Bank for International Settlements

Bank for International Settlements

BIS members
Established 17 May 1930
Type International financial institution
Purpose Central bank cooperation
Coordinates 47°32′53″N 7°35′31″E / 47.54806°N 7.59194°E / 47.54806; 7.59194Coordinates: 47°32′53″N 7°35′31″E / 47.54806°N 7.59194°E / 47.54806; 7.59194
60 central banks
Jaime Caruana
Main organ
Board of directors[1]

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is an international financial institution[2] owned by central banks which "fosters international monetary and financial cooperation and serves as a bank for central banks".[3] The BIS carries out its work through its meetings programmes and through the Basel Process – hosting international groups pursuing global financial stability and facilitating their interaction. It also provides banking services, but only to central banks and other international organizations. It is based in Basel, Switzerland, with representative offices in Hong Kong and Mexico City.


BIS main building in Basel, Switzerland

The BIS was established in 1930 by an intergovernmental agreement between Germany, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, the United States and Switzerland.[4][5] It opened its doors in Basel, Switzerland on 17 May 1930.

The BIS was originally intended to facilitate reparations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, and to act as the trustee for the German Government International Loan (Young Loan) that was floated in 1930.[6] The need to establish a dedicated institution for this purpose was suggested in 1929 by the Young Committee, and was agreed to in August of that year at a conference at The Hague. A charter for the bank was drafted at the International Bankers Conference at Baden-Baden in November, and its charter was adopted at a second Hague Conference on January 20, 1930. According to the charter, shares in the bank could be held by individuals and non-governmental entities. However, the rights of voting and representation at the Bank’s General Meeting were to be exercised exclusively by the central banks of the countries in which the shares had been initially subscribed. The BIS was constituted as having corporate existence in Switzerland on the basis of an agreement with Switzerland acting as headquarters state for the bank. It also enjoyed certain immunities in the contracting states (Brussels Protocol 1936).

The BIS’s original task of facilitating World War I reparation payments quickly became obsolete. Reparation payments were first suspended (Hoover moratorium, June 1931) and then abolished altogether (Lausanne Agreement, July 1932). Instead, the BIS focused on its second statutory task, i.e. fostering the cooperation between its member central banks. It acted as a meeting forum for central banks and provided banking facilities to them. For instance, in the late 1930s, the BIS was instrumental in helping continental European central banks shipping out part of their gold reserves to London and New York.[7] At the same time, the BIS fell under the spell of the appeasement illusion. The most notorious incident in this context was the transfer of 23 tons of gold held by the BIS in London on behalf of the Czechoslovakian national bank to the German Reichsbank after Nazi Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939.[8]

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the BIS Board of Directors – on which the main European central banks were represented – decided that the Bank should remain open, but that, for the duration of hostilities, no meetings of the Board of Directors were to take place and that the Bank should maintain a neutral stance in the conduct of its business. However, as the war dragged on evidence mounted that the BIS conducted operations that were helpful to the Germans. Also, throughout the war, the BIS accepted gold from the German Reichsbank in payment for prewar obligations linked to the Young Plan. This in spite of repeated Allied warnings not to accept gold or other assets from Nazi Germany. It later transpired that much of this gold had been looted (and subsequently remelted) by the Germans from the central banks in occupied territories. Some of this remelted gold included gold rings and other items from labor and prison camp victims.[9] Operations conducted by the BIS were viewed with increasing suspicion from London and Washington. The fact that top level German industrialists and advisors sat on the BIS board seemed to provide ample evidence of how the BIS might be used by Hitler throughout the war, with the help of American, British and French banks. Between 1933 and 1945 the BIS board of directors included Walther Funk, a prominent Nazi official, and Emil Puhl, as well as Hermann Schmitz, the director of IG Farben and Baron von Schroeder, the owner of the J.H. Stein Bank.

The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference recommended the "liquidation of the Bank for International Settlements at the earliest possible moment". This resulted in the BIS being the subject of a disagreement between the U.S. and British delegations. The liquidation of the bank was supported by other European delegates, as well as the United States (including Harry Dexter White and Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury),[10] but opposed by John Maynard Keynes, head of the British delegation.

Fearing that the BIS would be dissolved, Keynes went to Morgenthau hoping to prevent the dissolution, or have it postponed, but the next day the dissolution of the BIS was approved. However, the liquidation of the bank was never actually undertaken.[11] In April 1945, the new U.S. president Harry S. Truman and the British government suspended the dissolution, and the decision to liquidate the BIS was officially reversed in 1948.[12]

After the Second World War, the BIS retained an outspoken European focus. It acted as Agent for the European Payments Union (EPU, 1950–58), an intra-European clearing arrangement designed to help the European countries in restoring currency convertibility and free, multilateral trade.[13] During the 1960s – the heyday of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system – the BIS once again became the locus for transatlantic monetary cooperation. It coordinated the central banks’ Gold Pool and a number of currency support operations (e.g. Sterling Group Arrangements of 1966 and 1968). The Group of Ten (G10), including the main European economies, Canada, Japan and the United States, became the most prominent grouping.

With the end of the Bretton Woods system (1971–73) and the transition to floating exchange rates, financial stability issues came to the fore. The collapse of internationally active banks, such as Bankhaus Herstatt (1974), highlighted the need for improved banking supervision at an international level. The G10 Governors created the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision (BCBS), which remains active to this day. The BIS developed into a global meeting place for regulators and for developing international standards (Basel Concordat, Basel Capital Accord, Basel II and III). Through its member central banks, the BIS was actively involved in the resolution of the Latin American debt crisis (1982).

From 1964 until 1993, the BIS provided the secretariat for the Committee of Governors of the Central Banks of the Member States of the European Community (Committee of Governors).[14] This Committee had been created by European Council decision to improve monetary cooperation among the EC central banks. Likewise, the BIS in 1988-89 hosted most of the meetings of the Delors Committee (Committee for the Study of Economic and Monetary Union), which produced a blueprint for monetary unification subsequently adopted in the Maastricht Treaty (1992). In 1993, when the Committee of Governors was replaced by the European Monetary Institute (EMI – the precursor of the ECB), it moved location from Basel to Frankfurt, cutting its ties with the BIS.

In the 1990s-2000s, the BIS successfully globalised, breaking out of its traditional European core. This was reflected in a gradual increase in its membership (from 33 shareholding central bank members in 1995 to 60 in 2013, which together represent roughly 95% of global GDP), and also in the much more global composition of the BIS Board of Directors. In 1998, the BIS opened a Representative Office for Asia and the Pacific in the Hong Kong SAR. A BIS Representative Office for the Americas was established in 2002 in Mexico DF.

The BIS was originally owned by both central banks and private individuals, since the United States, Belgium and France had decided to sell all or some of the shares allocated to their central banks to private investors. BIS shares traded on stock markets, which made the bank an unusual organization: an international organization (in the technical sense of public international law), yet allowed for private shareholders. Many central banks had similarly started as such private institutions; for example, the Bank of England was privately owned until 1946. In more recent years the BIS has bought back its once publicly traded shares.[15] It is now wholly owned by BIS members (central banks) but still operates in the private market as a counterparty, asset manager and lender for central banks and international financial institutions.[16] Profits from its transactions are used, among other things, to fund the bank's other international activities.

Organization of central banks

As an organization of central banks, the BIS seeks to make monetary policy more predictable and transparent among its 60-member central banks, except in the case of Eurozone countries which forfeited the right to conduct monetary policy in order to implement the euro. While monetary policy is determined by most sovereign nations, it is subject to central and private banking scrutiny and potentially to speculation that affects foreign exchange rates and especially the fate of export economies. Failures to keep monetary policy in line with reality and make monetary reforms in time, preferably as a simultaneous policy among all 60 member banks and also involving the International Monetary Fund, have historically led to losses in the billions as banks try to maintain a policy using open market methods that have proven to be based on unrealistic assumptions.

Central banks do not unilaterally "set" rates, rather they set goals and intervene using their massive financial resources and regulatory powers to achieve monetary targets they set. One reason to coordinate policy closely is to ensure that this does not become too expensive and that opportunities for private arbitrage exploiting shifts in policy or difference in policy, are rare and quickly removed.

Two aspects of monetary policy have proven to be particularly sensitive, and the BIS therefore has two specific goals: to regulate capital adequacy and make reserve requirements transparent.

Regulates capital adequacy

Capital adequacy policy applies to equity and capital assets. These can be overvalued in many circumstances because they do not always reflect current market conditions or adequately assess the risk of every trading position. Accordingly, the Basel standards require the capital/asset ratio of internationally active commercial banks to be above a prescribed minimum international standard, to improve the resilience of the banking sector.

The main role of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, hosted by the BIS, is setting capital adequacy requirements. From an international point of view, ensuring capital adequacy is key for central banks, as speculative lending based on inadequate underlying capital and widely varying liability rules causes economic crises as "bad money drives out good" (Gresham's Law).

Encourages reserve transparency

Reserve policy is also important, especially to consumers and the domestic economy. To ensure liquidity and limit liability to the larger economy, banks cannot create money in specific industries or regions without limit. To make bank depositing and borrowing safer for customers and reduce risk of bank runs, banks are required to set aside or "reserve".

Reserve policy is harder to standardize as it depends on local conditions and is often fine-tuned to make industry-specific or region-specific changes, especially within large developing nations. For instance, the People's Bank of China requires urban banks to hold 7% reserves while letting rural banks continue to hold only 6%, and simultaneously telling all banks that reserve requirements on certain overheated industries would rise sharply or penalties would be laid if investments in them did not stop completely. The PBoC is thus unusual in acting as a national bank, focused on the country not on the currency, but its desire to control asset inflation is increasingly shared among BIS members who fear "bubbles", and among exporting countries that find it difficult to manage the diverse requirements of the domestic economy, especially rural agriculture, and an export economy, especially in manufactured goods.

Effectively, the PBoC sets different reserve levels for domestic and export styles of development. Historically, the United States also did this, by dividing federal monetary management into nine regions, in which the less-developed western United States had looser policies.

For various reasons it has become quite difficult to accurately assess reserves on more than simple loan instruments, and this plus the regional differences has tended to discourage standardizing any reserve rules at the global BIS scale. Historically, the BIS did set some standards which favoured lending money to private landowners (at about 5 to 1) and for-profit corporations (at about 2 to 1) over loans to individuals. These distinctions reflecting classical economics were superseded by policies relying on undifferentiated market values—more in line with neoclassical economics.

Goal: monetary and financial stability

The mission of the BIS is to serve central banks in their pursuit of monetary and financial stability, to foster international cooperation in those areas and to act as a bank for central banks. The BIS pursues its mission by:

The role that the BIS plays today goes beyond its historical role. The original goal of the BIS was "to promote the co-operation of central banks and to provide additional facilities for international financial operations; and to act as trustee or agent in regard to international financial settlements entrusted to it under agreements with the parties concerned", as stated in its Statutes of 1930.

Role in banking supervision

The BIS hosts the Secretariat of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and with it has played a central role in establishing the Basel Capital Accords of 1988, Basel II framework in 2004 and more recently Basel III framework. There remain significant differences between United States, European Union, and United Nations officials regarding the degree of capital adequacy and reserve controls that global banking now requires. Put extremely simply, the United States, as of 2006, favoured strong strict central controls in the spirit of the original 1988 accords, while the EU was more inclined to a distributed system managed collectively with a committee able to approve some exceptions.

The UN agencies, especially ICLEI, are firmly committed to fundamental risk measures: the so-called triple bottom line and were becoming critical of central banking as an institutional structure for ignoring fundamental risks in favour of technical risk management.

Financial results

The balance sheet total of the BIS on 31 March 2015 was SDR 216.8 billion.[17]


The number of countries represented in each continent are: 35 in Europe, 13 in Asia, 5 in South America, 3 in North America, 2 in Oceania, and 2 in Africa. Sixty member central banks or monetary authorities of these countries:


Chairman of the board and president

Chairman Nationality Dates President Nationality Dates
Gates W. McGarrah*  United States of America April 1930 – May 1933 N/A
Leon Fraser*  United States of America May 1933 – May 1935 N/A
Leonardus J. A. Trip*  Netherlands May 1935 – May 1937 N/A
May 1937 – December 1939 J. Willem Beyen  Netherlands May 1937 – December 1939
O. E. Niemeyer*  United Kingdom May 1937 – May 1940 N/A**
January 1940 – June 1946 Thomas H. McKittrick  United States of America January 1940 – June 1946
Ernst Weber   Switzerland December 1942 – November 1945 N/A**
Maurice Frère  Belgium July 1946 – June 1948 N/A**
June 1948 – June 1958 Maurice Frère  Belgium June 1948 – June 1958
Marius W. Holtrop*  Netherlands July 1958 – June 1967 N/A
Jelle Zijlstra*  Netherlands July 1967 – December 1981 N/A
Fritz Leutwiler*   Switzerland January 1982 – December 1984 N/A
Jean Godeaux*  Belgium January 1985 – December 1987 N/A
W. F. Duisenberg*  Netherlands January 1988 – December 1990 N/A
Bengt Dennis*  Sweden January 1991 – December 1993 N/A
W. F. Duisenberg*  Netherlands January 1994 – June 1997 N/A
Alfons Verplaetse*  Belgium July 1997 – February 1999 N/A
Urban Bäckström*  Sweden March 1999 – February 2002 N/A
A. H. E. M. Wellink*  Netherlands March 2002 – February 2006 N/A
Jean-Pierre Roth   Switzerland March 2006 – February 2009 N/A***
Guillermo Ortiz  Mexico March 2009 – December 2009 N/A***
Christian Noyer  France March 2010 – October 2015 N/A***
Jens Weidmann  Germany November 2015 – present N/A***

* President and chairman.
** None.
*** Position abolished on 27 June 2005.


Name Nationality Dates
Raghuram Rajan[19][20]  India November 2015 – present

General managers

Name Nationality Dates
Jaime Caruana  Spain April 2009 – present
Malcolm D. Knight  Canada April 2003 – September 2008
Sir Andrew Crockett  United Kingdom January 1994 – March 2003
Alexandre Lamfalussy  Belgium May 1985 – December 1993
Gunther Schleiminger  Germany 1981 – May 1985
René Larre  France 1971–1981
Gabriel Ferras  France 1963–1971
Guillaume Guindey  France 1958–1963
Roger Auboin  France 1938–1958
Pierre Quesnay  France 1930–1938

Board of directors

See also


  1. "Board of Directors". Archived from the original on 22 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  2. "About BIS". 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2016-03-17.
  3. "About BIS". Web page of  Bank for International Settlements. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved May 17, 2008.
  6. BIS History - Overview. BIS website. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
  8. Kubu, E. (1998), Czechoslovak gold reserves and their surrender to Nazi Germany, In Nazi Gold, The London Conference, London: The Stationery Office, pp. 245-48.
  9. Toniolo, G. (2005), Central Bank Cooperation at the Bank for International Settlements, New York-London: Cambridge University Press, pp. 245-52
  10. United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, Final Act (London et al., 1944), Article IV
  11. Raymond Frech Mikesell. The Bretton Woods Debates: A Memoir. Princeton: International Finance Section, Dept. of Economics, Princeton University. p. 42. ISBN 0-88165-099-4. Retrieved 8 July 2013. Essays in International Finance 192 brief history of the BIS
  12. A brief history of the BIS:
  13. Kaplan, J. J. and Schleiminger, G. (1989), The European Payments Union: Financial Diplomacy in the 1950s, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  14. James, H. (2012), Making the European Monetary Union, The Role of the Committee of Central Bank Governors and the Origins of the European Central Bank, Cambridge-London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  17. Since 2004, the BIS publishes its accounts in terms of special drawing rights (SDRs) - previously, it used as currency the Gold Franc. One SDR is equivalent to the sum of USD 0.660, EUR 0.423, JPY 12.1 and GBP 0.111. The composition of the SDR currency basket is subject to review every five years by the IMF. See BIS Annual Report 2015
  18. "Functionaries of the Board of Directors".
  19. "Raghuram Rajan elected as VC".
  20. "Press release: BIS Board appoints Raghuram Rajan as Vice-Chairman".

External links

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