Financial Regulatory Forum

Beyond the numbers: do banks manage risk?

By Rachel Wolcott

LONDON, June 14 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - It may seem like a subtle difference, but most of what banks call ‘risk management’ is often more akin to ‘risk measurement’. It is a myth that banks are in possession of fancy gadgetry that allows them to measure risk on a minute-by-minute basis from a specialised risk-control tower and react to it effectively, thus averting catastrophe. Instead, the financial crisis and trading losses, such as JPMorgan’s $2 billion blow-up in May, have shown that by the time banks measure and understand their risks, it is too late. Risk management is not about controlling risk, but about offsetting its impact after the fact.

Far from being a powerful high-tech unit within a firm that is charged with hedging risks on a macro basis — the way, for example, that JPMorgan’s chief investment office has been portrayed — risk management is more fragmented and limited. That is why many banks were badly hit when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. It was just too difficult to get a picture of what their positions, exposures and risks were, let alone manage them. This is because, in many cases, banks’ risk management still has more to do with number crunching and measuring risk for compliance and regulatory purposes, such as regulatory capital requirements, credit value adjustment and counterparty risk. Managing risk, however, is something few firms do well, and they are certainly unable to do so in a holistic way. (more…)

JPMorgan, warned earlier over risk governance, highlights oversight challenges

By Emmanuel Olaoye, Julie DiMauro and Randall Mikkelsen

NEW YORK, May 15 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Corporate executives and boards face big challenges monitoring risk at complex banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co, which was warned by an investor group last year that its board had “serious deficiencies” and was not up to the task.

Challenges to connecting the dots to form a clear risk picture at sprawling global institution with multiple business units like JPMorgan include difficulties tracking data, differing regulatory jurisdictions, and crucially, inadequate corporate governance. (more…)

Taking on trading desk risk: the lessons of UBS and MF Global

Traders work at their desks in front of the DAX indexBy Rachel Wolcott

LONDON/NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – When the young UBS trader Kweku Adoboli turned himself in after allegedly having lost $2.3 billion on the Swiss bank’s delta one desk, many asked how such a huge loss could have happened without anyone knowing. The short answer was, in part, that Adoboli’s back-office experience gave him inside knowledge which permitted him to game UBS’ control systems and hide the fraud. The same excuse was trotted out to explain Jérôme Kerviel’s $6.8 billion loss at Société Générale in 2008, but it must surely take more than a stint in the bank office to fool banks’ risk controls systems.

Giorgio Questa, visiting professor in the faculty of finance at Cass Business School in London, said: “Banks have not understood that they will have accidents if they don’t come to terms with risk controls. It’s a question of incompetence. It’s completely clear [in the UBS case] that people weren’t doing their jobs.” (more…)

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