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24 June 2011

PRMIA on Data and Analytics

Final presentation at the PRMIA event yesterday was by Clifford Rossi and was entitled "The Brave New World of Data & Analytics Following the Crisis: A Risk Manager's Perspective".

Clifford got his presentation going with a humorous and self-depricating start by suggesting that his past employment history could in fact be the missing "leading indicator" for predicting orgnisations in crisis, having worked at CitiGroup, WaMu, Countrywide, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. One of the other professors present said that he didn't do the same to academia (University of Maryland beware maybe!).

Clifford said that the crisis had laid bare the inadequacy and underinvestment in data and risk technology in the financial services sector. He suggested that the OFR had the potential to be a game changer in correcting this issue and in helping the role of CRO to gain in stature.

He gave an example of a project at one of the GSEs he had worked at called "Project Enterprise" which was to replace 40 year old mainframe based systems (systems that for instance only had 3 digits to identify a transaction). He said that he noted that this project had recently been killed, having cost around $500M. With history like this, it is not surprising that enterpring risk data warehousing capabilities were viewed as black holes without much payoff prior to the crisis. In fact it was only due to Basel that data management projects in risk received any attention from senior management in his view.

During the recent stress test process (SCAP) the regulators found just how woeful these systems were as the banks struggled to produce the scenario results in a timely manner. Clifford said that many banks struggled to produce a consistent view of risk even for one asset type, and that in many cases, corporate acquisitions had exascerbated this lack of consistency in obtaining accurate, timely exposure data. He said that the mortgage processing fiasco showed the inadequacy of these types of systems (echoing something I heard at another event about mortgage tagging information being completely "free-fromat", without even designated fields for "City" and "State" for instance)

Data integrity was another key issue that Clifford discussed, here talking about the lack of historical performance data leading to myopia in dealing with new products and poor defintions of product leading to risk assessments based on the originator rather than on the characteristics of the product. (side note: I remember prior to the crisis the credit derivatives department at one UK bank requisitioning all new server hardware to price new CDO squared deals given it was supposedly so profitable, it was at that point that maybe I should have known something was brewing...) Clifford also outlined some further data challenges, such as the changing statistical relationship between Debt to Income ratio and mortgage defaults once incomes were self-declared on mortgages.

Moving on to consider analytics and models, Clifford outlined a lot of the concerns covered by the Modeller's Manifesto, such as the lack of qualitative judgement and over-reliance on the quantitative, efficiency and automation superceding risk management, limited capability to stress test on a regular basis, regime change, poor model validation, and cognitive biases reinforced by backward-looking statistical analysis. He made the additional point that in relation to the OFR, they should concentrate on getting good data in place before spending resource on building models.

In terms of focus going forward, Clifford said the liquidity, counterparty and credit risk management were not well understood. Possibly echoing Ricardo Rebonato's ideas, he suggested that leading indicators need to be integrated into risk modelling to provide the early warning systems we need. He advocated that the was more to do on integrating risk views across lines of business, counterparties and between the banking and trading book.

Whilst being a proponent of the OFRs potential to mandate better Analytics and data management, he warned (sensibly in my view) that we should not think that the solution to future crises is simply to set up a massive data collection and Modelling entity (see earlier post on the proposed ECB data utility)

Clifford thinks that Dodd-Frank has the potential to do for the CRO role what Sarbanes-Oxley did in elevating the CFO role. He wants risk managers to take the opportunity presented in this post-crisis period to lead the way in promoting good judgement based on sound management of data and Analytics. He warned that senior management buy-in to risk management was essential and could be forced through by regulatory edict.

This last and closing point is where I think where the role of risk management (as opposed to risk reporting) faces it's biggest challenge, in that how can a risk manager be supported in preventing a senior business manager from seeking a overly risky new business opportunity based on what "might" happen in the future - we human beings don't think about uncertainty very clearly and the lack of a resulting negative outcome will be seen by many to invalidate the concerns put forward before a decision was made. Risk management will become known as the "business prevention" department and not regarded as the key role it should be.

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