Friday, March 9, 2018

Did regulators, when developing the fundamentally wrong risk weighted capital requirements for banks, suffer some kind of “perception controlled hallucination” or any other psychological disorder?

In 1988, with the Basel Accord, Basel I, the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision introduced the use of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks. That scheme was further much expanded in 2004 with Basel II.

In essence that meant that banks had to hold more capital against what is (ex ante) perceived as risky than against what is perceived as safe. 

The stated goal of this regulation, was and is to avoid the failure of banks that can put the economy in jeopardy and that could cause big loses for depositors or big costs for tax payers derived from official rescue interventions.

Nothing wrong with that intention, except for what they did and what they ignored when developing these risk-weighted capital requirements.

What did they do? 

They looked at the risk of the assets just like bankers do, and not at the risk that bankers might be perceiving the risks wrong, or acting wrongly to risks well perceived. 

What’s the worst case scenario about risks perceived wrong? Clearly that something ex ante perceived as very safe turns out ex post as very risky. The opposite, something perceived as very risky turning out very safe should obviously not bother anyone… except of course the borrower who had to pay too high risk premiums.

What did they ignore? 

First that all major bank crises have resulted from, criminal behavior, unexpected events or excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived as safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky. “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” Mark Twain. The mistake can perhaps be illustrated by the fact that regulators, in their standardized risk weights of 2004, assigned a 150% to the below BB- rated, that which bankers won’t touch with a teen feet pole, but a meager 20% to what is AAA to AA rated.

Second, that these risk weighted capital requirements, which allowed banks to leverage more with what was perceived safe, would have banks earning higher expected risk adjusted returns with what was perceived safe, which would naturally increase the risk of some perceived safe havens become dangerously overpopulated, against especially little capital. In a Roulette in a casino,  2 to 1 and 36 to 1 are equivalent winnings paid out to those playing it “safe” on color or those playing it “risky” on a number. If the winning for those same bets were for example 3 to 1 and 30 to 1, that would break the bank and sink the casino.

Third, that the real economy, in order to move forward depends much on risky entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) having access to bank credit. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd.

I do not think it is prudent to distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, so I would favor one single capital requirement against all assets, but if I absolutely had to distort in this way, then my risk weighting would have to be 180 degrees in the opposite direction, higher perceived risk-lower capital, lower perceived risk-higher capital. 

It was 30 years when this monumental mistake was initiated, and for all practical purposes it is not yet even discussed… so the stickiness of that mistake has proven to be equally monumental.

Friends, is it something in “Predictive Processing” that could explain this so fundamental mistake in our current bank regulation, and its stickiness?

And more importantly still, in what way can “Predictive Processing” help us to avoid this type of extremely costly mistakes.

Here a brief aide memoire on the major mistakes with the risk weighted capital requirements