How insurers differ from banks: Implications for systemic regulation
Christian Thimann17 October 2014
Having completed the regulatory framework for systemically important banks, the Financial Stability Board is turning to insurance companies. The emerging framework for insurers closely resembles that for banks, culminating in the design and calibration of capital surcharges. This column argues that the contrasting business models and balance sheet structures of insurers and banks – and the different roles of capital, leverage, and risk absorption in the two sectors – mean that the banking model of capital cannot be applied to insurance. Tools other than capital surcharges may be more appropriate to address possible concerns of systemic risk.
Regulation of the insurance industry is entering a new era. The global regulatory community under the auspices of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) is contemplating regulatory standards for insurance groups that it deems to be of systemic importance. Nine insurance groups received this FSB classification in 2013, and the design of systemic regulation for these groups is now in progress.
Regulating the global insurance industry: Motivations and challenges
Christian Thimann10 October 2014
Regulation of the global insurance industry, an emerging challenge in international finance, has two central objectives: strengthening the oversight of insurance companies designated ‘systemically important’; and designing a global capital standard for internationally active insurers. This column argues that it is a Herculean task because the business model of insurance is less globalised than other areas in finance; because global regulators have less experience of insurance than banking where global standards have been pursued for a quarter of a century; and because, as yet, there is limited research-based understanding of the insurance business and its interactions with the financial system and the real economy. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the AIG disaster, regulators are under strong pressure to make progress.
The Financial Stability Board (FSB) has completed its framework for the regulation of systemically important banks (FSB 2013a), and is now turning to the insurance industry. Its approach is inspired by the banking framework, under which 29 banking groups have been classified as systemically important. These banks are subject to a three-pronged framework consisting of enhanced supervision, the preparation of risk- and crisis-management plans, and the application of capital surcharges.
Robert Engle, Eric Jondeau, Michael Rockinger20 September 2014
With the recent Global Crisis, the interest in systemic risk and the interconnection between financial institutions has increased. This column investigates the case of European financial firms, where several factors can jeopardise a firm’s financial health. Using data since 2000 to evaluate the firms’ systemic risk, the authors find that for certain countries, the cost to rescue the riskiest domestic banks is too high. They might be considered too big to be saved.
The Global Financial Stability Report of the IMF (2009) defines systemic risk as “a risk of disruption to financial services that is caused by an impairment of all or parts of the financial system and that has the potential to cause serious negative consequences for the real economy”. With the recent financial crisis, interest in the concept of systemic risk has grown. The rising globalisation of financial services has strengthened the interconnection between financial institutions.
Corporate governance of banks and financial stability
Luc Laeven, Lev Ratnovski21 July 2014
Bank distress during the recent crisis caused significant damage to the real economy. Appropriately, the policy response focused on stronger bank supervision and regulation. This column asks if there is a role for improvements in bank corporate governance. Based on the literature the authors suggest that better risk management, regulation of pay, and enhanced market discipline can help make banks safer. However, corporate governance cannot substitute for strong supervision: it can at best provide a helping hand.
Corporate governance is the practice of shareholders exercising control over managers so that they act in shareholders’ interests. In non-financial firms, this maximises firm efficiency. Such efficiency effects also exist in banks. For example, banks that face more active takeover markets are more cost-efficient (Brook et al. 1998).
Unlike non-financial firms, bank operations have another relevant dimension besides efficiency: risk. Banks are prone to risk-taking, due to:
Large banks have grown and become more involved in market-based activities since the late 1990s. This column presents evidence that large banks receive too-big-to-fail subsidies and create systemic risk, whereas economies of scale in banking are modest. Hence, some large banks may be ‘too large’ from a social perspective. Since the optimal bank size is unknown, the best policies are capital surcharges and better bank resolution and governance.
Large banks have grown significantly in size and become more involved in market-based activities since the late 1990s. Figure 1 shows how the balance-sheet size of the world’s largest banks increased two- to four-fold in the ten years prior to the crisis. Figure 2 illustrates how banks shifted from traditional lending towards market-oriented activities.
To date, much uncertainty exists about how large the spillovers would be from the default of a systemically important bank. This column shows evidence that the market values of US and EU banks hardly respond to changes in the default risk of banks that the Financial Stability Board considers globally systemically important (G-SIBs). However, changes in all G-SIBs’ default risk explain a substantial part of changes in bank market values. These findings have implications for financial-crisis management and prevention policies.
Financial-crisis management and prevention policies often focus on mitigating spillovers from the default of systemically important banks. During the recent crisis, governments avoided large bank failures by insuring and purchasing intermediaries’ troubled assets, by providing them with capital injections, and even by outright nationalisations. After the crisis, financial regulators designed additional requirements for those institutions that the Financial Stability Board designated as globally systemically important banks (G-SIBs).
Exploring the transmission channels of contagious bank runs
Martin Brown, Stefan Trautmann, Razvan Vlahu10 April 2014
Contagious bank runs are an important source of systemic risk. However, with observational data it is near-impossible to disentangle the contagion of bank runs from other potential causes of correlated deposit withdrawals across banks. This column discusses an experimental investigation of the mechanisms behind contagion. The authors find that panic-based deposit withdrawals can be strongly contagious across banks, but only if depositors know that the banks are economically related.
Financial contagion – the situation in which liquidity or insolvency risk is transmitted from one financial institution to another – is viewed by policymakers and academics as a key source of systemic risk in the banking sector. In particular, the events in the 2007–2009 Global Crisis have turned the attention of policymakers towards the potential contagion of liquidity withdrawals across banks and the resulting implications for financial stability.
Charles Calomiris talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his recent book, co-authored with Stephen Haber, ‘Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit’. They discuss how politics inevitably intrudes into bank regulation and why banking systems are unstable in some countries but not in others. Calomiris also presents his analysis of the political and banking history of the UK and how the well-being of banking systems depends on complex bargains and coalitions between politicians, bankers and other stakeholders. The interview was recorded in London in February 2014.
How much is enough? The case of the Resolution Fund in Europe
Thomas Huertas, María J Nieto18 March 2014
The European Resolution Fund is intended to reach €55 billion – much less than the amount of public assistance required by individual institutions during the recent financial crisis. This column argues that the Resolution Fund can nevertheless be large enough if it forms part of a broader architecture resting on four pillars: prudential regulation and supervision, ‘no forbearance’, adequate ‘reserve capital’, and provision of liquidity to the bank-in-resolution. By capping the Resolution Fund, policymakers have reinforced the need to ensure that investors, not taxpayers, bear the cost of bank failures.
During the crisis, individual institutions such as Hypo Real Estate required public assistance of €100 billion or more.1 So how can a European Resolution Fund of only €55 billion possibly suffice for all banks in the Eurozone?
It could, provided the Fund is part of a well-designed architecture for regulation, supervision, and resolution, that makes banks not only less likely to fail but also safe to fail – meaning that they can be resolved without cost to the taxpayer and without significant disruption to financial markets or the economy at large.
Viral Acharya talks to Viv Davies about his recent work with Sascha Steffen that, using publicly available data and a series of shortfall measures, estimates the capital shortfalls of EZ banks that will be stress-tested under the proposed Asset Quality Review. They also discuss the difference in accounting rules between US and EZ banks and the future potential for banking union in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded by phone on 25 February 2014.