Motivating an investigation of bank regulation and supervision is easy. One can point to the global banking crisis of 2007-2009, the banking problems still plaguing many European countries in 2013, and the more than 100 systemic banking crises that have devastated economies around the world since 1970. All these crises reflect, at least partially, defects in bank regulation and supervision. One can also point to research showing that banks matter for human welfare beyond periodic crises. Banks influence economic growth, poverty, entrepreneurship, labor market conditions, and the economic opportunities available to people. Thus, examining the type and impact of bank regulatory and supervisory policies in countries is a critical area of inquiry.
The problem, however, is that measuring bank regulation and supervision around the world is hard. Hundreds of laws and regulations, emanating from different parts of national and local governments, define policies regarding bank capital standards, the entry requirements of new domestic and foreign banks, bank ownership restrictions, and loan provisioning guidelines. Numerous pages of regulations in most countries delineate the permitted activities of banks and provide shape and substance to deposit insurance schemes and the nature and timing of the information that banks must disclose to regulators and the public. And, extensive statutes define the powers of regulatory and supervisory officials over banks — and the limits of those powers. There are daunting challenges associated with acquiring data on all of the laws, regulations, and practices that apply to banks in countries and then aggregating this information into useful statistics that capture different and important aspects of regulatory regimes. This helps explain why the systematic collection of data on bank regulatory and supervisory policies is only in its nascent stages. Yet, without sound measures of banking policies across countries and over time, researchers will be correspondingly constrained in assessing which policies work best to promote well-functioning banking systems, and in proposing socially beneficial reforms to banking policies in need of improvement.