September 23, 2011 2 Comments
A recent op-ed article in the Financial Times by noted author and professor, Frank Portnoy, raises the question about the need to hold corporate managers personally accountable for gross negligence when they do not monitor risks. Mr. Portnoy proposes having senior executives at major banks certify that they are actively monitoring the risks taken in areas such as trading desks that have resulted in recent losses due to rogue trading activities. He summarizes his view in the following way.
Current rules permit directors and officers to avoid personal liability for gross negligence. That is a wise rule for most business decisions: courts are generally not skilled at assessing business judgment. But risk is different. Why should a bank manager who is grossly negligent in supervising risk avoid liability?
Shareholders might never be able to understand the risks of modern banks, and current regulatory approaches will not give them much confidence. But if they knew that senior managers had agreed to be personally liable for gross negligence in monitoring risk, they might trust the banks more. Without trust, it is hard to see how banks can recover.
Mr. Portnoy is correct to promote the notion of greater accountability for monitoring risk. However, attaching personal liability to executives may not necessarily be the best method. It would be very difficult to define what is an adequate level of risk monitoring since it really differs for every institution. That is why the industry is so heavily regulated. However, Mr. Portnoy is certainly on point in the fact that stronger risk monitoring is needed to rebuild trust in banks.