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Palgrave Macmillan

Bringing Down the Banking System

Lessons from Iceland

ISBN 9781137358196
Publication Date January 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (PDF) Ebook (EPUB) Paperback 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

The combined collapse of Iceland's three largest banks in 2008 is the third largest bankruptcy in history and the largest banking system collapse suffered by any country in modern economic history, relative to GDP. How could tiny Iceland build a banking system in less than a decade that proportionally exceeded Switzerland's? Why did the bankers decide to grow the system so fast? How did businesses tunnel money out of the banking system? And why didn't anybody stop them? Bringing Down the Banking System answers these questions. Gudrun Johnsen, Senior Researcher with Iceland's Special Investigation Commission, tells the riveting story of the rise and fall of the Icelandic banking system, describes the commission's findings on the damaging effects of holding company cross-ownership, and explains what we can learn from it all.

Gudrun Johnsen is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Arion Bank, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Iceland, and Research Associate in the Department of Private Law at the University of Oslo, Norway.


1. Illusion of Prosperity

2. Collapse

3. Panic

4. Investigation

5. Financial Liberalization


6. Funding the Banks 1

7. The Geyser Crisis

8. Love Letters to the Rescue

9. Playing Tricks on the European Central Bank


10. The Web of Ownership

11. Tunneling Money Through Related Party Lending

12. Market Manipulation and Falsification of Equity

13. Wages of Failure


14. Funded By the Ill-Informed

15. Debt Free State, Isolated and Without Credit

16. Putting a Poodle on the Watch

17. What Have We Learned?


"This is a book that had to be written. The story of the rise and fall of the Icelandic banking system is not only of interest to Icelanders, it contains many important lessons for the global community. Although most of the mistakes made in Iceland may not have been unique, more or less everything that could go wrong did. The book should be required reading for anyone involved in banking or regulation." - Gylfi Magnússon, Associate Professor of Finance, University of Iceland; Minister of Economic Affairs, Iceland, 2009-2010
"This book provides a detailed, clear and refreshingly candid account of the Icelandic financial crisis. It will be a useful reference with valuable lessons for policy makers...and a sober reminder to strengthen financial supervision during times of strong credit growth." - Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, Deputy Director, Monetary and Capital Markets Department, International Monetary Fund; former Vice President, Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, Turkey
"Iceland was the proverbial canary. When its financial system collapsed it was a clear sign there was something very wrong not only in Iceland but in the world financial system as a whole. This book provides an inside view of the story of the Icelandic collapse, with strong analytic insights and a rare inside perspective. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the international financial system in the first decade of the century." - Charles Enoch, Deputy Director, Monetary and Capital Markets Department, International Monetary Fund
"Johnsen presents an authoritative account of Iceland's financial debacle, based on the findings of Iceland's Special Investigation Commission. This intuitive and perceptive writing on the findings is both engaging and exciting. No future writer on this episode will be able to ignore Johnsen's account." - Gylfi Zoega, Professor of Economics, University of Iceland; Coauthor, Preludes to the Icelandic Financial Crisis
"This book delivers an urgent warning about the critical importance of controlling risk and incentives in banking. If those who benefit from risk don't bear more downside, they are likely to become reckless. When regulation and supervision fail, economies can come down, inflicting suffering on many. Iceland was extreme and the details are shocking, but similar dangers lurk everywhere, and we must tend to them before too late." - Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics, Stanford Graduate School of Business, USA; Coauthor, The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It
"Iceland was the most extreme example of a boom and bust in the international financial crisis that started in 2007. This book provides an excellent account of what exactly happened. It should be read by all those interested in the crisis, including scholars as well as practitioners." - Franklin Allen, Nippon Life Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA
"A fascinating and nuanced account of the implosion of the Icelandic banking system in the Fall of 2008, drawing on official investigations and primary sources not previously available to outside scholars and policy makers." - Howell E. Jackson, James S. Reid, Jr., Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, USA
"Johnsen had a unique view into the Icelandic crisis, and has written a terrific book that is a must-read for anyone trying to understand what happened there." - Andrew Metrick, Michael H. Jordan Professor of Finance and Management, Yale School of Management, USA
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