The biggest problem for banks trying to get their stress-testing up to speed isn't expertise — it's technology.
Data-crunching, reporting and other technological aids have not developed as quickly as banks' needs for them have in the six years since stress tests began in the United States. Banks new to stress-testing are often unprepared to provide the detailed information that regulators need, and there is no commonly used, off-the-shelf tech system to do it for them.
That may be why risk management experts say that tech, not personnel, is the real problem with their banks' stress-testing programs, according to a new survey issued by the Global Association of Risk Professionals and the analytics firm SAS Institute.
Respondents were asked to rate whether they were satisfied with the people, expertise and technology for four different aspects of the stress-testing process, and in each category, technology came in lower than people or expertise, the survey found.
The four categories were data management, modeling, scenario management and reporting and analysis, and in each of them double-digit percentages of respondents said there were "major gaps" in their technology resources. In addition an average of 38% of respondents across the four categories said there were "some gaps" in their technological resources.
On the other hand just 5% said there were major gaps in the number of people devoted to stress-testing, and 7% said there were major gaps in their staffs' expertise, on average across the four categories.
These results reflect how banks' approaches to stress-testing often evolve, said Tom Kimner, SAS' head of global operations for risk management. Banks generally begin their stress-testing programs with just internal staff, then hire outsiders for specific expertise, and only then start investing in technology.
That results in a lag between the quality and efficiency of banks' technological systems and the rest of their process, he said.
"We're seeing a gap, where the people and expertise are built up to a level where banks are very comfortable, and now they're starting to look at technology to close some of the gaps," Kimner said.
The issue of stress-testing technology is more relevant than ever as the ranks of stress-testers continue to expand. This was the first year that regional banks, or those with between $10 billion and $50 billion in assets, were subject to the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests, a watered-down version of the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review process that larger banks undergo annually.
Banks below $10 billion, too, often do some kind of stress-testing as part of their internal risk management, though it is not required by law or the regulators.
As you might expect with a process that is only five years old, some parts of the stress-testing processes are more developed than others, and the survey shines light on where banks are up to speed and where they are still struggling. The survey was conducted online in May and June and was based on 389 responses from management and stress-testing practitioners.
Banks have often complained about the cost of stress-testing, but the flip side of this major spending is that most respondents say their institutions are making the necessary investment. Most respondents feel that their banks are putting in the right amount of effort, with 55% of respondents saying management is devoting enough attention to stress-testing.
Banks are making progress, but the reporting process is still tricky, the survey showed. Seventy percent of respondents said they have made progress on data management, 65% on modeling and 60% on scenario management, but just 27% said they have made significant progress on reporting.
While many bankers have also complained that the stress-testing process is opaque and confusing, survey respondents expressed less frustration with the regulators than one might expect. More than half of all respondents said they were getting enough information from regulators before, during and after the stress-testing process.
That was especially true among the banks whose stress-testing process was more developed. Among those who characterized their process as "mature," 79% said regulators are providing enough information.
"I think maybe the tide has shifted, particularly with larger banks," Kimner said. "I wouldn't say that they have embraced the regulation, but I didn't sense as much frustration in the survey."