SURGERY is an appealingly radical way of dealing with a diseased organ, but it can have a damaging effect on the rest of the body. That’s one reason why separating the investment and commercial wings of large “universal” banks is the wrong way of going about protecting taxpayers from reckless bankers.
The debate about splitting up universal banks has been rumbling since the start of the crisis, when behemoths such as Citigroup and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) nearly collapsed, but has reignited recently.
Sandy Weill was the man who stitched Citigroup together in the 1990s and in the process helped bury the Glass-Steagall act, a Depression-era law separating retail and investment banking. Last month he performed a perfect pivot: he now wants regulators to undo his previous work. The idea is also on European minds. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, says he would “not exclude” a division of this kind. And Vince Cable, Britain’s business secretary, fancies carving up RBS.