Looking Toward 5768 / The Man Who Will Guard Our Money

The man of the year in 5768 will be the man charged with guarding our money. He will need to ensure that our savings, deposited in pension funds, "training" funds, life insurance plans and provident funds - about NIS 600 billion, or a third of the public's assets - are properly managed. This man is Yadin Antebi, the treasury's commissioner of capital markets, insurance and savings.

In the immediate sense, our money is handled by our bankers, investment managers and insurance agents. They sell, advise and help us decide. But the person who sets their boundaries and safeguards our savings is Antebi.

This year, his function will be more crucial than ever. This would seem to be a good time to be commissioner: the economy is robust and even if the capital market is stumbling, it doesn't look like the overall trend will change. But the seeds of trouble are sown during such times of prosperity.

Antebi's job is hard. He must give money managers broad autonomy and enable them to obtain high returns, but ensure they are not reckless. He must encourage competition and freedom of choice, yet he must stop them from undertaking excessive risk.

Antebi's area has been completely revamped during the past two years. Institutional investors such as pension funds have been unshackled, and are now free to invest in almost all kinds of securities and areas. Hundreds of billions of shekels in various funds have new owners. New people are managing fantastical amounts of money, and their appetite for profits and bonuses has grown keener than ever. Antebi must ensure that the institutionals that invest our money in corporate bonds do so responsibly.

The Heftsiba fiasco is a warning call. Bankers have been persuaded that institutionals are putting the public's money at risk. And if the banks, which have already written off billions on bad debt, say so, they must know what they are talking about. Antebi must ensure that the introduction of insurance companies into new areas of activity, like credit, is safely negotiated.

His mission appears simple: He must place limits, and issue directives to foil financial disaster. But this would be missing an opportunity. The real challenge is to provide savers the opportunity to enjoy maximum choice, and to maintain market stability even if there are a few more Heftsibas and bad debts on the way.