Reckless Drivers at Lehman Brothers
April 20, 2010 Leave a comment
Today, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee will conduct a hearing to examine the failure of Lehman Brothers. One of the panelists slated to testify is the bankruptcy court appointed examiner, Anton R. Valukas. Mr. Valukas will testify that like many financial services firms, Lehman Brothers had a robust risk management program. However, Lehman Brothers’ fatal flaw was the fact that it routinely overrode the risk controls and limits to achieve greater short-term profits. Here is what Mr. Valukas found.
We conducted an extensive investigation to learn how Lehman managed, monitored and limited its exposure to risk. Lehman had adequate corporate governance procedures in place. It had quantitative risk models that accurately calculated risk and that accurately warned that Lehman was taking on significant levels of risk in excess of the limits generated by the models. Lehman’s procedures included reporting of the limits, and exceedances of the limits, to senior management and the Board.
But we found that Lehman was significantly and persistently in excess of its own risk limits. Lehman management decided to disregard the guidance provided by Lehman’s risk management systems. Rather than adjust business decisions to adapt to risk limit excesses, management decided to adjust the risk limits to adapt to business goals.
Much like a reckless driver who consistently exceeds speed limits and other traffic laws, Lehman Brothers eventually crashed. In the short-term, the reckless driver may get to his/her destination quicker. However, it is at the risk of not only his/her own life, but also the lives of everyone else in the way.