The credit crisis that began in the summer of 2007 has fundamentally challenged much financial regulation and the political
institutions that produced it. Measured against the criticisms that have been brought forth against previous financial governance,
the extent of governments’ overall reform ambitions has been disappointing, generating little hope that the threat of future
crises is being tackled seriously. Starting from this observation, this article asks: what explains governments’ reform choices,
and thus also their limited ambitions? To explore this question, this article focuses on the positions that four governments
central to global financial regulation (the USA, the UK, Germany and France) have taken in advance of the G20 meetings in
2009 across four key issue areas in financial regulation: accounting standards, derivatives trading, credit ratings agencies
and banking rules. It evaluates both the overlap between positions across domains and governments as well as the differences
between them. Such variation, we argue, provides key clues to the overall drivers behind reforms - as well as their limits.
The overall picture that emerges can be summarized as follows: governments have been staunch defenders of their national firms’
competitive interests in regulatory reforms. That has not necessarily meant that they followed industry preferences across
the board - new rules that might dent profits were imposed in several cases. It has been the relative impact, compared to
foreign competitors, that counted in reform positions, not the absolute impact. As this article also shows, these differences
of opinion have played out within the context and the limits of the overall debates about thinkable policy alternatives. In
spite of fundamental criticisms of pre-crisis regulatory orthodoxy, convincing and coherent alternatives have been forthcoming
slowly at best. This has made reform proposals less radical than criticisms, seen on their own, might suggest.