Banking regulator was understaffed, says former head

Mary Burke tells of immense pressure in under-resourced office

Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority

Mary Burke, who was in that position from May 2006 to September 2008, said the authority was unable to carry out all its administrative functions as it was so overburdened. She also admitted that there were a number of powers the financial regulator had that it did not use.

“We could have set ratios. We could have set requirements regarding the composition of assets and liabilities,” she said. “We could have imposed conditions on bank licences.”

In 2006, Ms Burke said, there were about 50 staff to supervise some 80 banks. She said that three people were responsible for Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank; three for AIB and Irish Life and Permanent; and four for eight credit institutions, including Irish Nationwide and EBS.

Ms Burke said the authority was under-resourced and overstretched. She said it got three extra staff in 2007, but a request for more resources in May 2008 was refused.

“It is difficult to convey the scale of pressures management and staff in the banking supervisory division were working under, particularly from autumn 2007 onwards,” said Ms Burke, who is now head of prudent policy at the Central Bank.

“It was not a question of somehow multitasking; it was an unrelenting onslaught of demands, with staff working long hours which ultimately became unreasonable.”

Ms Burke said she first became concerned about liquidity in the banks in late 2007; from April 2008 she “started to feel it was more urgent”.

“I wasn’t conscious that we were going to run out of liquidity . . . It was more worry about one individual bank.”

Ms Burke said banks were focused on liquidity and that she did not recall any conversations about solvency. She said meetings were “chaotic” but systemic risks were not foreseen.

Ms Burke said the regulation was not appropriate but that a revision of regulation would not have been a “panacea”.