The current crisis the world fell into two years ago had certainly the widest range of qualifying attributes: financial, economic, social, industrial, and maybe lethal as it dramatically affected and eventually destroyed lives beyond the point of no return. Described by contemporary economists as the worst ever crisis experienced by America for a hundred years, it was however another repetition of what seems to be a cyclical phenomenon: the 1929 crisis, the energy crisis in 1973, that of 1997, and more recently the internet bubble. And despite the lessons learnt from the past, with the technology evolving exponentially and the refined risk management, societies, corporations, institutions, and governments failed yet again by not having the right controls at the right time, substantially creating spiraling consequences that took investors and the wider public by surprise. The causes of the 2008 crisis raised numerous questions, some of them leading to the foundations of today’s capitalism and one of the common sins of humans: greed. Nevertheless, one could have hoped that, with the dynamic of industrial countries and the norms of audit and compliance such as those of Basel II and III, in which operational risk and credit risk are separated, the international financial system would be protected against the collapse of the bank sector. But this was without counting on the intrinsic failures of these very norms, standards and risk management tools.
As a matter of fact, the crisis finds its roots in a simplified scheme: the lack of accountability, mortgages and default on large amounts of money against little income, and finally the liquidity for which the same institutions failed to have sufficient capitalization to cover immediate large needs when the whole system started to present default cracks. The problem of sufficient capitalization became a recent issue with the rise in the prices of commodities, whereas speculators can highly leverage their buying power without offering a real financial counterpart in exchange. And that’s certainly why French President Sarkozy recently called for more regulations on commodity markets. However, progresses in that sense are yet to be commonly agreed or applied by governments and leaders of industrial countries.
Overall, today it is the review or maybe the prosecution of an entire system that is taking place. Questions and concerns from governments, investors, officials, and ultimately the public have found few relevant answers so far. The lack of accountability and transparency from the protagonists directly or indirectly involved in the crisis has raised anger and consternation worldwide. The cynicism displayed by bankers and financial institutions who announced remarkable profits for the last quarter of 2010 may be perceived as a new alarm bell ringing for another major financial crisis yet to come.
This paper presents some of the key issues the financial crisis brought into light in terms of risk management and lack of control from corporations, banks, auditors, credit agencies, and governments. It does not aim to provide a solution but rather gives the reader a fair understanding of what could have been avoided or improved and what may come again should the global financial modus operandi not be drastically changed.