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Culture is a potent force in shaping individual and group behavior, yet it has received scant attention in the context of financial risk management and the recent financial crisis. I present a brief overview of the role of culture according to psychologists, sociologists, and economists, and then present a specific framework for analyzing culture in the context of financial practices and institutions in which three questions are answered: (1) What is culture?; (2) Does it matter?; and (3) Can it be changed? I illustrate the utility of this framework by applying it to five concrete situations—Long Term Capital Management; AIG Financial Products; Lehman Brothers and Repo 105; Société Générale’s rogue trader; and the SEC and the Madoff Ponzi scheme—and conclude with a proposal to change culture via “behavioral risk management.”
Risk aversion is one of the most basic assumptions of economic behavior, but few studies have addressed the question of where risk preferences come from and why they differ from one individual to the next. Here, we propose an evolutionary explanation for the origin of risk aversion. In the context of a simple binary-choice model, we show that risk aversion emerges by natural selection if reproductive
risk is systematic (i.e., correlated across individuals in a given generation). In contrast, risk neutrality emerges if reproductive risk is idiosyncratic (i.e., uncorrelated across each given generation). More generally, our framework implies that the degree of risk
aversion is determined by the stochastic nature of reproductive rates, and we show that different statistical properties lead to different utility functions. The simplicity and generality of ourmodel suggest that these implications are primitive and cut across species, physiology, and genetic origins.
with Ruixun Zhang, Thomas J. Brennan, PLOS One 9 (2014)
Despite many compelling applications in economics, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology, group selection is still one of the most hotly contested ideas in evolutionary biology. Here we propose a simple evolutionary model of behavior and show that what appears to be group selection may, in fact, simply be the consequence of natural selection occurring in stochastic environments with reproductive risks that are correlated across individuals. Those individuals with highly correlated risks will appear to form “groups”, even if their actions are, in fact, totally autonomous, mindless, and, prior to selection, uniformly randomly distributed in the population. This framework implies that a separate theory of group selection is not strictly necessary to explain observed phenomena such as altruism and cooperation. At the same time, it shows that the notion of group selection does captures a unique aspect of evolution—selection with correlated reproductive risk–that may be sufficiently widespread to warrant a separate term for the phenomenon.
with Florentin Butaru, Qingqing Chen, Brian Clark, Sanmay Das, Akhtar Siddique, Journal of Banking and Finance
Using account level credit-card data from six major commercial banks from January 2009 to December 2013, we apply machine-learning techniques to combined consumer-tradeline, credit-bureau, and macroeconomic variables to predict delinquency. In addition to providing accurate measures of loss probabilities and credit risk, our models can also be used to analyze and compare risk management practices and the drivers of delinquency across the banks. We find substantial heterogeneity in risk factors, sensitivities, and predictability of delinquency across banks, implying that no single model applies to all six institutions. We measure the efficacy of a bank’s risk-management process by the percentage of delinquent accounts that a bank manages effectively, and find that efficacy also varies widely across institutions. These results suggest the need for a more customized approached to the supervision and regulation of financial institutions, in which capital ratios, loss reserves, and other parameters are specified individually for each institution according to its credit-risk model exposures and forecasts.
with Emmanuel A. Abbe and Amir E. Khandani, American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 102 (2012), 65-70.
Unlike other industries in which intellectual property is patentable, the financial industry relies on trade secrecy to protect its business processes and methods, which can obscure critical financial risk exposures from regulators and the public. We develop methods for sharing and aggregating such risk exposures that protect the privacy of all parties involved and without the need for a trusted third party. Our approach employs secure multi-party computation techniques from cryptography in which multiple parties are able to compute joint functions without revealing their individual inputs. In our framework, individual financial institutions evaluate a protocol on their proprietary data which cannot be inverted, leading to secure computations of real-valued statistics such as concentration indexes, pairwise correlations, and other single- and multi-point statistics. The proposed protocols are computationally tractable on realistic sample sizes. Potential financial applications include: the construction of privacy-preserving real-time indexes of bank capital and leverage ratios; the monitoring of delegated portfolio investments; financial audits, and the publication of new indexes of proprietary trading strategies.
with Martin Leibowitz, Robert C. Merton, Stephen A. Ross, and Jeremy Siegel, Financial Analysts Journal
Moderator Martin Leibowitz asked a panel of industry experts—Andrew W. Lo, Robert C. Merton, Stephen A. Ross, and Jeremy Siegel—what they saw as the most important issues in finance, especially as those issues relate to practitioners. Drawing on their vast knowledge, these panelists addressed topics such as regulation, technology, and financing society’s challenges; opacity and trust; the social value of finance; and future expected returns.
Economic shocks can have diverse effects on financial market dynamics at different time horizons, yet traditional portfolio management tools do not distinguish between short- and long-term components in alpha, beta, and covariance estimators. In this paper, we apply spectral analysis techniques to quantify stock-return dynamics across multiple time horizons.Using the Fourier transform, we decompose asset-return variances, correlations, alphas, and betas into distinct frequency components. These decompositions allow us to identify the relative importance of specific time horizons in determining each of these quantities, as well as to construct mean-variance-frequency optimal portfolios. Our approach can be applied to any portfolio, and is particularly useful for comparing the forecast power of multiple investment strategies. We provide several numerical and empirical examples to illustrate the practical relevance of these techniques.
Technological advances in telecommunications, securities exchanges, and algorithmic trading have facilitated a host of new investment products that resemble theme-based passive indexes but which depart from traditional market-cap-weighted portfolios. I propose broadening the definition of an index using a functional perspective—any portfolio strategy that satisfies three properties should be considered an index: (1) it is completely transparent; (2) it is investable; and (3) it is systematic, i.e., it is entirely rules-based and contains no judgment or unique investment skill. Portfolios satisfying these properties that are not market-cap-weighted are given a new name: “dynamic indexes.” This functional definition widens the universe of possibilities and, most importantly, decouples risk management from alpha generation. Passive strategies can and should be actively risk managed, and I provide a simple example of how this can be achieved. Dynamic indexes also create new challenges of which the most significant is backtest bias, and I conclude with a proposal for managing this risk.
with Vahid Montazerhodjat & David M. Weinstock, Science Translational Medicine
A crisis is building over the prices of new transformative therapies for cancer, hepatitis C virus infection, and rare diseases. The clinical imperative is to offer these therapies as broadly and rapidly as possible. We propose a practical way to increase drug affordability through health care loans (HCLs)—the equivalent of mortgages for large health care expenses. HCLs allow patients in both multipayer and single-payer markets to access a broader set of therapeutics, including expensive short-duration treatments that are curative. HCLs also link payment to clinical benefit and should help lower per-patient cost while incentivizing the development of transformative therapies rather than those that offer small incremental advances. Moreover, we propose the use of securitization—a well-known financial engineering method—to finance a large diversified pool of HCLs through both debt and equity. Numerical simulations suggest that securitization is viable for a wide range of economic environments and cost parameters, allowing a much broader patient population to access transformative therapies while also aligning the interests of patients, payers, and the pharmaceutical
with Vahid Montazerhodjat and John J. Frishkopf, Drug Discovery Today
We extend the megafund concept for funding drug discovery to enable dynamic leverage in which the portfolio of candidate therapeutic assets is predominantly financed initially by equity, and debt is introduced gradually as assets mature and begin generating cash flows. Leverage is adjusted so as to maintain an approximately constant level of default risk throughout the life of the fund. Numerical simulations show that applying dynamic leverage to a small portfolio of orphan drug candidates can boost the return on equity almost twofold compared with securitization with a static capital structure. Dynamic leverage can also add significant value to comparable all-equity-financed portfolios, enhancing the return on equity without jeopardizing debt performance or increasing risk to equity investors.