A Tale of Titans: The Too Important to Fail Conundrum


By Aditya Narain and İnci Ötker-Robe

Folklore is riddled with tales of a lone actor undoing a titan: David and Goliath; Heracles and Atlas; Jack and the Beanstalk, to name a few.

Financial institutions seen as too important to fail have become even larger and more complex since the global crisis. We need look no further than the example of investment bank Lehman Brothers to understand how one financial institution’s failure can threaten the global financial system and create devastating effects to economies around the world. Continue reading

Macroprudential Policy—Filling the Black Hole


By José Viñals

When the global financial system was thrown into crisis, many policymakers were shocked to discover a gaping hole in their policy toolkit.

They have since made significant progress in developing macroprudential policy measures aimed at containing system-wide risks in the financial sector. Yet progress has been uneven. Greater efforts are needed to transform this policy patchwork into an effective crisis-prevention toolkit. 

Given the enormous economic and human cost of the recent financial debacle, I strongly believe that we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for substantial reform. Continue reading

Too Important to Fail?


By José Viñals

Over the past two years, disruptive failures, shotgun marriages, and government bailouts of some household names in the financial industry have placed the age-old issue of “too big to fail” at the center of financial sector policy discussions. As well, the Lehman bankruptcy and government support for AIG extended the “too-big-to-fail” notion from banks to include nonbank financial institutions. And in some cases, the financial institutions in distress were not even particularly big; rather, they were too interconnected, and too important for the functioning of the global financial system, to be allowed to fail.

We need to think about how to deal with such “too-important-to-fail” institutions for at least three reasons. 

  • When institutions are provided with implicit (and explicit) public support, they are apt to take on riskier activities than they otherwise would, with the knowledge that the government will step in if those risks turn out badly. This is called moral hazard
  • Well-run institutions are forced to compete with institutions that are implicitly guaranteed—or even directly financially supported—by the government. This makes for an unlevel playing field in the financial sector. 
  • Government support absorbs valuable public resources, arguably at the expense of more equitable and productive public spending; it could also endanger the fiscal stability of a country.

Continue reading

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