Financial Sector Assessment Programme.

It is also important to emphasise the very significant difficulties involved with an 'APRA supervises' or 'joint supervision' model. The separation of supervision and regulation from failure management responsibilities is very risky, especially so when jurisdictional boundaries are crossed and there is a separation of taxpayer from shareholder.

Australia has noted the growing relative importance of the New Zealand component of their banks balance sheets, as a reason for their interest in further integration of supervision and regulation. This New Zealand ‘component' is currently less than 15 percent of the four largest Australian bank group assets.

In contrast, foreign banks make up 98 percent of the New Zealand banking system. As such, it is extremely important that New Zealand retains an ability to regulate, supervise, and manage a banking crisis effectively, and to consider any changes that would undermine this ability very cautiously.

I provide a separate background paper on the causes, frequency, magnitude and implications of banking crises, as well as the effectiveness of regulatory responses in minimising such economic damage.

Talking points

The benefits of an enhanced home-host banking supervision and regulation framework

  • The enhanced home-host framework discussed in the joint report provides both countries crisis management that can work, while ensuring that the day-to-day supervisory issues are managed efficiently.
  • APRA and the RBA agree with us that a coordinated crisis management is critical for effective bank failure management where there is such a high level of trans-Tasman banking interdependency.
  • The enhanced home/host model allows resolution in this area faster than with more complicated 'APRA as supervisor' or 'joint supervision' models. These alternatives get into complex issues around insolvency, taxation, competition law, and other hard conflicting policy areas. This would make crisis resolution very slow without improving the efficiency of the industry.

Other key advances under the enhanced home-host model approach include the following.

Help Finance Ministers

  • The model clearly lays out respective responsibilities and roles for liquidity provision in different kinds of crises, and addressed financial burden sharing.

Help depositors and others

  • On failure management the focus will be on decision-making protocols that work, ensuring disputes between regulators, depositors and shareholders are minimised, and that essential technical services don't breakdown.
  • These protocols will ensure that New Zealand and Australia are not in a position whereby rational, independent, national decisions are made that leave depositors and the financial system in either or both countries worse off; e.g. an asset grab at the time of bank failure.

Integration of disclosure requirements

  • The RBNZ will review its disclosure requirements to ensure that they effectively dovetail with Australia Stock Exchange, securities and prudential disclosure requirements. This will further reduce compliance costs on Australian-owned banks in New Zealand.

Close gaps in the effective reach of Australian supervision

  • The RBNZ will make two significant changes to its supervisory model that will strengthen the effective reach of APRA's supervisory rules. Upon their introduction, the Australian banks operating in New Zealand will mostly be subject to the same rules as their parent.
  • [...] (Section 105(8) Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act)
  • [...] (Section 105(8) Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act)

Greater coordination of supervisory process

  • Both countries will be able to coordinate onsite inspections.
  • Any special third party reports on bank activities will also be consulted on between regulators and coordinated if desired.
  • Any actions against banks will also be consulted on and coordinated if necessary.
  • These actions will result in less compliance costs on banks and better supervisory outcomes.

Implementation of Basel II with minimal compliance cost

  • The Reserve Bank is committed to a consultative approach with APRA and the banks to reduce compliance costs to a minimum.
  • If a different approach means unwarranted costs for the banks, the RBNZ will act on this.


  • The Reserve Bank will take a case-by-case approach to banks when considering outsourcing arrangements.
  • The RBNZ's will focus only on the resource and people requirements that are absolutely necessary in a failure management situation.

In summary, the Reserve Bank is committed to making progress in these areas due to their necessity and the significant benefits that will accrue to both countries.

Dr A E Bollard


ac. John Whitehead


Background paper

Bank regulation and crisis management

  • Banks continue to increase their financial leverage globally and fail at a frequent rate. Some of the increase in bank leverage is a response to increased regulation and the implicit taxpayer guarantee this brings.
  • Bank failures continue to be very expensive for developed and developing economies.
  • Bank failure management techniques can constrain the costs of a bank failure considerably if effective powers, purposes and capacity are in place.
  • Cross-jurisdictional failure management is more complex, with competing priorities and conflicts of interest prevalent. These conflicts arise during times of stress and urgency.


Banks are the cornerstone of the New Zealand financial system. However, banks that operate in New Zealand, as elsewhere, are potentially fragile because of the high degree of leverage they operate under. The wider New Zealand economy is also vulnerable due to its high reliance on foreign savings for investment and private sector indebtedness. Moreover, 98 percent of our system assets are foreign owned, and it is vitally important that New Zealand retains its ability to regulate, supervise, and manage a banking crisis effectively.

A bank's financial leverage is sustainable as long as its reputation for sound management is sustained. The maintenance of a sound reputation comes from a combination of self, market and regulatory incentives. However, 'survival on reputation' is a double-edged sword.

Banks are one of the few industries in which the 'fear of failure' can lead to its demise. Hence, the financial risks must be identified and owned by those taking them, information must be disclosed for investors and depositors, and there should be no belief by all concerned that some kind of implicit guarantee exists.

Governments around the world have tried to address bank financial fragility through various forms of implicit or explicit guarantees, and a raft of regulatory requirements. Despite this, banks continue to fail at a frequent rate and banks continue to take on an increasing leverage.

The Reserve Bank approach has been to enforce clear ownership responsibilities and penalties, reduce any perception of government guarantees, and have credible and effective failure management policies. Credible and effective failure management implies having the legal powers and purpose for the swift action that is needed in a bank failure situation, as well as the capacity to manage a financial crisis. These powers and purpose must not lead to an increase the chance of the crisis occurring in the first place.

International comparisons show that crisis management structures that are well designed, prepared, and aligned with sovereign incentives can be very effective.

Frequency and costs of bank crises

  • Bank crises are frequent: Since the mid-1970s there have been nearly 120 systemic bank crises (more than once for some countries), and another 50 or so near-crises in 45 countries. Thus, more than one half of all countries in nearly all parts of the world have experienced serious banking crises in recent memory. Many of the countries that did not suffer such crises are emerging economies that do not have a functioning banking system.
  • The costs of these crises have been high: An IMF found 54 banking crises between 1975 and 1997 reported that GDP during the crises averaged nearly 12 percent below trend output and that it took these countries, on average, three years to recover.
  • Crises in developed countries are not rare: Table 1 provides an indication of the costs of some recent crises. It is worth noting also, that there are many 'near misses' that are not captured in the research, because of government involvement, possibly financial, implicit guarantees and so on have headed off the crisis.
  • The cost of the crisis is related to how well it was resolved domestically: Countries that have been able to undertake prompt corrective action have generally faired best by a significant margin.

Table 1: Fiscal costs of some recent crises in developed countries (in percent of GDP)

Country Year Gross cost Net cost*
Finland 1991-1993 12.8 11.2
Korea 1997-2000 31.2 23.1
1987-1989 2.5
United States

* Net cost is gross less recovery

  • Resolution of the New Zealand bank insolvencies of the late 1980s is estimated to have cost taxpayers about 2 percent of GDP – about the same as the US savings and loan failures of the 1980s and one half of the cost of Australian failures in the same period.
  • In the late 1980s and early 1990s several financial institutions in New Zealand got into difficulties. Most prominent among these were the BNZ and Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The BNZ had to be recapitalised twice. This included government support as the government was the majority owner of the BNZ (in 1990 the government invested an additional $620 million in BNZ).
  • Serious incidents (that could have led to crisis) are more common then most people realise. In addition to the DFC and BNZ, several other institutions suffered significant losses and were either supported by their parent (i.e. the government in very uncomfortable circumstances) or raised additional funds from the market. These included [...] (Section 105(8) Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act). A number of branches of foreign banks also got into difficulties during this period. In the mid-1980s there were also runs on two building societies (Countrywide and United), and Broadbank in the 1980s suffered heavy trading losses.
  • In Australia during the same period the State Bank of South Australia and the State Bank of Victoria, both owned by state governments, suffered losses of more than three times the 1989 level of their capital. Westpac Bank suffered large losses and had to go to the market for a large capital raising exercise with considerable government attention. The ANZ also suffered large losses.
  • Banking crises often coincide with currency crises. Roughly, 70 percent of banking crises coincided with or were followed by a currency crisis, while 25 percent of currency crises were followed by a banking crisis. A 'twin' crisis usually doubles the cost to GDP.
  • We estimate that a New Zealand currency crisis alone (that is, without an accompanying banking crisis) could cost 4 percent of GDP. Given the unusually high degree of off-shore funding the probability of a 'twin' crisis for New Zealand will be somewhat higher.
  • New Zealand alone is responsible for New Zealand dollar liquidity and for the expertise needed to make judgements about the macroeconomic and exchange rate impacts on New Zealand.
  • [...] (Section 105(8) Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act) for reasons of confidentiality we cannot go into detail, but bear in mind that as banking regulators we deal with many issues. Recent examples include: [...] (Section 105(8)Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act)
  • Australian banks will suffer problems in the future. We are more exposed to banking risk from one country than is any comparable country.

The role of authorities in a crisis

If there was a banking crisis in New Zealand, its impact will be immediately felt in New Zealand's financial market, payments systems, credit markets, and on monetary conditions and on the New Zealand dollar.

As well as dealing with the banking issues, the Reserve Bank will have to deal with these other issues in a coherent and timely manner (often within hours) – such as respond to the need to stem the New Zealand dollar liquidity crisis (the liabilities of the banking system must be stabilised and the run on deposits stopped); removing insolvent or non-viable banks from the system and restoring financial soundness; and restructuring non-performing loans and operational restructuring of bank borrowers.

It would be very difficult for an Australian crisis manager to effectively fulfil this role first because their responsibilities and expertise will not cover the full range of New Zealand specific issues; and second because their incentives may not be aligned with New Zealand's (e.g. because the relative size of the failing institution could mean that it is systemically important in New Zealand, but not to Australia, the event may be lower priority, there may be political pressures and so on).

The DFC experience

  • Even though the DFC was only the 7th largest financial institution in New Zealand at the time, was not a settlement bank, and had only small retail funding it was a major systemic event. It severely knocked confidence in the financial system for a significant period of time, it affected international investor views of New Zealand, and it affected substantial numbers of borrowers with funding from DFC (many of which subsequently went into liquidation or receivership). A large retail bank crisis would be much worse.
  • Resolution absorbed a huge amount of time and resources (from the Governor down) at the RBNZ and a substantial input from Treasury, among many others for many months. A settlement bank failure would require even more time. It also required local knowledge (e.g. of bank exposures to DFC, the local swap market, the effect on borrowers, knowing which candidates might be best suited to being statutory manager, knowledge of conflicts of interest, and familiarity with the local news media, amongst other things).
  • Would this have been different under an 'APRA as a supervisor' or 'joint supervisor' model? DFC would be a very small percentage of the total Australasian market, and may not get the priority needed to protect the integrity of, and confidence in, the New Zealand banking system, nor would they have the local knowledge. The options that APRA have in dealing with a crisis are more limited that those available to the New Zealand Government – for example, recapitalising a bank with shareholder funds without undermining the disciple of the system. Communications would be considerably more difficult, as would some jurisdictional issues.