The Bank for International Settlements, located in Basel, Switzerland, is the world's oldest international financial institution. It was established in 1930 to help collect and distribute the reparations imposed upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and to promote co-operation between the various central banks of the world. Over time the importance of its war-related tasks diminished, freeing up resources to focus on its other task.

Today, the bank sees its mission as four-fold:

  1. Provide a forum for central bank co-operation.
  2. Conduct research contributing to global monetary and financial stability.
  3. Provide traditional banking functions, such as reserve management and clearing of gold transactions, for the world's central banks.
  4. Provide and organize emergency financing to support the international monetary system.

As a forum for central bankers the bank's Monetary and Economic Department runs the Committee on the Global Financial System and the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems. These two committees set the rules by which central banks abide for the transfer of funds between nations as well the rules that most central banks impose upon banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual funds, and investment banks in their international dealings.

As a research institution the bank gathers a wide range of economic data from all countries of the world and provides detailed statistical analysis of the economic conditions of each country. It also conducts policy related research aimed at producing recommendations for the structure, functioning, and regulation of the world's financial system. It has working groups focusing specifically on areas including credit risk, capital flows, liquidity, inflation, and foreign exchange.

BIS offers traditional banking services to its central bank clients at its offices in Basel as well as at the BIS regional facility in Hong Kong. These services include the clearing and settlement of gold transactions, management of a central bank's foreign reserve.

Finally, the bank acts as a lender of last resort to countries that are facing acute economic crises. It bailed out the central banks of Germany and Austria during the financial crisis of 1931-33, it propped up the Italian lira in 1964, and contributed significant resources to the bail out of Brazil in 1998.

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