The Bank for International Settlements



Being the curious type I wanted to know who's in the 19-story brown cylinder-shaped building located next to the Swiss train station. It could easily pass for a hotel and looks to be the tallest building in Basel. Notice I didn't say tallest structure because some of the pharmaceutical and chemical companies have smokestacks taller. Anyway, I enter and walk up to two security guard/receptionists sitting behind glass enclosures. Turns out this is The Bank for International Settlements. I explain who I am and what I do and ask to speak to someone in public relations. The guard says, "no way" and that any requests must be in writing and then goes through various channels. Jeez, the guy wouldn't even give me a phone number. I do manage to talk him out of an annual report and I'm sorry I did. Why? I've perused thousands of annual reports over the years but this one definitely ranks as one of the most boring and difficult to read.

Here's the lowdown: "The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is an international financial institution which was established pursuant to the Hague Agreements of 20 January 1930. The headquarters of the bank are in Basel, Switzerland. The objects of the BIS, as laid down in Article 3 of its Statutes, are to promote the cooperation of central banks, to provide additional facilities for international financial operations and to act as trustee or agent for international financial settlements."

What confuses me is the profit and loss account. In 1998 the bank had a net profit of 259 million gold francs. "The unit of account of the Bank is the gold franc, which is equivalent to US$ 1.941 49…, Article 4 of the Bank's Statutes defines the gold franc as representing 0.290 322 58… grammes of fine gold." Forty-five central banks are currently members of the Bank. I don't understand how the bank made this profit and who gets it. Oh well, I'm not worried. Why? Looking over the Board of Directors list I spot a familiar name: Alan Greenspan from Washington, DC. They have a Web site: www.bis.org.