The nature of money and banking industry has evolved tremendously over the course of last century. Software has become a high, if not the highest, cause of financial instability. Open Source Banking software could be used to provide better regulation of banking activities through accurate monitoring.
The role of information systems in Banking has become so important that a bank should be considered as the operator of complex software systemsand information services rather than the operator of vaults, buildingsand branches. Consider for example the currency issuing process in a Central Bank.
The only difference between a bank note which has not yet been issued and a bank note which has been issued is a decision to log in acomputer database.
The predominance of information systems in the modern financial systemis clearly revealed by the Kerviel case which involved SG French Bank in2007. Kerviel, a young trader, found a way to enter data in theinformation system in such way that he could circumvent risk exposure procedures built in the banking software. At the same time, riskexposure information, which was available in another softwaresubsystem of the bank, and which certain SG staff was aware of, yetclosing their eyes on, was not exposed to the higher management or toregulation authorities.
The loss of 4.82 billion Euros in January 2008 was therefore a bigsurprise for both higher management of SG and for regulation authorities,who until then considered SG as one of the best managed bank worldwide.
Similar losses and incidents, which put the financial system at risk by reducing investor confidence, are likely to occur again until one of the major causes of this instability is addressed : software obscurity. Much information that should give a fair overview of the current assets and liabilities of a bank are actually stored outside the main accounting software of the bank.
The software systems which are running besides accounting are not subject to any kind of regulatory control and,therefore, may be used to circumvent regulations either through functional inconsistencies or through temporal inconsistencies.
Functional inconsistencies consists of misleading the accounting software through inaccurate representation of the bank status. Temporal inconsistencies consists of misleading the accounting software by postponing or hiding certain events.
Software obscurity in the banking system can be resolved by introducing open source banking applications as a way to model and monitor the banking activity. Obviously, we are not intending to replace existing banking software which banks invested in for decades.
However, we are suggesting to introduce a reference software in the banking sector, published as open source, which defines the way a typical bank should be managed. The 'open sourceness' of this reference software is a guarantee that any citizen or authority can peer review the rules which are meant to be implemented by banks.
Moreover, by synchronizing the data handled by existing software with this reference software, banks could provide to regulation authorities a very accurate picture of their activity, much more precise than what accounting can provide.
One Central Bank has already started to follow this path by implementing ERP5 Banking (www.erp5.com) in 8 countries.
By creating an environment in which banks can not hide data and where the public can review the rules which are meant to be enforced by regulation authorities, open source banking could help restore confidence in global financial system.