January 17, 2014

OCC, before asking banks to raise their standards of risk management, should stop regulators' distorting parallel risk managing

Sir, Tom Braithwaite and Camilla Hall report that “The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said it plan to raise the standards it expected for risk management at the largest banks”. “Goldman and City wreck Wall St hopes for escaping doldrums”, January 17.

Before doing that OCC should first consider the distortions the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks cause.

As OCC should know, bankers clear sufficiently well for perceived risks, by means of interest rates, size of exposures and contract terms. But current capital requirements those which the regulators order banks to hold primarily as a buffer against some “unexpected losses”, are based on the same perceptions of “expected losses”.

And so the system now considers twice the “expected losses” and none the “unexpected losses”. And as a result, the regulators have introduced a distortion that makes any high standard risk management that serves a societal purpose absolutely impossible.

And this is especially wrong when the capital requirements are portfolio invariant, because that ignores the benefits of diversification for what is perceived as “risky”, and the dangers of excessive concentration for what is perceived as “safe”.

OCC should understand that it has no problem if banks manage their risks well, only if they don’t, and so it makes absolutely no sense to base the capital requirements for banks, on the same perceptions of risk used by the banks.

OCC should understand that those who most represent “no-expected-losses” are in fact those most liable to produce the largest and most dangerous unexpected losses.

OCC, do the world a favor, throw out the risk-weights a simple straight leverage ratio and allow the bank to be banks again… not credit distributors in accordance with what the risk-weighting which produces different capital requirement tells them.

Sincerely it surprises me that, in the “home of the brave”, with a market that prides itself to be free and to give equal opportunities, OCC allows for capital requirements which allow banks to earn much higher risk-adjusted returns on equity when lending to The Infallible than when lending to The Risky.
The implied discrimination does not seem to be compatible with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (Regulation B).