Lessons from the Financial Crisis

Lessons from the Financial Crisis

(Editor’s Note: This post comes from Mats Isaksson of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.)

The OECD Steering group has recently issued a report entitled “Corporate Governance Lessons from the Financial Crisis.”

This Report concludes that the financial crisis can be to an important extent attributed to failures and weaknesses in corporate governance arrangements. When they were put to a test, corporate governance routines did not serve their purpose to safeguard against excessive risk taking in a number of financial services companies. A number of weaknesses have been apparent. The risk management systems have failed in many cases due to corporate governance procedures rather than the inadequacy of computer models alone: information about exposures in a number of cases did not reach the board and even senior levels of management, while risk management was often activity rather than enterprise-based. These are board responsibilities. In other cases, boards had approved strategy but then did not establish suitable metrics to monitor its implementation. Company disclosures about foreseeable risk factors and about the systems in place for monitoring and managing risk have also left a lot to be desired even though this is a key element of the Principles. Accounting standards and regulatory requirements have also proved insufficient in some areas leading the relevant standard setters to undertake a review. Last but not least, remuneration systems have in a number of cases not been closely related to the strategy and risk appetite of the company and its longer term interests.

The Report also suggests that the importance of qualified board oversight, and robust risk management including reference to widely accepted standards is not limited to financial institutions. It is also an essential, but often neglected, governance aspect in large, complex non-financial companies. Potential weaknesses in board composition and competence have been apparent for some time and widely debated. The remuneration of boards and senior management also remains a highly controversial issue in many OECD countries.

The current turmoil suggests a need for the OECD, through the Steering Group on Corporate Governance, to re-examine the adequacy of its corporate governance principles in these key areas in order to judge whether additional guidance and/or clarification is needed. In some cases, implementation might be lacking and documentation about the existing situation and the likely causes would be important. There might also be a need to revise some advice and examples contained in the OECD Methodology for Assessing the Implementation of the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance.

The full report can be found here.