The European Central Bank has banned its top officials from picking stocks and bonds or making short-term trades after a string of scandals at the Federal Reserve and backlash at home.
Rate setters and bank supervisors at the ECB will no longer be allowed to invest in individual stocks or bonds but only in “broadly diversified” funds and will have to hold those investments for at least one year, from one month previously.
Reuters was first to report last year that 13 out of 25 members of the ECB’s Governing Council had picked their own funds, stocks and bonds – in some cases including government debt the ECB is hoovering up under its stimulus programs or shares in companies whose debt it buys.
As the ECB has the power to sway financial markets – as it did just this Thursday by signalling its intention to raise rates more than expected – this triggered a backlash from lawmakers, academics and transparency activists.
Some of their suggestions were taken on board by the ECB in its new Code of Conduct, which will come into force on Jan. 1, 2023.
Among other changes, top ECB officials will need to notify the ECB’s Ethics Committee 30 days before making any transaction worth more than 50,000 euros ($72,553).
The ECB’s Ethics Committee is appointed by the Governing Council and currently includes two former members – Patrick Honohan and Erkki Liikanen – and Virginia Canter, previously an ethics adviser to U.S. presidents and the International Monetary Fund.
ECB officials covered by the new rules will also have to disclose all investments carried out in the last calendar year, with the information published yearly on the bank’s website.
Their spouses and minor children will also be expected to report any transaction worth more than 10,000 euros to the ECB, though these will not be made public.
The ECB will let top officials keep hold of any existing investment even if it is banned by the new rules, provided that they do not make any further purchases and seek the Ethics Committee’s approval before selling.
Still, the latest disclosures showed that board member Isabel Schnabel, for one, had already off-loaded the lengthy list of single stocks she owned.
The Fed has been rattled by a series of trading controversies over the past year that saw three policy makers, including then-deputy chair Richard Clarida step down early.
Over recent weeks, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic also acknowledged that over the last few years he had accidentally broken standards then in place defining permissible investment activity.