When It Wants the US View, Bank of England Asks a Yank; Morgan's Vinton Takes It 'Slowly, Slowly, Softly, Softly.' (Alfred M. Vinton Jr.)

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LONDON -- When the Bank of England wanted to know the American view on matters both international and domestic during the past 16 months, it has called on Alfred M. Vinton Jr., senior vice president of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., New York.

As chairman of the American Banks Association of London, an affiliation of 53 U.S. institutions here, he has been the central bankhs prime contact with the U.S. banking community. The people at the Bank of England regard him as a knowledgeable, efficient professional.

A 23-year veteran at Morgan, the 47-year-old Mr. Vinton knows the lay of the land -- shifting and dangerous, with opportunity for profits on the horizon.

He has been here for eight years -- as manager of the London branch since 1980, and for three years before that as manager of the Saudi International Bank, a Morgan Guaranty affiliate. Prior to that, Mr. Vinton ran Morgan Guaranty's Latin American department in New York for four years, following five years as manager of the Argentine affiliate.

As deregulation loosens markets in the United Kingdom and the banking world gets smaller, what the Americans are up to becomes increasingly interesting here.

It is probably less of a secret than their British counterparts imagine. They are trying to make money in a bold new world of disintermediation, technological upheaval, fluctuating foreign exchange, and off-balance-sheet income.

As one American here put it recently, "The perception among British bankers is that the future competition will come from America."

Mr. Vinton gives up his 16-month chairmanship of the American Banks Association of Londong this month. He said in an interview recently in his office, just behind the Bank of England and a block from the Stock Exchange, that the organization's accomplishments are not easy to identify.

"That's not really the way we work. It's more trying to go slowly, slowly, softly, softly," he said.

The Bank of England will not comment on the efforts of individuals, preferring to recognize groups and institutions, a spokesman said. But when the Bank of England calls a bankers' meeting, it is seeking the views of individuals.

British vs. U.S. Regulation

One such meeting occurred during the introspective period that followed the government rescue of the Johnson Matthey Bankers last year. Mr. Vinton spent 45 minutes with the governor of the Bank of England, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, at the central bankhs request. Fundamentally, the Bank of England was asking for an opinion on whether its powers were sufficient to regulate.

"They were trying to seek comfort from me that their system worked as well as one [in the U.S.] where regulation is stricter," Mr. Vinton said. "I tried to comfort them that they had the legislation and the moral authority to do what they did and they shouldn't seek to duplicate the American system."

These consultations with foreign banks as well as with the domestic British British system. Mr. Vinton said he thinks it is a process that works.

There was at least one lesson learned from the Johnson Matthey experience, he said: "There was a resulting change in attitude about how to supervise."

The particular advice he gave was straightforward: Appoint supervisors who understand the banking business.

The central bank has reorganized, announcing in September that, among other things, Mr. George Blunden would serve as deputy governor when Mr. Christopher McMahon leaves at the end of this year. Mr. Blunden, an outsider, reportedly was chosen because of his reputation for banking supervision.

Mr. Vinton said he had always strived to put the value of his "advice" to the Bank of England into context: "It would be the height of arrogance to say we influenced legislation. We are just a small part of what goes on."

How small a part the Americans play here is debatable. …