Misconduct Risk

February 22, 2016

Financial misconduct and systemic risk are two critical issues in financial regulation today. However, for the past several years, financial misconduct and systemic risk have received markedly different treatment. After the global financial crisis, regulators responded to the traditional quantitative risks that banks pose—those found on their balance sheets and in their business models—with sweeping reforms on an internationally coordinated scale. Meanwhile, with respect to misconduct, regulators have reacted with a traditional enforcement approach—imposing fines and, in some cases, prosecuting individual malefactors. Yet misconduct is not only an isolated or idiosyncratic risk that can be spot treated with enforcement: misconduct can also be a significant source of risk to the financial system, particularly when it arises on an industry-wide basis.

This Article creates a framework for understanding how and under what circumstances misconduct imposes such broad social and economic costs: “misconduct risk.” This Article explores three features of the banking industry that, in combination, can give rise to misconduct risk—deficient accountability systems, performance-based compensation, and a fluid and transient labor market. Drawing on this conceptual foundation, this Article argues that misconduct risk requires a holistic and preventive approach on par with regulators’ efforts to reduce classic balance sheet risks. Specifically, this Article urges bank supervisors to design regulatory tools that proactively target these contagion mechanisms in order to combat misconduct risk. This Article proposes a novel supervisory tool— “compliance stress testing”—and suggests how this tool can be incorporated into the existing international framework for regulating global banks.

March 2016

No. 4

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