Jeff For Banks

Bankers: What’s Your “Well Capitalized”?

Prediction: The Federal Reserve’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) and its complementary Dodd-Frank Act Stress Testing (DFAST) will meet its intended purpose, to better ensure financial institutions have sufficient capital during times of economic duress.
But not why you think.
If you look at Citigroup’s or BofA’s leverage ratio today versus 2006 or 2007, it is clear that they carry far more capital than before the financial crisis. And that, my readers, was the intended purpose. 
But it is not because CCAR or DFAST are properly assessing risk. The models are too complex and theoretical. An investment banker from a very large financial institution told me his bank submitted an 11,000 page CCAR to the Fed and they turned it down. Another prediction: nobody read an 11,000 page document. Nobody. And nobody understood it. That doesn’t mean somebody didn’t understand page 5,387, but the entire document? C’mon.
As long as the answer was, carry more capital, complex banks will be better prepared to weather economic storms. Perhaps regulators would save banks time, resources, and money if they took the age-old parent response to why banks should carry more capital… Because I said so!
As feared, DFAST schemes are being pushed down to smaller organizations. Regulators are asking for capital plans, and an assessment of risk in the bank’s strategy to determine capital needs. In other words, what’s your well capitalized? My firm wrote a newsletter on the issue. But I want to break it down to an even simpler form. 
Call it the Marsico Method. Because I’m a narcissist and want something named after me.
The below table shows the Marsico Method in its simplest form.
Currently, a bank is required to have a Leverage Ratio of 5% to be considered “well capitalized” by US regulators. So the Marsico Method begins with 5% applied to each asset category. No application of the 5% to liabilities, since capital ratios are calculated off of assets. That doesn’t mean that liabilities don’t carry risk, as you will see with the Risk Buffer.
The Risk Buffer column is similar to the buffer concept applied by Basel III, except that scheme applies a straight up 2.5% buffer to a common equity tier 1 (CET1) minimum of 4.5%, for a total CET1 ratio of 7%, to be fully phased in by 2018.
But in the Marsico Method, the Risk Buffer is an assessment of the potential loss estimate of each balance sheet item, based on a rational analysis by the financial institution. The table above is a high level balance sheet. Hypothetical? Not really. It is Cape Cod Five Cent Savings Bank’s balance sheet. And according to the analysis, their well capitalized is 7.90%. Meaning that if they experienced stress and began taking losses, the 2.9% buffer above the 5% should be sufficient to staunch the bleeding.
There would be more detail provided by specific loan, deposit, and other balance sheet categories to come up with the overall Risk Buffer per category. For example, upon analysis of the performance of the home equity line of credit portfolio during past downturns and rapid interest rate changes, the bank determines that the loss potential is 1.85%… hence the Risk Buffer for that particular balance sheet category.
Banks should not limit themselves to on balance sheet items. There is risk in pass through residential mortgage lending, loan commitments, and fee-based businesses to account for. And there is risk on the liability side of the balance sheet such as interest rate and liquidity risk, fraud, etc. That is why there is a Risk Buffer applied to those categories as well, although the risk is typically less than the asset side.
Using the Marsico Method, banks can then project the impact to the balance sheet and therefore Required Equity based on their strategy. This would flow nicely into their Capital Plan that identifies actions to augment capital should the bank experience a stress scenario. 
It also provides a nice answer to your regulators, Board of Directors, and other constituencies when they ask, what’s your “well capitalized”?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this approach!
~ Jeff