Sunday, October 26, 2008

What is lacking in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

Requiring all senior management and board members of companies to disclose publicly what they understand and what they do not understand of the business they are in charge of would do wonders for corporate governance, especially when we start hearing so many cries of “I did not know”. For instance, when using sophisticated financial instruments such as derivatives, we could suddenly realize that no one upstairs has a clue of what they, the experts downstairs, are up to, and this could be a quite instructive for the market and the credit-rating agencies when they assess the risks of a corporation.

By having clues I do of course not refer to any specific know-how needed to take apart and put back a carburetor, as very few would be able to do that, and in fact I am not even sure carburetors any longer exist. No, what I refer to is whether they to have a good working knowledge of some basics, like how a car drives, how it brakes, how much gasoline it consumes, and what to do if a tire explodes or an airbag suddenly inflates.

To oblige recognition and acceptance of where the buck really stops both in theory and practice and before mishaps occur could also be useful for shedding light on some systemic risks that, like lava in a volcano, might be building up dangerous pressures underneath the world of finance. It could also provide immediate relief to all those executives living out there, burdened with the constant stress of having to feign that they are in the know.
From Voice and Noise, 2006