Managed Risk Taking

Is your ALM system a risk management system or is ALM a process at your firm for managed risk taking?

It appears that banks and insurers both use the term ALM to refer to the process that they use with interest rate change risk.  But in general, banks are using ALM as a part of a managed risk taking system, while insurers are most often using ALM as a risk management system.

The difference is in the acceptable targets.  Insurers most often have a target for matching of assets and liabilities to within a 0.50 tolerance in difference in duration for example.  The tolerance is most often justified as a practical consideration, allowing the managers of the ALM system to avoid making too many expensive small moves and to gently steer the portfolio into the matched situation.

Banks will have a much larger mismatch allowance.  A part of the basic business of banks is to borrow funds short term and to lend them long term.  There is a significant duration mismatch embedded into their business model.  The ALM managers are there to make sure that the interest rate risk does not grow beyond those tolerances.  The bank should be setting the limit for mismatch to a level of loss that they can afford.

It is fascinating that for the most part, insurers who are generally buy and hold risk takers are unwilling to take advantage of the generally upward sloping yield curve in anywhere near the level that banks are.  Insurers tend to look at their risks as good risks and bad risks and to avoid any exposure to the bad risks if possible.  Interest rate change risk is seen as a bad risk, probably because (a) there us no underwriting, no selection involved and (b) the risk is totally uncontrollable.

Insurers like risks where they can develop an expertise of underwriting the risk, selecting the better risks over the worse risks.  Interest rate risk, at least within economies has no specific risk component.  If there was underwriting involved, that underwriting would be trying to figure out the forces that drive interest rates up and down.  And that is very difficult to do.

The interest rate change risk is totally uncontrollable because there is no claims management.  There is a major subjective, personal element in the form of the central bankers setting the rates at the short end.  The rates at the long end are driven by both supply and demand as well as by inflation assumptions.  So to get interest rates risht, one would need to read the minds of the central bankers, predict the need for funding and the amount of capital available at various rate levels for various terms as well as the expectations of the market for inflation.  Good luck.

There is another difference between banks and insurers that perhaps explains the difference in strategies.  THe banks are usually able to get their money on a short term basis, paying the low short term interest rates.  Insurers, on the other hand usually get their funds for a longer term.  They may not always need to promise a long term interest rate, but they usually want to keep their customers for the long term, so they want to make plans to pay interest rates at a level consistent with long term.

And if you follow yield curves over time, you will notice that the steepest and most reliable part of the yield curve is at the very short end of the curve.  At the middle of the curve, there is not always an upward slant that is large enough to justify the risk of a significant mismatch, not is it reliable enough to build your business off of it.

So maybe the two segments have it right for their situations.  Banks can have their managed risk taking system while insurers need their risk management system.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Asset Liability Management, Interest Rate Risk, Risk Limits

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