The Paradox of DeFi

Nic Carter and Linda Jeng have produced a useful paper titled “DeFi Protocol Risks: the Paradox of DeFi” that explores the risks that DeFi will need to address and navigate if it is to deliver on the promises that they believe it can. There is of course plenty of scepticism about the potential for blockchain and DeFi to change the future of finance (including from me). What makes this paper interesting is that it is written by two people involved in trying to make the systems work as opposed to simply throwing rocks from the sidelines.

Linda Jeng has a regulatory back ground but is currently the Global Head of Policy at Transparent Financial Systems. Nic is a General Partner at a seed-stage venture capital film that invests in blockchain related businesses. The paper they have written will contribute a chapter to a book being edited by Bill Coen (former Secretary General of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision) and Diane Maurice to be titled “Regtech, Suptech and Beyond: Innovation and Technology in Financial Services” (RiskBooks).

Linda and Nic conceptually bucket DeFi risks into five categories: 

  1. interconnections with the traditional financial system, 
  2. operational risks stemming from underlying blockchains, 
  3. smart contract-based vulnerabilities, 
  4. other governance and regulatory risks, and 
  5. scalability challenges.

… and map out the relationships in this schematic

Conclusion: “No Free Lunch”

The paper concludes around the long standing principle firmly entrenched in the traditional financial world – there is “no free lunch”. Risk can be transformed but it is very hard to eliminate completely. Expressed another way, there is an inherent trade off in any system between efficiency and resilience.

Many of the things that make DeFi low cost and innovative also create operational risk and other challenges. Smart contracts sound cool, but when you frame them as “automated, hard-to-intervene contracts” it is easy to see they can also amplify risks. Scalability is identified as an especially hard problem if you are not willing to compromise on the principles that underpinned the original DeFI vision.

The paper is worth a read but if you are time poor then you can also read a short version via this post on Linda Jeng’s blog. Izabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville) also wrote about the paper here.

Tony – From the Outside

The BIS publishes some research on what drives investment in cryptocurrencies

Came across this paper published by the BIS titled “Distrust or speculation? The socioeconomic drivers of US cryptocurrency investments” authored by Raphael Auer and David Tercero-Lucas. The paper makes clear that its conclusions are not necessarily endorsed by the BIS but it is interesting none the less.

The authors downplay the idea that cryptocurrencies are all about opting out of fiat currencies and cite evidence that investors are treating crypto as just another asset class.

From a policy perspective, the overall takeaway of our analysis is that as the objectives of investors are the same as those for other asset classes, so should be the regulation. Cryptocurrencies are not sought as an alternative to fiat currencies or regulated finance, but instead are a niche digital speculation object.

From this perspective, increased regulation is actually a good thing for crypto

A clarifying regulatory and supervisory framework for cryptocurrency markets may be beneficial for the industry. In fact, regulatory announcements have had a strong impact on cryptocurrency prices and transaction volumes (Auer and Claessens, 2019, 2020), and those pointing to the establishment of specific regulations tailored to cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings are strongly correlated with relevant market gains.

They go so far as arguing that regulation may actually improve the long term viability of the asset class by addressing the problems associated with the energy consumption of the “proof of work” model.

Better regulation may also be beneficial – quintessential in fact – for the industry when it comes to the basic security model of many cryptocurrencies. This is so as the long-term viability of cryptocurrencies based on proof-of-work is questionable. Auer (2019a) shows that proof-of-work can only achieve payment security (i.e., finality) if the income of miners is high, and it is questionable whether transaction fees will always be high enough to generate an adequate level of income to guarantee save transactions and rule out majority attacks. In the particular for the case of Bitcoin, the security of payments will decrease each time the “block subsidy” declines (Auer, 2020). Potential solutions often involve some degree of institutionalisation, which in the long-run may require regulation or supervision.

I have to confess that I skimmed over the middle section of the paper that documented the modelling the authors used so I can’t attest to the reliability of the research. I read it mostly from the perspective of gaining a perspective on how the regulatory community is thinking about cryptocurrency.

Tony – From the Outside

The Basle Committee consults on bank cryptoasset exposures

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) yesterday (10 June 2021) released a consultative document setting out preliminary proposals for the prudential (i.e. capital adequacy) treatment of banks’ cryptoasset exposures. A report I read in the financial press suggested that Basel was applying tough capital requirements to all cryptoassets but when you look at the actual proposals that is not correct (credit to Matt Levine at Bloomberg for picking up on the detail).

The BCBS is actually proposing to split cryptoassets into two broad groups: one which looks through the Crypto/DLT packaging and (largely) applies the existing Basel requirements to the underlying assets with some modifications; and another (including Bitcoin) which is subject to the new conservative prudential treatment you may have read about.

The proposed prudential treatment is based around three general principles
  • Same risk, same activity, same treatment: While the the BCBS does see the “potential” for the growth of cryptoassets “to raise financial stability concerns and increase risks face by banks”, it is attempting to chart a path that is agnostic on the use of specific technologies related to cryptoassets while accounting for any additional risks arising from cryptoasset exposures relative to traditional assets.  
  • Simplicity: Given that cryptoassets are currently a relatively small asset class for banks, the BCBS proposes to start with a simple and cautious treatment that could, in principle, be revisited in the future depending on the evolution of cryptoassets. 
  • Minimum standards: Jurisdictions may apply additional and/or more conservative measures if they deem it desirable including outright prohibitions on their banks from having any exposures to cryptoassets. 
The key element of the proposals is a set of classification conditions used to identify the Group 1 Cryptoassets

In order to qualify for the “equivalent risk-based” capital requirements, a crypto asset must meet ALL of the conditions set out below:

  1. The crypto asset either is a tokenised traditional asset or has a stabilisation mechanism that is effective at all times in linking its value to an underlying traditional asset or a pool of traditional asset
  2. All rights obligations and interests arising from crypto asset arrangements that meet the condition above are clearly defined and legally enforceable in jurisdictions where the asset is issued and redeemed. In addition, the applicable legal framework(s) ensure(s) settlement finality.
  3. The functions of the crypotasset and the network on which it operates, including the distributed ledger or similar technology on which it is based, are designed and operated to sufficiently mitigate and manage any material risks.
  4. Entities that execute redemptions, transfers, or settlement finally of the crypto asset are regulated and supervised

Group 1 is further broken down to distinguish “tokenised traditional assets” (Group 1a) and “crypto assets with effective stabilisation mechanisms” (Group 1b). Capital requirements applied to Group 1a are “at least equivalent to those of traditional assets” while Group 2a will be subject to “new guidance of current rules” that is intended to “capture the risks relating to stabilisation mechanisms”. In both cases (Group 1a and 1b), the BCBS reserves the right to apply further “capital add-ons”.

Crypto assets that fail to meet ANY of the conditions above will be classified as Group 2 crypto assets and subject to 1250% risk weight applied to the maximum of long and short positions. Table 1 (page 3) in the BCBS document offers an overview of the new treatment.

Some in the crypto community may not care what the BCBS thinks or proposes given their vision is to create an alternate financial system as far away as possible from the conventional centralised financial system. It remains to be seen how that works out.

There are other paths that may seek to coexist and even co-operate with the traditional financial system. There is also of course the possibility that governments will seek to regulate any parts of the new financial system once they become large enough to impact the economy, consumers and/or investors.

I have no insights on how these scenarios play out but the stance being adopted by the BCBS is part of the puzzle. The fact that the BCBS are clearly staking out parts of the crypto world they want banks to avoid is unremarkable. What is interesting is the extent to which they are open to overlap and engagement with this latest front in the long history of financial innovation.

Very possible that I am missing something here so let me know what it is …

Tony – From the Outside

ECB Targeted Review of Internal Models

The European Central Bank recently (April 2021) released a report documenting what had been identified in a “Targeted Review of Internal Models”(TRIM). The TRIM Report has lots of interesting information for subject matter experts working on risk models.

It also has one item of broader interest for anyone interested in understanding what it means for an Australian Authorised Deposit Taking Institution (ADI) to be “Unquestionably Strong” per the recommendation handed down by the Australian Financial System Inquiry in 2014 and progressively being enshrined in capital regulation by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).

The Report disclosed that the TRIM has resulted in 253 supervisory decisions that are expected to result in a 12% increase in the aggregate RWAs of the models covered by the review. European banks may not be especially interested in the capital adequacy of their Australian peers but international peer comparisons have become one of the core lens through which Australian capital adequacy is assessed as a result of the FSI recommendation.

There are various ways in which the Unquestionably Strong benchmark is interpreted but one is the requirement that the Australian ADIs maintain a CET1 ratio that lies in the top quartile of international peer banks. A chart showing how Australian ADIs compare to their international peer group is a regular feature of the capital adequacy data they disclose. The changes being implemented by the ECB in response to the TRIM are likely (all other things being equal) to make the Australian ADIs look even better in relative terms in the future.

More detail …

The ECB report documents work that was initiated in 2016 covering 200 on-site model investigations (credit, market and counterparty credit risk) across 65 Significant Institutions (SI) supervised by ECB under what is known as the Single Supervisory Mechanism and extends to 129 pages. I must confess I have only read the Executive Summary (7 pages) thus far but I think students of the dark art of bank capital adequacy will find some useful nuggets of information.

Firstly, the Report confirms that there has been, as suspected, areas in which the outputs of the Internal Models used by these SI varied due to inconsistent interpretations of the BCBS and ECB guidance on how the models should be used to generate consistent and comparable risk measures. This was not however simply due to evil banks seeking to game the system. The ECB identified a variety of areas in which their requirements were not well specified or where national authorities had pursued inconsistent interpretations of the BCBS/ECB requirements. So one of the key outcomes of the TRIM is enhanced guidance from the ECB which it believes will reduce the instances of variation in RWA due to differences in interpretation of what is required.

Secondly the ECB also identified instances in which the models were likely to be unreliable due to a lack of data. As you would expect, this was an issue for Low Default Portfolios in general and Loss Given Default models in particular. As a result, the ECB is applying “limitations” on some models to ensure that the outputs are sufficient to cover the risk of the relevant portfolios.

Thirdly the Report disclosed that the TRIM has resulted in 253 supervisory decisions that are expected to result in a 12% increase in the aggregate RWAs of the models covered by the review.

As a follow-up to the TRIM investigations, 253 supervisory decisions have been issued or are in the process of being issued. Out of this total, 74% contain at least one limitation and 30% contain an approval of a material model change. It is estimated that the aggregated impact of TRIM limitations and model changes approved as part of TRIM investigations will lead to a 12% increase in the aggregated RWA covered by the models assessed in the respective TRIM investigations. This corresponds to an overall absolute increase in RWA of about €275 billion as a consequence of TRIM and to a median impact of -51 basis points and an average impact of -71 basis points on the CET1 ratios of the in-scope institutions.

European Central Bank, “Targeted Review of Internal Models – Project Report”, April 2021, (page 7)
Summing up

Interest in this report is obviously likely to be confined for the most part to the technical experts that labour in the bowels of the risk management machines operated by the large sophisticated banks that are accredited to measure their capital requirements using internal models. There is however one item of general interest to an Australian audience and that is the news that the RWA of their European peer banks is likely to increase by a material amount due to modelling changes.

It might not be obvious why that is so for readers located outside Australia. The reason lies in the requirement that our banks (or Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions to use the Australian jargon) be capitalised to an “Unquestionably Strong” level.

There are various ways in which this benchmark is interpreted but one is the requirement that the Australian ADIs maintain a CET1 ratio that lies in the top quartile of international peer banks. A chart showing how Australian ADIs compare to this international peer group is a regular feature of the capital adequacy data disclosed by the ADIs and the changes being implemented by the ECB are likely (all other things being equal) to make the Australian ADIs look even better in relative terms in the future.

Tony – From the Outside

Andrew Haldane

Claire Jones writing for the Financial Times Alphaville column confesses a fondness for the speeches of Andrew Haldane (departing chief economist at the Bank of England) . She offered a selection of favourites (you can access her column by signing up to Alphaville if you are not an FT subscriber).

I also rate pretty much everything he writes as worth reading often more than once to reflect on the issues he raises. To her top three Haldane speeches, I will add one he did in 2016 titled “The Great Divide” which explored the gap between the way banks perceive themselves and how they are perceived by the community.

Tony – From the Outside

Risk weights, capital and competition in the residential mortgage market

I have posted a couple of time on a Discussion Paper published by The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) in late 2020 (“A more flexible and resilient capital framework for ADIs”) setting out how it proposes to wrap up a number of prior consultations on a variety of aspects of ADI (authorised deposit-taking institution) capital reform in Australia (see here, here and here).

This post looks at the changes to mortgage risk weights (RW) outlined in the paper and attempts to explore (with limited information) what practical impact they might have. The short version is:

  • In very broad terms, APRA is seeking to assign higher RW to residential mortgages it deems to be relatively more risky but also lower RW for those it considers less risky
  • In pursuit of this objective, APRA has proposed two new categories of residential mortgage defined by the loan purpose (i.e. “Owner occupier loans paying principal and interest” and “Other Residential” including loans for investment and all interest only loans upon to 5 years tenor)
  • “Standard residential” mortgages see increased sensitivity of RW to Loan Valuation Ratios (LVR) while “Non-Standard residential mortgages face a 100% RW across the board irrespective of their LVR
  • Increased sensitivity to LVR is achieved via a simple recalibration of RW in the Standardised approach and via a reduction in the minimum Loss Given Default (LGD) applied in the IRB approach
  • The reduced LGD floor also indirectly allows Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance (LMI) to be recognised in the IRB models thereby creating greater alignment with the Standardised approach which directly recognises the value of LMI via a roughly 20% discount in the RW assigned to high LVR loans
  • With respect to the impact of RW on competition, APRA argues both that the existing difference between the Standardised and IRB approach is overstated and that the proposed changes will further assist the Standardised ADIs to compete.

APRA is not tinkering at the margins – there are quite substantial adjustments to RWs for both Standardised and IRB ADIs. That is the short version, read on if you want (or need) to dig into the detail.

Improved risk sensitivity cuts both ways

I have looked at “improved risk sensitivity” part of the overall package previously but, with the benefit of hindsight, possibly focussed too much on the expected reduction in aggregate risk weighted assets (RWA) coupled with the expansion of the capital buffers.

It is true that RWA overall are expected to decline – APRA estimated that the overall impact of the proposed revisions would be to reduce average RWAs for IRB ADIs by 10% and by 7% for Standardised ADIs. This obviously translates into higher reported capital ratios which is the impact I initially focussed on. Risk sensitivity however works both ways and a subsequent reading of the paper highlighted (for me at least) the equally important areas in which RW are proposed to increase – residential mortgages in particular.

APRA’s proposed revised approach to residential mortgage risk

APRA was very clear that one of their overall policy objectives is to “further strengthen capital requirements for residential mortgage exposures to reflect risks posed by ADIs’ structural concentration in this asset class“. In pursuit of this objective, APRA is targeting investment and interest only lending in particular but also high LVR lending in general.

In pursuit of these aims, the existing “standard residential mortgage” category is to be further broken down into 1) “Owner Occupied Principal and Interest” loans (OP&I) and 2) “Other Residential”. The “non-standard residential mortgages category (i.e. loans that do not conform to the credit risk origination standards prescribed by APRA) is to be expanded to include interest only loans with a tenor greater than 5 years.

So we get three broad vertical categories of residential mortgage riskiness

Low RiskHigher risk Highest risk
Owner Occupied
Principal & Interest
– Interest Only (term <5yrs)
– Investor mortgage loans
– Loans to SME secured by residential property
– Interest Only (term >5yrs)
– “Non-standard” mortgages
Note: RW are reduced where loans are covered by LMI but only for Standard Residential Mortgages and only where LVR is above 80%. To be classified as a “standard” mortgage a loan must satisfy minimum enforceability, serviceability and valuation criteria prescribed by APRA.
Impact on the Standardised ADIs

The table below compares the current RWs under the standardised approach (Source: Table 2 of APS 112 – Attachment C) with the indicative RWs APRA has proposed in the December 2020 Discussion Paper (Source: Table 2).

Residential Mortgage Risk Weights – Current and Proposed for Standardised ADIs

The RW within each of the three categories are being substantially recalibrated – APRA is not tinkering at the edges.

  • Increased sensitivity to LVR translates to higher RW applying in the upper LVR range but also reductions in the lower LVR range.
  • The increases in the high LVR ranges are particularly marked in the new “Other Residential” category (30-40% increases) but the reductions in the low LVR range are equally material (14-42%) for the OP&I category
  • Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI) continues to be recognised at the high end of the LVR range (i.e. 80% plus) but the RW assigned to loans with LMI are higher than is currently applied.
  • In case anyone was wondering how APRA really felt about non-standard residential mortgages they receive a 100% RW irrespective of their LVR.
Risk weights under the Internal Ratings Based (IRB) Approach

It is a lot harder to figure out exactly what will happen to IRB RW but the starting point is the two new multipliers being added to the IRB RW formula. The OP&I multiplier adds 40% to RW while the Other Residential category gets a 60% loading. These replace the existing “correlation adjustment” factor that was applied to increase the average IRB RW for residential mortgages to a minimum of 25% as part of the effort to reduce the difference between IRB and Standardised capital requirements.

In aggregate, my guess is that the impacts are roughly neutral in the case of the “Other Residential” loans subject to the 60% loading and a net reduction for the OP&I category. The substitution of flat scalars for the existing correlation adjustment does however create some impacts at the upper and lower ends of the PD scale. Under the correlation approach, my understanding is that low PD exposures increase by proportionately more than the average impact and high PD exposures by less. Under scalar approach, the RW are increased by the same percentage across the PD scale. I am not sure how material the impacts are but mention them for completeness. The flat scalars certainly have the advantage of simplicity and transparency but mostly they establish a RW differential between the two types of standard residential mortgage.

The reduced LGD floor is a significant change because it offers the potential for RW to be halved for exposures that can take the maximum advantage. Consistent with the revised standardised RW, I assume that this will be at the lower end of the LVR range. IRB ADIs will have to work for this benefit however as APRA will first have to approve their LGD models. Some ADIs might be well advanced on this front but as a general rule risk modellers tend to have plenty to do and it is hard to see these models having been a priority while the 20% floor has been in place.

It is also worth noting that the risk differential between OP&I and Other Residential mortgages implied by the multipliers employed in the IRB approach is 14% (i.e. 1.6/1.4) is lower than the 20-30% difference in RW proposed to apply in the Standardised approach. This seems to reflect APRA’s response to comments received (section 4.3 of “Response to Submissions”) that the application of different multipliers could double count risks already captured in the PD and LGD assigned to the two different categories of lending by the IRB risk models.

Impacts, implications and inferences

I can see a couple of implications that follow from these proposed changes

  1. LGD models start to matter
  2. The unquestionably strong benchmark is reinforced
  3. Potential to change the competition equilibrium between the big and small banks
LGD models start to matter

The IRB framework has been a part of the Australian banking system for close to two decades but the 20% LGD Floor has meant that residential mortgage LGD models mostly don’t matter, at least for the purposes of measuring capital adequacy requirements. I am not close enough to the action to know exactly what choices were made in practice but the logical response of credit risk modellers would be to concentrate on models that will make a difference.

APRA’s decision to reduce the LGD floor changes the calculus, IRB ADIs now have an incentive to invest the time and resources required to get new LGD models approved. Loan segments able to take full advantage of the 10% floor will be able to more than offset the impact of the multipliers. The LGD has a linear impact on risk weights so a halving from 20 to 10 percent will see risk weights also halve more than offsetting the 40 to 60% loadings introduced by the multipliers.

Exactly where the cut off lies remains to be seen but it seems reasonable to assume that the increases and decreases proposed in standardised risk weights are a reasonable guide to what we might expect in IRB risk weights; i.e. LGD may start to decline below 20% somewhere around the 70% LVR with the maximum benefit (10% LGD) capping out for LVR of say 50% and below. I have to emphasise that these are just semi educated guesses (hopefully anyway) and I am happy to be corrected by anyone with practical experience in LGD modelling. The main point is that LGD modelling will now have some practical impact so it will be interesting to watch how the IRB ADI respond.

Unquestionably strong is reinforced

On one level, it could be argued that the changes in risk weights don’t matter. ADIs get to report higher capital ratios but nothing really changes in substance. Call me a wide-eyed, risk-capital idealist but I see a different narrative.

First up, we know that residential mortgages are a huge risk concentration for the Australian banks so even small changes can have an impact on their overall risk profiles.

“While an individual residential mortgage loan does not, on its own, pose a systemic risk to the financial system, the accumulation of lending by almost all ADIs in this asset class means that in aggregate the system is exposed to heightened risks”

APRA Discussion Paper, “A more flexible and resilient capiutral framework for ADIs”, 8 December 2020 (page 12)

To my mind, the proposed changes can work in a combination of two ways and both have the potential to make a difference. The decline in residential mortgage risk weights is largely confined to loans originated at low LVRs – less than 70% in the case of “Owner-Occupied Principal and Interest” and less than 60% in the case of “Other Residential”. High LVR risk weights (i.e. 90% plus) are reduced for Owner Occupied Principal and Interest without LMI but my understanding is that these kinds 0f loans are exceptions to the rule, granted to higher quality borrowers and not a large share of the overall exposure. High LVR loans as a rule will face higher risk weights under the proposed changes and materially higher in the case of the “Other Residential” category.

In the low LVR lending, the decline in risk weights seems to be largely offset by higher capital ratio requirements via the increased buffers. In the case of the higher risk, high-LVR lending, the higher capital ratio requirements add to the overall dollar capital requirement.

Competition in residential mortgage lending

APRA has explicitly cited “enhancing competition” as one of their objectives. I don’t have enough hard data to offer any comprehensive assessment of the extent to which competition will be enhanced. The one thing I think worth calling out is the substantial reduction in RW assigned to low LVR loans under the Standardised approach. The table below maps the changes in RW with data APRA publishes quarterly on the amount of loans originated at different LVR bands.

Owner occupiers who have managed to substantially reduce the amount they owe the bank have always been an attractive credit risk; even better if appreciation in the value of their property has further reduced the effective LVR. The proposals reinforce the attraction of this category of borrower. The IRB ADIs will not give up these customers without a fight but the Standardised ADI will have an enhanced capacity t0 compete in this segment via the reduced RW.

At this stage we can only speculate on impacts as the final form of the proposals may evolve further as APRA gets to see the results of the Quantitative Impact Statements that the ADI’s are preparing as part of the consultation process.

Summing up

We are still some way way from seeing the practical impact of these changes and we need to see the extent to which the proposals are refined in response to what APRA learns from the QIS. There does however seem to be potential for the economics of residential mortgage lending to be shaken up so this is a development worth keeping an eye on.

Tony – From the Outside

Another reason why monetary authorities might not like stablecoins

Marc Rubinstein’s post (here) on Facebook’s attempt to create an alternative payment mechanism offers a useful summary of the state of play for anyone who has not had the time, nor the inclination, to follow the detail. It includes a short summary of its history, where the initiative currently stands and where it might be headed.

What caught my attention was his discussion of why central banks do not seem to be keen to support private sector initiatives in this domain. Marc noted that Facebook have elected to base their proposed currency (initially the “Libre” but relabelled a “Diem” in a revised proposal issued in December 2020) on a stable coin approach. There are variety of stable coin mechanisms (fiat-backed, commodity backed, cryptocurrency backed, seignorage-style) but in the case of the Diem, the value of the instrument is proposed to be based on an underlying pool of low risk fiat currency assets.

A stable value is great if the aim for the instrument is to facilitate payments for goods and services but it also creates concerns for policy makers. Marc cites a couple of issues …

But this is where policymakers started to get jumpy. They started to worry that if payments and financial transactions shift over to the Libra, they might lose control over their domestic monetary policy, all the more so if their currency isn’t represented in the basket. They worried too about the governance of the Libra Association and about its compliance framework. Perhaps if any other company had been behind it, they would have dismissed the threat, but they’d learned not to underestimate Facebook.”

“Facebook’s Big Diem”, Marc Rubinstein – https://netinterest.substack.com/p/facebooks-big-diem
One more reason why stable coins might be problematic for policy makers responsible for monetary policy and bank supervision?

Initiatives like Diem obviously represent a source of competition and indeed disruption for conventional banks. As a rule, policy makers tend to welcome competition, notwithstanding the potential for competition to undermine financial stability. However “fiat-backed” stable coin based initiatives also compete indirectly with banks in a less obvious way via their demand for the same pool of risk free assets that banks are required to hold for Basel III prudential liquidity requirements.

So central banks might prefer that the stock of government securities be available to fund the liquidity requirements of the banks they are responsible for, as opposed to alternative money systems that they are not responsible for nor have any direct control over.

I know a bit about banking but not a lot about cryptocurrency so it is entirely possible I am missing something here. If so then feedback welcome.

Tony – From the Outside

The tension between competition and financial stability …

… is a topic on which I have long been planning to write the definitive essay.

Today is not that day.

In the interim, I offer a link to a post by Marc Rubinstein that makes a few points I found worth noting and expanding upon.

Firstly, he starts with the observation that there are very few neat solutions to policy choices – mostly there are just trade-offs. He cites as a case a point the efforts by financial regulators to introduce increased competition over the past forty years as a means to make the financial system cheaper and more efficient. Regulators initially thought that they could rely on market discipline to manage the tension between increased freedom to compete and the risk that this competition would undermine credit standards but this assumption was found wanting and we ended up with the GFC.

When financial regulators think about trade-offs, the one they’ve traditionally wrestled with is the trade-off between financial stability and competition. It arises because banks are special: their resilience doesn’t just impact them and their shareholders; it impacts everybody. As financial crises through the ages have shown, if a bank goes down it can have a huge social cost. And if there’s a force that can chip away at resilience, it’s competition. It may start out innocently enough, but competition often leads towards excessive risk-taking. In an effort to remain competitive, banks can be seduced into relaxing credit standards. Their incentive to monitor loans and maintain long-term relationships with borrowers diminishes, credit gets oversupplied and soon enough you have a problem. 

The Policy Triangle, Marc Rubinstein -https://netinterest.substack.com/

We have learned that regulators may try to encourage competition where possible but, when push comes to shove, financial stability remains the prime directive. As a consequence, the incumbent players have to manage the costs of compliance but they also benefit from a privileged position that has been very hard to attack. Multiple new entrants to the Australian banking system learned this lesson the hard way during the 1980s and 1990s.

For a long time the trade-off played out on that simple one dimensional axis of “efficiency and competition” versus “financial stability” but the entry of technology companies into areas of financial services creates additional layers of complexity and new trade-offs to manage. Rubinstein borrows the “Policy Triangle” concept developed by Hyun Song Shin to discuss these issues.

Hyun Song Shin, Economic Adviser and Head of Research, Bank for International Settlements
  1. Firstly, he notes that financial regulators don’t have jurisdiction over technology companies so that complicates the ways in which they engage with these new sources of competition and their impact on the areas of the financial system that regulators do have responsibility for.
  2. Secondly, he discusses the ways in which the innovative use of data by these new players introduces a whole new range of variables into the regulatory equation.
Jurisdiction

New entrants have been able to make inroads into certain areas of finance, the payments function in particular. Some regulators have supported these areas of innovation but Rubinstein notes that regulators start to clamp down once new entrants start becoming large enough to matter. The response of Chinese authorities to Ant Financial is one example as is the response of financial regulators globally to Facebook’s attempt to create a digital currency. The lessons seems to be that increased regulation and supervisions is in store for any new entrant that achieves any material level of scale.

Data

The innovative use of data offers the promise of enhanced competition and improved ways of managing credit risk but this potentially comes at the cost of privacy. Data can also be harnessed by policy makers to gain new real-time insights into what is going on in the economy that can be used to guide financial stability policy settings.

Conclusion

Rubinstein has only scratched the surface of this topic but his post and the links he offers to other contributions to the discussion are I think worth reading. As stated at the outset, I hope to one day codify some thoughts on these topics but that is a work in progress. That post will consider issues like the “prisoner’s dilemma” that are I think an important part of the competition/stability trade-off. It is also important to consider the ways in which banks have come to play a unique role in the economy via the creation of money.

Tony – From the Outside

p.s. There are a few posts I have done on related topics that may be of interest

Do banks need belts and braces? – Bank Underground

Some interesting research via a Bank of England Staff Working Paper that explores the value of using multiple regulatory constraints to measure the risk of failure in banks.

Not surprisingly, they find superior utility in a portfolio of measures (risk weighted capital ratio, leverage ratio and Net Stable Funding Ratio) versus relying on a single measure of risk. This is not just due to better predictions of potential for failure but also because this is achieved at lower threshold ratios than would be the case if any of the measures was the sole basis for indicating heightened risk of failure

— Read on bankunderground.co.uk/2021/02/16/do-banks-need-belts-and-braces/

Tony – From the Outside

JP Koning – What Tether Means When It Says It’s ‘Regulated’ – CoinDesk

Useful article on Coindesk discussing what underpins the integrity of one of the more popular forms of Stabecoins

“Newcomers to the crypto space are quickly confronted with a popular distinction between regulated stablecoins and unregulated stablecoins. But what is the difference? Tether, the largest of the stablecoins, is often described as unregulated. But Tether executives and supporters disagree with this claim. Who is right?”
— Read on www.coindesk.com/what-tether-means-when-it-says-its-regulated

I don’t profess any real insight or expertise in this space but it does feel to me like a question that any serious student of banking needs to come to terms with.

Tony – From the Outside