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Lessons learned from the financial crisis

It’s important for the financial and banking industries to learn from the Great Recession and 2008’s global financial crisis to ensure it doesn’t happen again, according to Alfredo Saenz, former CEO and vice-chairman of Santander Bank.

Saenz was one of three keynote speakers at Northeastern’s inaugural Global Summit on Friday. Organized by a group of Northeastern students, the daylong event focused on the mistakes that led to the financial crisis, how today’s society was affected, and what industry leaders have learned to make the future better.

More than 140 people attended the summit, which was held in the Curry Student Center Ballroom. Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and Wells Fargo sponsored the summit.

“The economic crisis we have experienced has left a landscape of destruction in the business fabric, an increase in unemployment, and a loss of wealth for families,” Saenz said. “However, like all crises, this gives us an opportunity to draw conclusions, to learn lessons, and to make things better in the future.”

Saenz, who was CEO of Santander from 2002-2013, attributed the cause of the crisis to three factors: financial globalization, a lack of adjustment through currency movements, and a high degree of financial complacency.

He added that this crisis has taught the banking industry that simply being prudent when monitoring credit and market risks is not enough to survive a financial disaster.

“Banks need to be managed in a different way moving forward,” Saenz said. “Bankers need to better understand macroeconomic drivers and better understand their local economy trends and global economy trends so they can decide where to position themselves.”

The Great Recession began in December 2007 and became the longest and deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It occurred after losses on subprime mortgages battered the U.S housing market. During a panel discussion following Saenz’s remarks, Lee Ferridge, managing director and the North American head of cross-asset strategy for State Street Global Markets, was asked if there is a “tool” to prevent economic bubbles.

“Bubbles will always happen,” Ferridge replied. “The only real tool I guess you could use to stop a bubble is regulation.” He added that “bubbles reflect human nature,” and people will continue to make financial decisions based on greed, even if it means dealing with future bubbles.

Boston University finance and economics lecturer Mark Williams joined Ferridge on the panel, titled “The Economics of the Crisis.” Williams said that as the world continues to recover from the crisis, central banks must improve their coordination efforts in the globalized financial market.

“When we look at capital, it doesn’t know boundaries or sovereigns,” he explained. “Capital will flow to its highest and best use. Central banks have to better coordinate their monetary policy and the qualitative attributes that make an economy strong. And that is not something that is going to be solved overnight.”

The summit’s other keynote speakers were Sean Murphy, deputy chief executive of Chambers Ireland, and Dean Starkman, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review’s The Audit and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Investigation.