There’s a changing of the guard at the Bank for International Settlements, the little-known but influential organization that sits at the heart of the world’s financial system.
Agustin Carstens, the former head of Mexico’s central bank, will succeed Jaime Caruana as general manager on Friday. He’s taking charge of an institution that stands out, in an age of increasing transparency and growing disillusionment with elites, as a bastion of global technocracy.
The BIS headquarters towers over Basel like a 70-meter stack of copper coins, serving as a clubhouse for the world’s central bankers and financial rule makers. The likes of Mario Draghi, Janet Yellen and Mark Carney routinely hold confidential gatherings there with colleagues from around the globe.
“Maybe if it didn’t exist you wouldn’t invent it now, but it plays an important role in the central banking world,” said Charlie Bean, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England who co-authored a report on the BIS’s research last year. “It’s the glue that helps keep the fraternity together.”
That hasn’t stopped the BIS, which is owned by central banks and was founded in 1930, from challenging the economic orthodoxy of its own members. By 2003, William White, then economic adviser, and colleague Claudio Borio were pushing for preemptive monetary policy tightening to avoid dangerous asset bubbles, a contrarian view that looked prescient during the financial crisis.
It’s kept beating that drum even as central bankers in the U.S., Europe and Japan slashed interest rates to record lows and launched unprecedented bond-buying programs to fend off deflation. Borio, now head of the monetary and economic department at the BIS, argued in a September speech that central bankers may be underestimating the “generally benign” effects of globalization and technology on inflation, and should rethink their response to deflationary trends.