C. Myblog

When Stress Tests Aren’t Stressful

July 29, 2010

The recent news about the European bank stress tests has us thinking about when a stress test isn’t a stress test.  By now, you may have heard that out of the banks tested, 7 out of 91 failed the “stress tests”.¹  That is a 92% pass rate, and should earn the European banking system an A grade, right?  As it turns out, there are many critics of these tests.  For example, only trading securities were subject to market devaluations, so all held-to-maturity securities were excluded from the tests.  Further, some of the economic “stresses” were little more stressful than the current environment.

For example, “The worst-case scenario envisioned…the overall euro-zone economy shrinking 0.2% this year and 0.6% the next year.   In some of the 20 countries that conducted the tests, regulators figured that property values would keep rising or hold steady in a worst-case economic scenario…”  In Austria, for example, properties under the stress test were assumed to increase 2% this year and 2.7% next year.²  Try telling a “sand state” credit union that a 2% increase in property values is a stress test.

Why this interest in Europe’s stress tests?  As regulators/governments publish the results, it could provide consumers with a sense of security and hope that may not be justified—ultimately adding more confusion to an already delicate environment.  We often find that appropriately managing expectations is nearly half the battle.

When you decide to conduct stress tests for your organization, don’t shortchange yourself by designing a test that can be easy to pass.  AND, don’t limit your stress tests to what is probable.  Again, nobody thought the cascading events that occurred over the last few years were probable.  It’s the improbable that is currently bringing long-standing organizations to their knees.

¹Cozy Stress Tests Fail Confidence Test, The Source, 07/26/10

²Europe’s Stress Tests Relied On Mild Assumptions, Wall Street Journal, 07/26/10

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