January 07, 2016

It was the regulatory culture and not the banking culture that went wrong. The regulators need a real bashing.

Michael Skapinker writes about “the recent decision by the UK Financial Conduct Authority to drop its probe into the culture of banking is wrong, and why members of the Treasury parliamentary committee are right to call for hearings into why it did so.” “Bankers need a (metaphorical) bashing — as do the rest of us” January 7. He also opines that: “Lax regulation led to the 2008 banking crisis.”

Sir, what if FCA’s probe into the culture of banking would have come up with the following:

“The culture of bankers has not changed; as usual they do their best to provide their shareholders with the highest risk adjusted returns on equity possible.

This time though, the regulators, the Basel Committee, allowed banks to leverage their equity differently with assets, depending on the ex ante perceived risk of these. For instance with Basel II, they authorized a leverage of over 60 to 1 for any AAA to AA private asset but only 12 to 1 in the case of a loan to an unrated corporation.

That meant of course that the risk adjusted returns on equity for safe assets shot up in the sky. An expected 0.5 percent risk adjusted margin to something safe could produce a 30 percent on equity, while a loan to a risky SME or entrepreneur, with the same expected risk adjusted margin, would only yield about a 7 percent ROE.

And so banks, naturally, as should have been expected, went overboard in exposures to for instance AAA rated securities and loans to Greece. And assets perceived ex ante as safe but that ex post turn out to be risky, is precisely the stuff bank crisis are made off. In this particular case the crisis ended up so much worse by the fact that banks were holding very little capital when the ex post realities set in.

Another unfortunate consequence has of course been that banks have either completely abandoned the lending to the risky, or are charging them extra premiums in order to compensate for the regulatory distortions.

We have to make a note that the distortion that caused the crisis remains in effect with Basel III.

In order for regulators to introduce the necessary correction, we want to remind them of the following:

Bank capital is to cover for unexpected losses and so, to have these based on expected credit risk, a risk already cleared for by banks by means of interest rates and size of exposure makes absolutely no sense.

The safer and asset is perceived the greater its potential to deliver unexpected losses.

The regulators should not worry about the credit risk of bank assets but about how banks manage those risks, and a good place to start is by not introducing distortions that makes it more difficult for them.

In conclusion “lax regulations” had nothing to do with causing this crisis. It was all about seriously bad regulations. Of course we feel sad about it, but our bank regulation colleagues must be held accountable for what they did, otherwise the moral hazard becomes just too big to handle.

Yours truly”

Sir, could it not be that FCA has abandoned its probe into the culture of banks because its conclusions would reflect very badly on the culture of regulators?

Skapinker with respect to the malpractice that is allowed to go undetected, like because of the silence of the media before the 2008 crisis writes: “One part of society needs to step in when another does not. It is through their actions that the system is kept honest, more or less, or at least honest enough for it to keep functioning”

Absolutely, but why has FT not helped me to do so? How can you be so sure I am wrong… or is it something else?

@PerKurowski ©