The establishment of the BIS
The Bank for International Settlements was established in 1930. It is the world's oldest international financial institution and remains the principal centre for international central bank cooperation.
The BIS was established in the context of the Young Plan (1930), which dealt with the issue of the reparation payments imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles following the First World War. The new bank was to take over the functions previously performed by the Agent General for Reparations in Berlin: collection, administration and distribution of the annuities payable as reparations. The Bank's name is derived from this original role. The BIS was also created to act as a trustee for the Dawes and Young Loans (international loans issued to finance reparations) and to promote central bank cooperation in general.
The reparations issue quickly faded, focusing the Bank's activities entirely on cooperation among central banks and, increasingly, other agencies in pursuit of monetary and financial stability.
The changing role of the BIS
Since 1930, central bank cooperation at the BIS has taken place through the regular meetings in Basel of central bank Governors and experts from central banks and other agencies. In support of this cooperation, the Bank has developed its own research in financial and monetary economics and makes an important contribution to the collection, compilation and dissemination of economic and financial statistics.
In the monetary policy field, cooperation at the BIS in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and until the early 1970s focused on implementing and defending the Bretton Woods system. In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was on managing cross-border capital flows following the oil crises and the international debt crisis. The 1970s crisis also brought the issue of regulatory supervision of internationally active banks to the fore, resulting in the 1988 Basel Capital Accord and its "Basel II " revision of 2001-06. More recently, the issue of financial stability in the wake of economic integration and globalisation, as highlighted by the 1997 Asian crisis, has received a lot of attention.
Apart from fostering monetary policy cooperation, the BIS has always performed "traditional" banking functions for the central bank community (eg gold and foreign exchange transactions), as well as trustee and agency functions. The BIS was the agent for the European Payments Union (EPU, 1950-58), helping the European currencies restore convertibility after the Second World War. Similarly, the BIS has acted as the agent for various European exchange rate arrangements, including the European Monetary System (EMS, 1979-94) which preceded the move to a single currency.
Finally, the BIS has also provided or organised emergency financing to support the international monetary system when needed. During the 1931-33 financial crisis, the BIS organised support credits for both the Austrian and German central banks. In the 1960s, the BIS arranged special support credits for the French franc (1968), and two so-called Group Arrangements (1966 and 1968) to support sterling. More recently, the BIS has provided finance in the context of IMF-led stabilisation programmes (eg for Mexico in 1982 and Brazil in 1998).
The BIS archives are open to the public. Under the BIS open archive rules, all records relating to the Bank's business and operational activities which are over 30 years old are available for consultation, with the exception of a limited number of records.