« »

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How small banks manage financial risk

Risk management is the process of limiting risk while maintaining or growing bank profitability. Assessing risk in a small bank is an ongoing function as the banks clients' credibility can change over time. The same is true for business patrons since local markets and economics can also fluctuate based on various supply and demand trends, competition, lending rates etc. 

Risk management for small banks is achieved through implementing a number of risk management procedures that address the various areas of banking risk. This article will address the different types of risks small banks face and how these risks can be ameliorated for the benefit of the banks ownership and operational performance.

Types of small bank risks

Included in the types of bank risks facing small banks are credit risk,  interest rate risk,  liquidity risk and  price risk. (Fraser, Gup and Kolari, p.9) These risks are linked to the banks solvency, investments, lending and borrowing rates, and clientele. If these risks are too high, the banks net income can decline through written off asset accounts, lowered revenue, and in some cases the bank can face undercapitalization. To illustrate the above credit risk, if small bank A makes credit loans to 100 customers, 25 of whom have less than excellent credit, the bank is taking on more credit risk than it would if all 100 customers had excellent credit.

The above credit risk scenario leads to another risk, specifically underperformance. For example, if bank A's management decides it does not want a high credit risk and instead only lends to customers with excellent credit the risk of underutilizing capital emerges if not enough customers with high credit borrow the same amount of money that would have been lent if people with less than perfect credit were allowed to borrow from the bank on credit. Thus, the adept risk manager will be experienced and knowledgeable enough to realize what adjustments to the bank's credit policy will lead to the highest lending return with the least amount of risk for that return. This is accomplished in part by effectively measuring risk.

Measurement of small-bank risk

Risk can be measured partly with the aid of 'risk ratios' which are usually simple division based mathematical scenarios that focus on specific aspects of the banking operation. For example, risk ratios address small bank concerns such as capitalization,  liquidity, operating efficiency and interest rate sensitivity. (Fraser, Gup and Kolari, p.76-80) Moreover, capitalization ratios quantitatively determine how much money a small bank has set aside for loan charge offs in relation to the amount of loans made. 

This is calculated by dividing the loan loss reserve of a bank by the total dollar amount of loans. Risk management theory can be extensive and involved for the purpose of focusing on sufficiently accounting for and dealing with unnecessary risk. The result of this theory yields a number of risk management case studies and forumulaic, quantitative and qualitative measurements with statistical probabilities of success and viability in some cases. Essentially, if the risk a small bank faces can't be measured, that risk becomes a greater hazard to the bank, hence the need for risk management metrics.

Implementing risk management

Implementation of risk management policy involves developing a risk management bank policy that takes into account risk management metrics/measurements with the goal of profit optimization. This requires the bank's management to accurately record, monitor and forecast financial scenarios in which the bank can operate safely and profitably. The task of risk management is performed well when the small bank manager has a firm comprehension and sensitivity to the quantitative and qualitative factors within the banking industry. Over time, experience and knowledge of the banks capacity combined with adequate metrics and forecasting may yield a successful risk management policy that provides the bank with the financial security and success it often seeks. An example of a risk management model is below:

Risk management
Risk management models differ between organizations but aim for the same goal

Additional forms of risk management involve Federal regulatory policies that impact how a bank can borrow and lend funds, the services the banks can provide and how banks disclose information to their clients and the government for insurance and consumer protection purposes. Still further risk management positively affects the banks legal positioning through sound compliance with banking law in addition to strong public relations that can assist with lowering a banks reputational risk. Technological risk is another area of risk that can be soundly dealt with through a banking information technology management.

Small bank risk management deals with sources of risk to a bank whether it be financial, digital, legal or social and implements risk management policies to prevent and lower the various types of risk that can affect a bank and as described in this article.

Implementation of risk management requires the bank's management to monitor, assess and supervise the banking operation to ensure enhanced profitability, adequate capitalization, needed liquidity, regulatory compliance, public relations and unnecessary debt for the bank.

Experienced bank managers are or should be familiar with the banking environment, market forces, banking policies and regulations and sound financial management to properly deal with the risks that can face a bank in its daily operations.


1. Fraser, Gup and Kolari. 'Commercial Banking: The Management of Risk' 2nd edition' South-Western College Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2001.
2. http://www.chicagofed.org/banking_information/legal_reputational_risk.cfm
3. http://www.chicagofed.org/banking_information/risk_management.cfm
4. http://fic.wharton.upenn.edu/fic/papers/1096.html

Image license: Stuart G. Hamilton, CC BY-SA 3.0