Lessons for Australian banks: Why Risk Managers Should Be Spymasters | ProPublica

Jesse Eisinger’s interview with risk specialist John Breit highlights an issue facing Australian banks. Residential mortgages are allocated a low risk weighting — 15% to 17% because of historic performance — compared to 50% for US banks. The big four banks piled into this area because of the perceived low risk, leveraging up to 50 times capital. Risk-weighted capital ratios (around 10%) still appear healthy, but they conceal a hidden danger from the resulting housing bubble.

[Breit] despises the concept of “risk-weighted assets,” where banks put up capital based on the perceived riskiness of the assets. Inevitably, he argues, banks will “pile into” the same types of supposedly safe investments, creating bubbles that make the risks far more severe than the initial perceptions. Paradoxically, risk-weighting can leave banks setting aside the least capital to cover the biggest dangers.

“I could not be more disappointed,” he said. “The cynic in me thinks this is all in the interests of senior management and regulators to avoid blame. They may not think they can prevent the next crisis, but they then can blame the statistics.”

Read more at Why Risk Managers Should Be Spymasters – ProPublica.