What role will central banks play in the future?

Policymakers
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

21 February 2017

In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis central banks were faced with establishing a new period of financial stability and re-growing the global economy, but where does the future of monetary policy lie?

To expand past traditionally-defined macroeconomic targets - such as low unemployment figures and steady trade - measures like quantitative easing and negative interest rates were introduced to steady the financial system.

While most agree that such policies had a stabilising influence, their contribution to economic recovery is more of a grey area. As such, two distinct futures for the role of central banks seem to be emerging: further policy expansion or a return to the pre-crisis norm.

Oliver Adler, Head of Global Economic Research International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse, said: "The coming years will be decisive in relation to the future direction of central bank policy, depending on both economic and political developments.

"Even if the influencing factors are difficult to predict, we believe that the discussion of the future of monetary policy needs to be reinforced."

Political and economic developments aside, however, there are a few key indicators of where central banks may be headed.

1. The Basel III framework

In the short term, central banks will be restricted by the regulatory Basel III framework, which was designed to repair some of the lingering damage in the financial sector.

The measures target bank-level regulation and sector-wide risks to strengthen transparency, governance and the ability of the global system to handle periods of stress.

Under the framework, central banks will be unable to reduce their balance sheets to pre-crisis levels due to liquidity requirements. They are also likely to become providers of 'safe' assets to a broader group of counterparties and may be expected to play an increasing role as funding providers, even in stable times.

This requires central banks to hold an increased level of capital and therefore implement non-payment insurance policies or credit insurance as a way to transfer risk.

2. Divergence and normalisation

With the US Federal Reserve System making gradual moves to normalise monetary policy by hiking interest rates a little at a time, the question remains whether other banks will follow suit.

This is largely dependent on the scope afforded by the markets for change. Rising employment and accelerating economic activity in both emerging and developed nations would need to continue and new policy would be unavoidable.

Rapid expansion of the market and its associated risks require the attention of banks and policymakers, sooner rather than later.

However, these decisions would also be subject to political factors and influence, as well as the pressure to repair the 'secular stagnation' feared to be at the root of stalled growth in various markets.

In addition, when taking the current level of transformative economic change into account, it may be fair to argue that a return to pre-crisis operations is no longer possible.

3. Digital disruption

New technologies like blockchain, which would need to be embedded into the existing financial system, are becoming a key factor in fiscal decision-making.

Several uses for the technology are currently being explored, with the potential for stock exchange clearing, governmental compliance and even personal identification having far-reaching implications for society as a whole.

The International Monetary Fund highlighted virtual currency in a white paper earlier this year, noting that the rapid expansion of the market and its associated risks required the attention of banks and policymakers, sooner rather than later.

How far central banks take this route will be determined by political considerations, and by the banking sector's willingness to embrace financial technology advances.


What are your predictions for the future of monetary policy? Tell us in the comments below.

Topics

  • Political landscape

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