President of the Deutsche Bundesbank (Germany's equivalent of the Bank of England), member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and, rumour has it, potentially something very high-up at Deutsche Bank. Yes, Axel Weber certainly has an impressive CV - and it's also pretty impressive that UCL's Economics and Finance Society managed to persuade him to come and speak at UCL last month on the reform of financial regulation and its implications. As well as members of the society and other UCL students, the event also attracted some other high-profile guests to the university for the afternoon, including representatives from the Bank of England, the Bank of Korea, the Swiss embassy, the Foundation of German Business, investments banks Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan, news organisations Reuters and Bloomberg, and even UCL's academic rival LSE.
The Society is keen to run events like this one to give their members career-related insights and opportunities, and also to keep its profile high, on campus and beyond. But attracting such a speaker and this kind of guest list isn't easy. First, in order to persuade Weber to come to UCL, the Society had to build a good relationship with the German embassy in London. And once the event had been greenlighted, there was still plenty of work to be done, as Society committee member Hannes Ansorg, who was heavily involved in its organisation, explains: "It was a massive task. It was like a part-time job. Every single day I wrote so many emails and made so many calls." The main issues to be sorted out were what exactly Weber would speak about, and the all-important practical arrangements for the talk and the two networking receptions also scheduled for the afternoon, both of which required a lot of time and effort from the Society: "Everything had to be perfect", says Hans. "The schedule for this day was planned down to every single minute. Every place, every person, all the security - everything had to be sorted out by us." Running ticket sales and admission on the day was another significant task, taken on by another Society officer, Rob Hayer.
To the credit of the Society, the afternoon was a great success. Weber chose to move away from the discussion of the causes of the financial crisis that is often foregrounded at this kind of event to instead focus on proposed reforms, examining whether they will unduly affect growth (Weber thinks not) and what the best regulatory approach to the situation in which Europe's economies find themselves might be. Weber placed a particular emphasis on the need for a pan-national approach and robust measures, for example, firm balance sheet requirements for banks and action on the activities of the "shadow banking" sector.
And was the Society pleased with how it all went? Scott Rosenthal, outgoing Society president, feels that Weber picked a timely topic in looking at the path forward for financial regulation. "It's relevant for everyone and that's why it's a great talk to do. It's something which affects the real economy - these decisions that are being made by high-profile people are going to impact your average tax payer."
Rob liked the way in which Weber remembered the less experienced members of his audience: "I think what Professor Weber did really well was to pitch his talk at a level suitable for everyone. The ideas and concepts were really interesting, but they were also accessible, which is what you need at an event where there's going to be a lot of students - he even made what he said relevant to undergraduate economics. I think it satisfied the needs of everyone attending, which is always what you want to do at an event."
Weber's closing remarks included advising students that they should consider careers connected with regulation. Hannes, Rob and Scott are all heading towards roles somewhere in the financial arena. Will the coming years find any of them addressing audiences of UCL students on the intricacies of future regulatory systems? I wouldn't bet against it.