Risk adjusted loan pricing – the upside Part 1

January 27, 2009 by Guest Contributor

By: Tom Hannagan

Part 1

In my last three posts, we have covered the key parts of how risk-based loan pricing works. We have discussed how the key foundational elements involved in risk-adjusted loan pricing can and should relate to the bank’s accounting results and strategic policies. We went from the pricing analysis of an individual loan on a risk-adjusted basis to solving for a bank-wide target or guideline return. We also mentioned how this analysis can be expanded to the client relationship level, both producing a relationship management view of any existing loans and the impact of pricing a renewal or new credit to impact the client-level return. Finally, I mentioned that although this capability can exist (and does in more banks than ever before), it isn’t an easy undertaking in an industry that is historically keyed to volume goals rather than transaction profit (let alone risk-adjusted profit).

So, why go through the effort? Moving to a risk-adjusted view of lending and relationship management requires serious thought, effort and resolve. It involves change and teaching lenders a new trick. It even suggests that the lending executive (perhaps the next president of the bank) hasn’t been doing the best job possible to protect and advance the bank’s margins. Any new undertaking involves management risk. And, accurate or not, bank executives are not generally viewed as terrific change agents. Is this concept of risk-based pricing worth all the time and trouble? We think so – for two general reasons.

Corporate governance
Almost any business, if not any undertaking of any kind, involves risk to some degree. Finance in general, and commercial banking, specifically, involves several kinds of risk. The most obvious risk is repayment or credit risk. Banks have been lending money successfully for a long time. The funny thing is that often, when we’ve studied the actual loan rates of a bank’s portfolio versus the bank’s own risk ratings (or risk grades), we see almost no difference in loan pricing. The banks have credit policies that discuss the different ratings in some detail. And, the banks usually have some sort of provisioning process or ALLL (Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses) logic that uses these differences in risk rating. Loan review guidelines often use the differences in risk rating to gauge the review frequency and depth.

So, the banks know what’s going on. They know that a higher risk borrower/loan is less likely to be repaid in full than a lower credit risk borrower/loan. But, the lending operation goes on as if they were all about the same. There seems to be a disconnect (kind of like when my arms and brain disconnect when I swing a golf club). I know if I slow down I’ll hit a better shot, but I still swing way too fast. It seems to me that since the bank has all of these terrific policies in place dealing with credit risk, that good governance would require that credit risk be reflected more fully when loans are marketed, negotiated and agreed to – rather than just when they go awry.

I would make the same general argument for management consistency associated with other risk types. If the loan duration is longer, good governance would reflect (pay for) a realistic marginal funding cost of the same duration. This would help to align the loan pricing effort with the guidelines or policies associated with ALCO or Asset and Liability Policy Committee and Interest Rate Risk (IRR) management. If a loan involves higher or lower risk of unexpected loss based on loan/collateral type and risk rating, then the risk capital associated with the loan should vary accordingly. The risk-based allocation of capital will then require different pricing in order for the loan to hit a targeted return. This protection of return, on a risk-adjusted basis, is the final step in good governance – in this case, to protect the shareholders specific contribution (of their equity) to funding the loan in question.

Finally, if I were a director, regulator or an auditor (again), and I reviewed all of these fine policies related to risk management, and did not see them reflected in deal pricing, I would have to ask “why?”.  It would seem that either executive management doesn’t really believe in their own policies, or they are willing to set them aside when negotiating deals for the added business. Maybe loan management doesn’t want to be bothered by the policies while they’re out there in the “real world” fighting for added loan volume. Either way, there seems to be a governance disconnect. Which I know on the golf course, leads to lost balls and unnecessary poor scores.

My second major reason will follow in my next blog.