This paper provides an economic and mathematical characterization of operational risk useful for clarifying the issues related to estimation and the determination of economic capital. The insights for this characterization originate in the corporate finance literature. Operational risk is subdivided into two types, either: (i) the risk of a loss due to the firm's operating technology, or (ii) the risk of a loss due to agency costs. These two types of operational risks generate loss processes with different economic characteristics. We argue that the current methodology for the determination of economic capital for operational risk is overstated. It is biased high because the computation omits the bank's net present value (NPV) generating process. We also show that although it is conceptually possible to estimate the operational risk processes' parameters using only market prices, the non-observability of the firm's value makes this an unlikely possibility, except in rare cases. Instead, we argue that data internal to the firm, in conjunction with standard hazard rate estimation procedures, provides a more fruitful alternative.
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