Does “Skin in the Game” Reduce Risk Taking? Leverage, Liability and the Long-Run Consequences of New Deal Financial Reforms
We examine how the Banking Acts of the 1933 and 1935 and related New Deal legislation influenced risk taking in the financial sector of the U.S. economy. Our analysis focuses on contingent liability of bank owners for losses incurred by their firms and how the elimination of this liability influenced leverage and lending by commercial banks. Using a new panel data set that compares balance sheets of state and national banks, we find contingent liability reduced risk taking, particularly when coupled with rules requiring banks to join the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Leverage ratios are higher in states with limited liability for bank owners. Banks in states with contingent liability converted each dollar of capital into fewer loans, and thus could sustain larger loan losses (as a fraction of their portfolio) than banks in limited liability states. The New Deal replaced a regime of contingent liability with stricter balance sheet regulation and increased capital requirements, shifting the onus of risk management from banks to state and federal regulators. By separating investment banks from commercial banks, the Glass-Steagall Act left investment banks to manage their own leverage, a feature of financial regulation that, in part, depended on their partnership structure.
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