26 September 2008

Human Psyche: Transparency of Risk Profiles...

In a July 2008 a global Economist Intelligence Unit survey; 71% of the financial services executives admitted that their Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) strategy has not been fully implemented. 59% of the 316 executives say that the current credit crisis has put a high magnification microscope on their risk management activities and strategy.

Corporate executives might think that compliance would be a driving factor behind the need to break down the silos in the enterprise and become a more holistic risk management culture. This could not be farther from the truth. People are the only factor when it comes to addressing culture. However, the failing organizations have it upside down. They have been so focused on the sophisticated mathematics, they have lost sight of what really changes the culture more rapidly and pervasively. Leadership and culture. Human behavior working towards greater transparency of risk profiles and the management of reputation will work miracles compared to the "Hedge Quants" trying to manipulate the algorithms to obtain the desired results. We want to trust the data, but can we? The credit scoring applications can't keep up with the pace of the market changes.

The ERM strategy of the future needs to be focused on changing peoples behavior to impact "Reputation", as opposed to just another regulatory hammer to gain compliance. Therefore, Operational Risk Management and enhancing the perception of confidence in the "eye of the customer", will provide the peace of mind that is required to keep the flow of trust in the global markets. The Board of Directors policy implementation on risk management and developing a culture of ERM to better manage the implications of reputation is the top item on the upcoming meeting agendas.

Most shocking in the survey results are that financial institutions with $100B. in assets or greater; only 55% have someone in the dedicated task of "Chief Risk Officer". This means that 45% do not have a dedicated person who can see the entire ERM porfolio of risk. Institutions under $100.B in assets are in even worst shape.

In what is by far the largest bank failure in U.S. history, federal regulators seized Washington Mutual Inc. and struck a deal to sell the bulk of its operations to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

The collapse of the Seattle thrift, which was triggered by a wave of deposit withdrawals, marks a new low point in the country's financial crisis. But the deal, as constructed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., could hold some glimmers of hope for the beleaguered banking system because it averts any hit to the bank-insurance fund.

Instead, J.P. Morgan agreed to pay $1.9 billion to the government for WaMu's banking operations and will assume the loan portfolio of the thrift, which has $307 billion in assets. The full cost to J.P. Morgan will be much higher, because it plans to write down about $31 billion of the bad loans and raise $8 billion in new capital. All WaMu depositors will have access to their cash, but holders of more than $30 billion in debt and preferred stock will likely see little if any recovery.

Walking throught the halls at the FDIC several months ago, this writer could almost smell the fear that was building. How are we going to deal with the new "tsunami of failed financial institutions" in the coming months? What will the domino effect be on customers psyche? Now, there are even fingers being pointed at the mechanisms for ensuring transparency to investors and customers:

Ultimately, those who blame fair-value accounting for the current crisis are guilty of the financial equivalent of shooting the messenger. Fair value does not make markets more volatile; it just makes the risk profile more transparent.

We should be pointing fingers at those at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions who made poor investment and strategic decisions and took on dangerous risks. Blame should not be paced on the process by which the market learned about them.

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