Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It is prudent for our banks to take risks on the not so creditworthy, especially if these are up to something worthy

In a recent article in the Financial Times a bank was mentioned to be “an exemplar of prudence…[because] The target loan loss ratio is zero; [and] low loan losses, in turn, allow the bank to offer competitively priced loans and personalized service to creditworthy customers.”

To me that points clearly to what’s wrong with banks nowadays. “A target loan loss ratio of zero”… might allow “to offer competitively priced to creditworthy customers” but it will clearly not offer sufficient opportunities of credit to the not so creditworthy, those which includes too many risky SMEs and entrepreneurs, but also that could help provide the proteins the economy needs to move forward, in order not to stall and fall.

And the real truth is that, in the medium and long term, the creditworthy could benefit much more by banks taking much more risks on the not creditworthy, especially if these seem to be up to something worthy, than by they just getting low priced loans.

And if to the “zero loss loan target” you then add the distortion in the allocation of bank credit caused by the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, you might get a feel for why our economies seem to stagnate. 

Those regulations require the banks to hold more equity when lending to someone perceived risky, than when lending to someone perceived safe. And so that results in banks earning higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to someone perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, than when lending to someone perceived as risky. And that signifies that, around the world, millions of “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs are not given the opportunity they might deserve and we might need for them to get.

As is, the banking system no longer finances the “riskier” future but only refinances the “safer” past, and that is as imprudent as can be, at least for our grandchildren.

Those bankers who with reasoned audacity take chances on the future are good servants of the society. Those who only maximize return on equity by diminishing the required capital and avoiding risks are, in the best of cases, absolutely boring.

And don’t get me wrong; I do not want to endanger our banking system, it is just the opposite. The forgotten truth is that major bank crises never ever result from banks building up excessive exposures to what ex ante is perceived as risky, it is not in the nature of bankers, as Mark Twain explained in terms of sun, rain and umbrellas.

The big crises always result from unexpected event of because of excessive exposures to something erroneously considered as safe.

PS. With their risk weighted capital requirements the regulators decreed inequality.