Where Credit is Due

While the market risk managers are getting grilled for the financial debacle we are in, the credit controllers are walking around with that smug look that says, “Told you so!” But systemic reasons for the financial turmoil hide in our credit risk management practices as well.

We manage credit risk in two ways — by demanding collateral or by credit limit allocation. In the consumer credit market, they correspond to secure lending (home mortgages, for instance) and unsecured loans (say, credit lines). The latter clearly involves more credit risk, which is why you pay obscene interests on outstanding balances.

In dealing with financial counterparties, we use the same two paradigms. Collateral credit management is generally safe because the collateral involved cannot be used for multiple credit exposures. But when we assign each counterparty a credit limit based on their credit ratings, we have a problem. While the credit rating of a bank or a financial institution may be accurate, it is almost impossible to know how much credit is loaded against that entity (because options and derivatives are “off balance sheet” instruments). This situation is akin to a bank’s inability to check how much you have drawn against your other credit lines, when it offers you an overdraft facility.

The end result is that even in good times, the leverage against the credit rating can be dangerously high without counterparties realizing it. The ensuing painful deleveraging takes place when a credit event (such as lowering of the credit rating) occurs.



2 thoughts on “Where Credit is Due”

Comments are closed.