I went along to a a Prmia event last night “2010 – Risk Year in Review“. The event started with a somewhat overwhelming brain dump of economic and credit statistics from John Lonski, Chief Capital Markets Economist at Moody’s Analytics. In summary he seems very bullish about corporate credit spreads tightening given the way in which corporate profit growth is surging ahead of debt growth. His main concern for the economy was maybe unsurprisingly the US housing market and whether this will bottom out and start to rise in 2011. Given fiscal imbalances and competition from emerging markets he did not think that inflation was a big risk despite activity such as QE2.
Robert Iommazzo of search firm Seba International did a fairly dry presentation on industry compensation for risk managers. Seba seem to getting around having had a big presence at Riskminds in Geneva last week. This section only livened up when the questions started after the presentation, and is probably worth noting that the UK FSA is being perceived as a “Big Brother” with its involvement in setting compensation policies in financial markets. Obviously the FSA is not heading back to the heady days of the 1970’s where central government set industry pay rises (journalists please note this meant you back then!), but it is also obvious that such control over an individual’s remuneration is something that goes totally contrary to an American way of thinking. UK Government needs to be mindful of this perception particularly if it leaves itself open to arbitrage on compensation policy from other financial centres.
Panel debate followed, involving Ashish Das of Moody’s, Yury Dubrovsky of Lazard Asset Management, Jan H. Voigts of the NY Fed and Christopher Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics. Main points:
- Chris said that he was one who was predicting a further fall in the housing market next year, and he asked the audience that when they looked at economic statistics, credit spreads,the Vix, bond spreads, did anyone getting the feeling the things are “normal” yet? Using these numbers and plugging them into a model does any believe the results are stable and can be relied upon? The audience fundamentally seemed to agree with these “warning” questions.
- Jan asked the audience to consider how believable is your data and to try to understand what data is critical for your business and that is imperative to create tools to manage this data appropriately. Jan said that the biggest challenge for financial institutions going forward is how to calibrate what rate/volume/type of business you can transact safely and that this needed a lot more consideration.
- Yury said that he finds that the risks present in 2008 are still around in 2010, but now with the addition of European sovereign credit problems and the raft of regulation heading towards the industry. To add to this pessimistic note, he also said that some of the interest in “hot” emerging markets such as the BRICs was resulting in investments in lower quality IPOs relative to previous years.
- Ashish thought that systemic risk was going to become more important for the industry. With the setting up of the Office of Financial Research (OFR) next year, he suggested that the industry needed to take much more of a lead in sorting out its own house in advance of letting the regulators do so. On the subject of models, he said that models should supplement human judgement but not replace it, and mentioned the quote by George E. P. Box that “all models are wrong, but some are useful“.
- Chris suggested that the role of risk managers will become more like that of a credit collector, with more involvement in actually seeing what can be recovered once a default has occurred. He also suggested that the industry should create its own consensus-based ratings (supplemented by the existing CRAs) to get a more reliable view of credit.
- Ashish echoed some of the speakers last week at Riskminds in saying that regulatory compliance is not risk management, and that practitioners should do more to guide the regulators.
- On the subject of risk culture, Yury asked how many risk managers knew data, quant, markets and how to deal with the egos of traders and senior management. This last point seemed to be conceded by the audience as a major weakness of the risk management profession and goes back to whether a risk manager is willing to put his career on the line to go against accepted business strategy.
- Chris added that having worked at several investment banks he had not yet experienced a risk manager attending a senior committee, let alone a risk manager speaking up against a senior trader. He talked of two business models “Paranoid and Nimble” and “Well Documented and Pedantic” with the second one being the only one possible in his view once a business gets to a certain size.
- On the subject of Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) Chris said that the role of these will be up for review by the end of 2011. He thinks that the banks will head back towards actually holding mortgages and loans and the GSEs will become more conduits rather than direct sources of finance. This was news to me, given that so far the GSEs have been notably left out of recent reviews of what went wrong with the recent crisis.
Panel was very good, all speakers very knowledgeable. “Regulation is not risk”, “models are not perfect”, “risk governance” and “take control of your data” were all themes that echoed last week’s RiskMinds event, allbeit with more of an American rather than international viewpoint on the economy, regulation and markets.