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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dyman Associates Risk Management: Is Your Money Safe?

Is Your Money Safe? Risk Management Blindspots That Cost Investors Dearly

Both retail and institutional investors who have survived one or more economic recessions have learned that they cannot select their money managers solely on a demonstrated stream of at or above benchmark returns and that they need to include the underlying risk of their investment portfolio in the formula that calculates expected future value. However, the risk denominator in portfolio management analytics may be underestimated or misestimated because of the following three industry problems:

1. The traditional view of risk is disaggregated

The traditional view segregates risk into market, credit and operational. In most organizations, both public corporations that issue equity and debt to investors and privately-held asset managers that oversee investors’ money, the various aspects of risk are managed separately.  For example, in some typical organizational structures, the Investment Officer is responsible for market risk; the Treasury Officer or CFO for credit risk and the COO for operational risk.  Each analyzes and synthesizes risk separately and reports his findings to the Board or Management Committee, leaving them baffled to make sense of the holistic picture.  However, risk is not additive or linear and often hot spots in one area may cause undetected issues in other areas.

Market, credit and operational risk were interrelated in one of the most notorious examples of risk mismanagement — AIG’s failure to meet its liquidity obligations which led to $170 billion government bailout.  AIG was heavily involved in writing CDS with its exposure at the height reportedly reaching $440 billion (market risk), which exceeded what the company could pay in claims when the MBS it insured defaulted leading to a liquidity crunch (credit risk).  Additionally, there were signs of inherent operational risks: AIGFP was a minimally regulated and separate hedge fund that leveraged the credit rating of the holding company to place big bets with little reserves. Each one of these issues separately did not pause “crash the car” risk, but in aggregate the market, credit and operational risk factors of AIG could have been lethal to the company and the economy safe for the subsequent government bailout.

2. Regulators are approaching the industry reactively

Significant regulatory tightening ensued after the 2008 mortgage crisis.  According to some critics, regulators may potentially be looking at risk far more reactively by focusing on the problems that have already manifested than proactively identifying new risks that could cause the next business failure. For example, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) so far designated three US financial institutions as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs) – GE , Prudential  and AIG and imposed on them increased capital requirements. However,  the FSOC does not consider large asset managers to be SIFIs. There is some merit to the logic that asset managers do not require as strong of a balance sheet since they do not own the assets they manage and pass through the downside risk to their investors.  Yet, it could be argued that the asset managers’ aggregate risk and that their investment processes and technology infrastructure pause systemic risk.  For example, over a trillion dollars of passive investments including the iShares brand are managed on Blackrock ’s technology platform Aladdin. It is not hard to foresee the dramatic impact of a major failure of Blackrock’s platform on the US and global economy.

3. Operational risks is not adequately represented

To manage market risk better, most investors are well aware of basic portfolio hygiene principles including the value of diversification, the importance of looking at volatility driven asset correlation, rebalancing, the criticality of subtracting leverage when assessing quality alpha, the value of protecting for inflation through IL bonds or inflation-hedging assets such as real estate. I would argue that operational risk is as big if not a bigger driver of financial loss as market risk. According to Phillipa Girling, a leading expert on operational risk and author: “operational risk in the headlines in the past few years” is hard to ignore: Notorious examples include “egregious fraud (Madoff, Stanford), breathtaking unauthorized trading (Société Générale and UBS), shameless insider trading (Raj Rajaratnam, Nomura, SAC Capital), stunning technological failings (Knight Capital, Nasdaq Facebook IPO, anonymous cyber‐attacks), and heartbreaking external events (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist attacks).” (Operational Risk Successful Framework).  Inadequately managed operational risk costs investors, corporations and tax payers billions of dollars:  Madoff’s  pyramid reportedly cost investors $18 billion and the 2008 government bailout cost taxpayers $700 billion. (New York Times Archives)

If the impact of operational risk is undoubtedly large, why do otherwise savvy investors often disaggregate or even completely miss operational risk from the overall expected value analytics of their portfolio and inadvertently accept more risk than they are comfortable with? Part of the problem stems from a lack of a well established methodology to clearly quantify operational risk and integrate it into portfolio management.

Imagine creating a unified industry-sponsored score for operational risk similar to a credit score or  Moody’s  bond ratings, which takes into consideration the fundamental elements of operational risks – people, process, technology, and external events, and quantifies them.  That score would then be clearly available for investors along with the returns and market risk of the portfolio leading to a far more accurate valuation. Significant progress toward accountability and transparency could be made if operational risk were to be demystified.

How can investors make safer investments?

What could investors do in an environment of confusing regulatory requirements and limited transparency around operational risk?  For starters, Investors can raise their awareness and employ alternatives to address the information asymmetry in the following ways:

1. Select asset managers that demonstrate commitment to operational risk management

Certainly some asset managers understand and are willing to invest in operational excellence and risk management.  For example, in the 2014 Review of the Asset Management Industry, the Boston Consulting Group provides an overview of the shadow model where an asset manager can use two counterparties to manage their middle and back office. At Bridgewater Associates, I co-led the implementation of such a model where the firm aimed to create greater transparency, switchability and stay ahead of the regulatory bodies by outsourcing its back and middle office to both BNY Mellon and Northern Trust. FundFire published an article, Bridgewater Divides Industry with Latest Deal, describing the benefits and open questions about the model. It is still early to say whether the industry will embrace this model more broadly. Similarly to gain an operational excellence edge, Citadel and Tudor  invested in a custom-built straight-through processing systems that integrate the trading platforms with the post-trade processes creating greater transparency and reliability. Both are aiming to commercialize their technologies and make these available to smaller money managers who may not be able to afford a large in-house technology development team.

1 comment:

  1. To manage the risk successfully one should have Pmp Proffessional s.With high competition, companies have to develop products fast and innovatively always adding value and greater customer satisfaction. it is important to learn and practice its basic principles which collectively and naturally help in effective management of risk. As a project manager i follow PMBOK guide of PMI

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