January 01, 2017

It is only the bankers’ responsibility to clear for risks. The regulators should only prepare banks for uncertainty.

Gillian Tett writes that Axel Weber, the chairman of UBS, “suggests investors urgently need to think about the difference between ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’: the former refers to events that can be predicted with a certain probability; the latter refers to unknown future shocks.” “Emerging markets offer clues for investors in 2017: Extraordinary political events have upended western assumptions about risk and uncertainty” January 1.

Let us see if this distinction helps Ms Tett to see that with risk weighted capital requirements for banks, both bankers and regulators are clearing for risk. The result is that “risk” is excessively considered while “uncertainty” plays a secondary role. Seemingly it is too hard for regulators and anthropologists to understand the simple truth that any risk, even if perfectly perceived, causes the wrong actions if excessively considered.

To subject banks to this double counting of risk means banks will lend too much to what is ex ante perceived, decreed or concocted as “safe” like AAA rated securities and sovereigns like Greece, and too little to what is perceived “risky” like SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Only the exclusive use of a leverage ratio, which represents a capital requirement that has nothing to do with perceived risk, is what could help banks prepare for uncertainty, without distorting the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.