Bankers Trust and the Birth of Modern Risk Management
13 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2023
Date Written: Winter 2016
A leading financial practitioner traces the origins of the risk management concepts and applications widely used in today's financial institutions to their development at Bankers Trust in the 1970s. The bank became a pioneer out of necessity and entrepreneurship. Lacking the relationships with large corporations enjoyed by J.P. Morgan and Chase, Bankers Trust had to find ways to offer financial products its well‐established competitors could not. The innovations in risk management came from the Bank's "Resources Management" group, which was responsible for its trading and funding activities (but not corporate lending). By applying probability theory to its trading positions, the bank found an effective way to measure "market risk." Extensions and refinements of this methodology were then used to measure credit risk and, later, liquidity risk and operational risk. These statistical methods and probabilistic concepts were brought together in a metric called Risk Adjusted Return On Capital, or "RAROC," as it eventually became known throughout the financial services industry. RAROC was a concise way to measure and communicate the economic profits that had been generated by a transaction, product, or business unit, given the amount of "risk‐based" equity capital that was necessary to generate that profit. At Bankers Trust, RAROC eventually was used not only to evaluate profitability, but to guide strategic planning, capital allocation, and incentive compensation. And tools incorporating the same concepts, but with names like Value at Risk (or VaR), were later adopted by many other banks as well as regulators, including the framers of the Basel Accords. The author closes by suggesting how and why Bankers Trust's risk management culture began to deteriorate after 1995, and the bank was acquired by Deutsche Bank in 1998.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation