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Principles for the Management of Credit Risk

A discussion paper by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision

July 1999

Introduction: 1. While financial institutions have faced difficulties over the years for a multitude of reasons, the major cause of serious banking problems continues to be directly related to lax credit standards for borrowers and counterparties, poor portfolio risk management, or a lack of attention to changes in economic or other circumstances that can lead to a deterioration in the credit standing of a bank's counterparties. This experience is common in both G-10 and non-G-10 countries.

2. Credit risk is most simply defined as the potential that a bank borrower or counterparty will fail to meet its obligations in accordance with agreed terms. The goal of credit risk management is to maximise a bank's risk-adjusted rate of return by maintaining credit risk exposure within acceptable parameters. Banks need to manage the credit risk inherent in the entire portfolio as well as the risk in individual credits or transactions. Banks should also consider the relationships between credit risk and other risks. The effective management of credit risk is a critical component of a comprehensive approach to risk management and essential to the long-term success of any banking organisation.

3. For most banks, loans are the largest and most obvious source of credit risk; however, other sources of credit risk exist throughout the activities of a bank, including in the banking book and in the trading book, and both on and off the balance sheet. Banks are increasingly facing credit risk (or counterparty risk) in various financial instruments other than loans, including acceptances, interbank transactions, trade financing, foreign exchange transactions, financial futures, swaps, bonds, equities, options, and in the extension of commitments and guarantees, and the settlement of transactions.

4. Since exposure to credit risk continues to be the leading source of problems in banks world-wide, banks and their supervisors should be able to draw useful lessons from past experiences. Banks should now have a keen awareness of the need to identify, measure, monitor and control credit risk as well as to determine that they hold adequate capital against these risks and that they are adequately compensated for risks incurred. The Basel Committee is issuing this document in order to encourage banking supervisors globally to promote sound practices for managing credit risk. Although the principles contained in this paper are most clearly applicable to the business of lending, they should be applied to all activities where credit risk is present.

5. The sound practices set out in this document specifically address the following areas: (i) establishing an appropriate credit risk environment; (ii) operating under a sound credit-granting process; (iii) maintaining an appropriate credit administration, measurement and monitoring process; and (iv) ensuring adequate controls over credit risk. Although specific credit risk management practices may differ among banks depending upon the nature and complexity of their credit activities, a comprehensive credit risk management program will address these four areas. These practices should also be applied in conjunction with sound practices related to the assessment of asset quality, the adequacy of provisions and reserves, and the disclosure of credit risk, all of which have been addressed in other recent Basel Committee documents.

6. While the exact approach chosen by individual supervisors will depend on a host of factors, including their on-site and off-site supervisory techniques and the degree to which external auditors are also used in the supervisory function, all members of the Basel Committee agree that the principles set out in this paper should be used in evaluating a bank's credit risk management system. Supervisory expectations for the credit risk management approach used by individual banks should be commensurate with the scope and sophistication of the bank's activities. For smaller or less sophisticated banks, supervisors need to determine that the credit risk management approach used is sufficient for their activities and that they have instilled sufficient risk-return discipline in their credit risk management processes. The Committee stipulates in Sections II to VI of the paper, principles for banking supervisory authorities to apply in assessing bank's credit risk management systems. In addition, the appendix provides an overview of credit problems commonly seen by supervisors.

7. A further particular instance of credit risk relates to the process of settling financial transactions. If one side of a transaction is settled but the other fails, a loss may be incurred that is equal to the principal amount of the transaction. Even if one party is simply late in settling, then the other party may incur a loss relating to missed investment opportunities. Settlement risk (i.e. the risk that the completion or settlement of a financial transaction will fail to take place as expected) thus includes elements of liquidity, market, operational and reputational risk as well as credit risk. The level of risk is determined by the particular arrangements for settlement. Factors in such arrangements that have a bearing on credit risk include: the timing of the exchange of value; payment/settlement finality; and the role of intermediaries and clearing houses.

8. This paper was originally published for consultation in July 1999. The Committee is grateful to the central banks, supervisory authorities, banking associations, and institutions that provided comments. These comments have informed the production of this final version of the paper.

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