How Do Bank Regulators Determine Capital Adequacy Requirements?

45 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2014

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 9, 2014


Minimum capital regulations play a central role in banking regulation. Regulators require banks to maintain capital above a certain level in order to correct incentives to make excessively risky loans and investments. However, it has never been clear how regulators determine how high or low the minimum capital-asset ratio should be. An examination of U.S. regulators’ justifications for five regulations issued over more than 30 years reveals that regulators have never performed (or at least disclosed) a serious economic analysis that would justify the levels that they chose. Instead, regulators appear to have followed a practice of what I call “norming” — incremental change designed to weed out a handful of outlier banks. This approach resulted in a significant regulatory failure because it could not have given, and did not give, banks an adequate incentive to increase capital. The failure of banking regulators to use cost-benefit analysis in order to determine capital requirements may therefore have contributed to the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., How Do Bank Regulators Determine Capital Adequacy Requirements? (September 9, 2014). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 698, Available at SSRN: or

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

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