Stronger Risk Controls, Lower Risk: Evidence from U.S. Bank Holding Companies
In this paper, we investigate whether U.S. bank holding companies (BHCs) with strong and independent risk management functions had lower aggregate risk and downside risk. We hand-collect information on the organization structure of the 75 largest publicly-listed BHCs, and use this information to construct a Risk Management Index (RMI) that measures the strength of organizational risk controls at these institutions. We find that BHCs with a high RMI in the year 2006, i.e., before the onset of the financial crisis, had lower exposures to mortgage-backed securities and risky trading assets, were less active in trading off-balance sheet derivatives, and generally fared better in terms of operating performance and lower downside risk during the crisis years (2007 and 2008). In a panel spanning 8 years, we find that BHCs with higher RMIs had lower aggregate risk and downside risk, and higher stock returns, after controlling for size, profitability, a variety of risk characteristics, corporate governance, executive compensation, and BHC fixed effects. This result holds even after controlling for any simultaneity bias. Overall, these results suggest that strong internal risk controls are effective in lowering risk at banking institutions.
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