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Holding banks to account for the financial crisis?

Oonagh Anne McDonald (Visiting Fellow, Institute of Banking and Investment, University of Leeds)

Journal of Financial Crime

ISSN: 1359-0790

Article publication date: 31 December 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which the USA has sought to hold the leading banks to account for the financial crisis and to asses the validity of the methods used. This is the first of two articles which looks at the basis of the Complaints against the banks and the settlements which led to the imposition of large fines on the banks.


The paper first provides an account of the government housing policy from 1995 to 2008 and argues that the cases brought against the banks and then at the legal basis of the charges. The methodology consists of a careful examination of the documentary evidence and an analysis of the changes in the relevant laws used by the Department of Justice when bringing charges against the banks.


The paper concludes that both the basis of the cases against the banks and the purpose of large fines are open to question.

Research limitations/implications

Much of the information is available. However, as the major cases against the large banks did not go the court, and the basis of the fines is a settlement between the bank and the Department of Justice, each fine is supported by a relatively brief “Statement of the Facts”. The evidence amassed by subpoenas issued by the Department of Justice is not tested in court.

Practical implications

Much greater consideration must be given to more effective ways of holding banks and especially senior executives to account.

Social implications

The imposition of large fines does not satisfy the public desire to see that justice is done. Such fines imposed on the ban are not likely to change bank behaviour.


Its originality lies in setting out an account of government housing policy and its role in the run-up to the financial crisis. No one has carried out a careful analysis of the cases against the large banks brought by the Department of Justice and, in the second article, by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.



McDonald, O.A. (2015), "Holding banks to account for the financial crisis?", Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 45-69.



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