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Preparing for Model Validation: Ideas for Model Owners

Though not its intent, model validation can be disruptive to model owners and others seeking to carry out their day-to-day work. We have performed enough model validations over the past decade to have learned how cumbersome the process can be to business unit model owners and others we inconvenience with what at times must feel like an endless barrage of touch-point meetings, documentation requests and other questions relating to modeling inputs, outputs, and procedures.

We recognize that the only thing these business units did to deserve this inconvenience was to devise or procure a methodology for systematically improving how something gets estimated. In some cases, the business owner of an application tagged for validation may view it simply as a calculator or other tool, and not as a “model.” And in some cases we agree with the business owner. But in every case, the system under review has been designated as a model requiring validation either by an independent risk management department within the institution or (worse) by a regulator, and so, the validation project must be completed.

As with so many things in life, when it comes to model validation preparation, an ounce of prevention goes a long way. Here are some ideas model owners might consider for making their next model validation a little less stressful.

Overall Model Documentation

Among the first questions we ask at the beginning of a model validation is whether the model has been validated before. In reality, however, we can make a fairly reliable guess about the model’s validation history simply by reading the model owner’s documentation. A comprehensive set of documentation that clearly articulates the model’s purpose, its inputs’ sources, how it works, what happens to the outputs and how the outputs are monitored is an almost sure sign that the model in question has been validated multiple times.

In contrast, it’s generally apparent that the model is being validated for the first time when our initial request for documentation yields one or more of the following:

  • An 800-page user guide from the model’s vendor, but no internally developed documentation or procedures
  • Incomplete (or absent) lists of model inputs with little or no discussion of how inputs and assumptions are obtained, verified, or used in the model
  • No discussion of the model’s limitations
  • Perfunctory monitoring procedures, such as, “The outputs are reviewed by an analyst for reasonableness”
  • Vague (or absent) descriptions of the model’s outputs and how they are used
  • Change logs with just one or two entries

No one likes to write model documentation. There never seems to be enough time to write model documentation. Compounding this challenge is the fact that model validations frequently seem to occur at the most inopportune moments for model owners. A bank’s DFAST models, for example, often undergo validation while the business owners who use them are busy preparing the bank’s DFAST submission. This is not the best time to be tweaking documentation and assembling data for validators.

Documentation would ideally be prepared during periods of lower operational stress. Model owners can accomplish this by predicting and staying in front of requests from model risk management by independently generating documentation for all their models that satisfies the following basic criteria:

  • Identifies the model’s purpose, including its business and functional requirements, and who is responsible for using and maintaining the model
  • Comprehensively lists and justifies of the model’s inputs and assumptions
  • Describes the model’s overall theory and approach, i.e., how the model goes about transforming the inputs and assumptions into reliable outputs (including VBA or other computer code if the model was developed in house)
  • Lays out the developmental evidence supporting the model
  • Identifies the limitations of the model
  • Explains how the model is controlled—who can access it, who can change it, what sorts of approvals are required for different types of changes
  • Comprehensively identifies and describes the model’s outputs, how they are used, and how they are tested

Any investment of time beforehand to incorporate the items above into the model’s documentation will pay dividends when the model validation begins. Being able to simply hand this information over to the validators will likely save model owners hours of attending follow-up meetings and fielding requests. Additional suggestions for getting the model’s inputs and outputs in order follow below.

All of the model’s inputs and assumptions need to be explicitly spelled out, as well as their relevance to the model, their source(s), and any processes used to determine their reliability. Simply emailing an Excel file containing the model and referring the validator to the ‘Inputs’ tab is probably going to result in more meetings, more questions, and more time siphoned out of the model owner’s workday by the validation team.

A useful approach for consolidating inputs and assumptions that might be scattered around different areas of the model involves the creation of a simple table that captures everything a validator is likely to ask about each of the model’s inputs and assumptions.

Systematically capturing all of the model’s inputs and assumptions in this way enable the validators to quickly take inventory of what needs to be tested without having to subject the model owner to a time-consuming battery of questions designed to make sure they haven’t missed anything.

Model Outputs

Being prepared to explain to the validator all the model’s outputs individually and how each is used in reporting and downstream applications greatly facilitates the validation process. Accounting for all the uses of every output becomes more complicated when they are used outside the business unit, including as inputs to another model. At the discretion of the institution’s model risk management group, it may be sufficient to limit this exercise only to uses within the model owner’s purview and to reports provided to management. As with inputs, this can be facilitated by a table.

Outputs that impact directly on financial statements are especially important. Model validators are likely to give these outputs particular scrutiny and model owners would do well to be prepared to explain not only how such outputs are computed and verified, but how the audit trails surrounding them are maintained, as well.

To the extent that outputs are subjected to regular benchmarking, back-testing, or sensitivity analyses, these should be gathered as well.

A Series of Small Investments

A model owner might look at these suggestions and conclude that they seem like a lot of work just to get ready for a model validation. We agree. Bear in mind, however, that the model validator is almost certain to ask for these things at some point during the validation, when, chances are, a model owner is likely to wish she had the flexibility to do her real job. Making a series of small-time investments to assemble these items well in advance of the validator’s arrival not only will make the validation more tolerable for model owners but will likely improve the overall modeling process as well.

New Capital Planning Expectations for Large Financial Institutions and What It Means For You

The Federal Reserve Board (FRB) recently released regulatory guidance outlining its capital planning expectations for large financial companies. The guidance addresses many areas of the capital planning process where regulators are looking for continued improvement within large bank holding companies and attempts to clarify differences in the Fed’s expectations based on firm size and complexity. The guidance is effective for the 2016 CCAR cycle.

The Federal Reserve has provided separate guidance for two different categories of large financial institutions:

  1. LISCC Firms1 and ‘Large and Complex’ firms were provided capital planning guidance under SR 15-18, and
  2. ‘Large and Noncomplex’ firms were provided capital planning guidance under SR 15-19.

SR 15-18 Summary

Specifically, SR 15-18 applies to firms that:

  • Are subject to the LISCC framework,
  • Have total consolidated assets of $250 billion or more, or
  • Have consolidated total on-balance sheet foreign exposure of $10 billion or more.

For the largest and most complex firms, the guidance clarifies expectations that have been previously communicated to firms, including through past Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) exercises and related supervisory reviews.

SR 15-19 Summary

SR 15-19 applies to firms and ‘Large and Noncomplex’ institutions that:

  • Are not otherwise subject to the LISCC framework,
  • Have total consolidated assets between $50 billion and $250 billion, and
  • Have total consolidated on-balance-sheet foreign exposure of less than $10 billion.

Implications of these capital planning guidelines

Both sets of guidelines (SR 15-18 and SR 15-19) lay out the governance, risk management, internal controls, capital policy, scenario design, and projection methodology expectations relating to the capital planning process. They also lay out some important distinctions between the two institution types relating to how models and model risk management are expected to be used.

We summarize some of the key differences between what is required of these two institution types in the table below. 

Current 2017 LISCC Portfolio Firms

According to the Federal Reserve, here are the current LISCC firms:

  • American International Group, Inc.
  • Bank of America Corporation
  • The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation
  • Barclays PLC
  • Citigroup Inc.
  • Credit Suisse Group AG
  • Deutsche Bank AG
  • The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
  • JP Morgan Chase & Co.
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Prudential Financial, Inc.
  • State Street Corporation
  • UBS AG
  • Wells Fargo & Company

[1] Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee (LISCC) – the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve has the responsibility for the supervision of systemically important financial institutions, including large bank holding companies, the U.S. operations of certain foreign banking organizations, and nonbank financial companies that are designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) for supervision by the Board of Governors. A list of LISCC firms can be found at

RDARR: Principles for Effective Risk Data Aggregation and Risk Reporting

Background and Impetus for RDARR

The global financial crisis revealed that many banks had inadequate practices for timely, complete, and accurate aggregation of risk exposures.  These limitations impaired their ability to generate reliable information to manage risks, especially during times of economic stress. These limitations resulted in severe consequences to individual banks and the entire financial system.

Whether or not your bank is designated as an SIB, we expect your regulator to apply the Principles. You may wish to proactively enhance your RDARR. RiskSpan’s RDARR Advisory Services team has decades of finance, accounting, data, and technology expertise to help banks meet these increasing supervisory expectations.

Responding to this pervasive systemic issue, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) issued the “Principles for Effective Risk Data Aggregation and Risk Reporting” (RDARR).

Objectives of RDARR

The BCBS RDARR prescribes principles (the Principles) with the objective of strengthening risk data aggregation capabilities and internal risk reporting practices. Implementation of the Principles is expected to enhance risk management and decision-making processes in order to:

  • Enhance infrastructure for reporting key information, particularly that used by the board and senior management to identify, monitor and manage risks;
  • Improve decision-making processes;
  • Enhance the management of information across legal entities, while facilitating a comprehensive assessment of risk exposures at a consolidated level;
  • Reduce the probability and severity of losses resulting from risk management weaknesses;
  • Improve the speed at which information is available and hence decisions can be made; and
  • Improve the organization’s quality of strategic planning and the ability to manage the risk of new products and services.

The Principles of RDARR

Fourteen Principles are structured in four sections:

Overarching governance and infrastructure

1. Governance
2. Architecture/ Infrastructure

Risk data aggregation capabilities

3. Data Accuracy and Integrity
4. Completeness
5. Timeliness
6. Adaptability

Risk reporting practices

7.  Reports Accuracy
8.  Comprehensiveness
9.  Clarity and Usefulness
10.  Frequency
11.  Distribution

Supervisory review, tools and cooperation

12.  Review
13.  Remediation
14.  Cooperation

The BCBS prescribes requirements and practices for each Principle that define compliance.

Scope of RDARR

The Principles are initially prescribed to systemically important banks (SIBs) as designated by the international Financial Stability Board (FSB). Initially, they were expected to be fully implemented by January 1, 2016.

The BCBS “strongly” suggests that supervisory bodies apply the Principles to a wider range of banks, proportionate to the size, nature, and complexity of these banks’ operations.

Consistent with other recent supervisory pronouncements, we expect these principles to eventually be applied by other regulators.

Progress in Adopting RDARR

The BCBS has conducted multiple self-assessment surveys of SIBs to measure preparedness for compliance with the Principles and identify common challenges, along with potential strategies for compliance.

The survey results indicate many banks continue to encounter difficulties in establishing strong data aggregation governance, architecture and processes, often relying on manual workarounds. Many banks failed to recognize that governance/infrastructure practices are important prerequisites for facilitating compliance with the Principles.

Many banks indicated that they will be unable to comply with at least one Principle by the January 2016 deadline.

Impact of the Principles

This guidance has increased the required capabilities of RDARR for measuring and reporting risks.

The new paradigm for risk data aggregation and risk reporting imposes many new standards, most notably:

  • A bank’s senior management should be fully aware of and understand the limitations that prevent full risk data aggregation.
  • Controls surrounding risk data need to be as robust as those applicable to accounting data.
  • Risk data should be reconciled with source systems, including accounting data where appropriate, to ensure that the risk data is accurate.
  • A bank should strive towards a single authoritative source for risk data per each type of risk.
  • Supervisors expect banks to document and explain all of their risk data aggregation processes whether automated or manual.
  • Supervisors expect banks to consider accuracy requirements analogous to accounting materiality.
  • Due to the wide and comprehensive scope of RDARR Principles, many SIBs have struggled to identify and implement the enhancements to facilitate full compliance.

Examples of RiskSpan RDARR Assistance Include:

  • Interpret Principles and Requirements – Interpret the Principles and their application to your existing risk, data, risk reporting, IT infrastructure, data architecture, and quality.
  • Assess Current Capabilities – Assess your existing risk data, risk reporting, IT infrastructure, data architecture, and data quality to identify gaps in the capabilities prescribed by the Principles.
  • Develop and Implement Remediation – Develop and implement remediation plans to eliminate gaps and facilitate compliance.
  • Develop and Implement Standard Risk Taxonomies – Develop standard risk taxonomies to meet the needs for risk reporting, regulatory compliance.
  • Develop or Enhance Risk Reporting – Develop automated risk reporting dashboards for market, credit, and operational risk that are supported by reliable source data.
  • Document and Assess End State RDARR – Develop good documentation of the end state to demonstrate compliance to regulators.

RiskSpan RDARR Advisory Services

Whether or not your bank is designated as a SIB, recent trends indicate that your regulator may soon expect you to apply the Principles. You will need to pro-actively enhance your RDARR.

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision Principles for Effective Risk Data Aggregation and Risk Reporting guidance has increased the burden on you for measuring and reporting risks.  This new paradigm for risk data aggregation and risk reporting imposes many new standards.

RiskSpan’s RDARR Advisory Services team has decades of finance, accounting, data, and technology expertise to help banks meet these increasing supervisory expectations.

About The Author

Steve Sloan, Director, CPA, CIA, CISA, CIDA, has extensive experience in the professional practices of risk management and internal audit, collaborating with management and audit committees to design and implement the infrastructures to obtain the required assurances over risk and controls.

He prescribes a disciplined approach, aligning stakeholders’ expectations with leading practices, to maximize the return on investment in risk functions. Steve holds a Bachelor of Science from Pennsylvania State University and has multiple certifications.

Vendor Model Validation

Many of the models we validate on behalf of our clients are developed and maintained by third-party vendors. These validations present a number of complexities that are less commonly encountered when validating “home-grown” models. These often include:

  1. Inability to interview the model developer
  2. Inability to review the model code
  3. Inadequate documentation
  4. Lack of developmental evidence and data sets
  5. Lack of transparency into the impact custom settings

Notwithstanding these challenges, the OCC’s Supervisory Guidance on Model Risk Management (OCC 2011-12)1 specifies that, “Vendor products should nevertheless be incorporated into a bank’s broader model risk management framework following the same principles as applied to in-house models, although the process may be somewhat modified.”

The extent of these modifications depends on the complexity of the model and the cooperation afforded by the model’s vendor. We have found the following general principles and practices to be useful.

Model Validation for Vendor Models

Vendor Documentation is Not a Substitute for Model Documentation

Documentation provided by model vendors typically includes user guides and other materials designed to help users navigate applications and make sense of outputs. These documents are written for a diverse group of model users and are not designed to identify and address particular model capabilities specific to the purpose and portfolio of an individual bank. A bank’s model documentation package should delve into its specific implementation of the model, as well as the following:

  • Discussion of the model’s purpose and specific application, including business and functional requirements achieved by the model
  • Discussion of model theory and approach, including algorithms, calculations, formulas, functions and programming
  • Description of the model’s structure
  • Identification of model limitations and weaknesses
  • Comprehensive list of model inputs and assumptions, including their sources
  • Comprehensive list of outputs and reports and how they are used, including downstream systems that rely on them
  • Description of testing (benchmarking and back-testing)

Because documentation provided by the vendor is likely to include very few if any of these items, it falls to the model owner (at the bank) to generate this documentation. While some of these items (specific algorithms, calculations, formulas, and programming, for example) are likely to be deemed proprietary and will not be disclosed by the vendor, most of these components are obtainable and should be requested and documented.

Model documentation should also clearly lay out all model settings (e.g., knobs) and justification for the use of (or departure from) vendor default settings.

Model Validation Testing Results Should Be Requested of the Vendor

OCC 2011-12 states that “Banks should expect vendors to conduct ongoing performance monitoring and outcomes analysis, with disclosure to their clients, and to make appropriate modifications and updates over time.” Many vendors publish the results of their own internal testing of the model. For example, a prepayment model vendor is likely to include back-testing results of the model’s forecasts for certain loan cohorts against actual, observed prepayments. An automated valuation model (AVM) vendor might publish the results of testing comparing the property values it generates against sales data. If a model’s vendor does not publish this information, model validators should request it and document the response in the model validation report. Where available, this information should be obtained and incorporated into the model validation process, along with a discussion of its applicability to data the bank is modeling. Model validators should attempt to replicate the results of these studies, where feasible, and use them to enhance their own independent benchmarking and back-testing activities.

Developmental Evidence Should Be Requested of the Vendor

OCC 2011-12 directs banks to “require the vendor to provide developmental evidence explaining the product components, design, and intended use.” This should be incorporated into the bank’s model documentation. Where feasible, model validators should also ask model vendors to provide information about data sets that were used to develop and test the model.

Contingency plans should be maintained: OCC 2011-12 cites the importance of a bank’s having “as much knowledge in-house as possible, in case the vendor or the bank terminates the contract for any reason, or if the vendor is no longer in business. Banks should have contingency plans for instances when the vendor model is no longer available or cannot be supported by the vendor.” For simple applications whose inner workings are well understood and replicable, a contingency plan may be as simple as Microsoft Excel. This requirement can pose a significant challenge, however, for banks that purchase off-the-shelf asset-liability and market risk models and do not have the in-house expertise to quickly and adequately replicate these models’ complex computations. Situations such as this argue for the implementation of reliable challenger models, which not only assist in meeting benchmarking requirements but can also function as a contingency plan backup.

Consult the Model Risk Management Group During the Process of Procuring Any Application That Might Possibly be Classified as a “Model”

In a perfect world, model validation considerations would be contemplated as part of the procurement process. An agreement to provide developmental evidence, testing results, and cooperation with future model validation efforts would ideally figure into the negotiations before the purchase of any application is finalized. Unfortunately, our experience has shown that banks often acquire what they think of as a simple third-party application, only to be informed after the fact, by either a regulator or the model risk management group, that they have in fact purchased a model requiring validation. A model vendor, particularly one not inclined to think of its product as a “model,” may not always be as responsive to requests for development and testing data after sale if those items have not been requested as a condition for the sale. It is, therefore, a prudent practice for procurement departments to have open lines of communication with model risk management groups so that the right questions can be asked and requirements established prior to application acquisition.

[1] See also: Federal Reserve Board of Governors Guidance on Model Risk Management (SR 11-7)

Model Validation: Is This Spreadsheet a Model?

As model validators, we frequently find ourselves in the middle of debates between spreadsheet owners and enterprise risk managers over the question of whether a particular computing tool rises to the level of a “model.” To the uninitiated, the semantic question, “Is this spreadsheet a model?” may appear to be largely academic and inconsequential. But its ramifications are significant, and getting the answer right is of critical importance to model owners, to enterprise risk managers, and to regulators.

Stakeholders of Model Validation

In the most important respects, the incentives of these stakeholder groups are aligned. Everybody has an interest in knowing that the spreadsheet in question is functioning as it should and producing accurate and meaningful outputs. Appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that every computing tool does this, regardless of whether it is ultimately deemed a model. But classifying something as a model carries with it important consequences related to cost and productivity, as well as overall model risk management.

It is here where incentives begin to diverge. Owners and users of spreadsheets, in particular, are generally inclined to classify them as simple applications or end-user computing (EUC) tools whose reliability can (and ought to) be ascertained using testing measures that do not rise to the level of formal model validation procedures required by regulators.1 These formal procedures can be both expensive for the institution and onerous for the model owner. Models require meticulous documentation of their approach, economic and financial theory, and code. The painstaking statistical analysis is frequently required to generate the necessary developmental evidence, and further cost is then incurred to validate all of it.

Enterprise risk managers and regulators, who do not necessarily feel these added costs and burdens, may be inclined to err on the side of classifying spreadsheets as models “just to be on the safe side.” But incurring unnecessary costs is not a prudent course of action for a financial institution (or any institution). And producing more model validation reports than is needful can have other unintended, negative consequences. Model validations pull model owners away from their everyday work, adversely affecting productivity and, sometimes, quality of work. Virtually every model validation report identifies issues that must be reviewed and addressed by management. Too many unnecessary reports containing findings that are comparatively unimportant can bury enterprise risk managers and distract them from the most urgent findings.

Definition of a Model

So what, then, are the most important considerations in determining which spreadsheets are in fact models that should be subject to formal validation procedures? OCC and FRB guidance on model risk management defines a model as follows:2

A quantitative method, system, or approach that applies statistical, economic, financial, or mathematical theories, techniques, and assumptions to process input data into quantitative estimates.

The same guidance refers to models as having three components:

  1. An information input component, which delivers assumptions and data to the mode
  2. A processing component, which transforms inputs into estimates
  3. A reporting component, which translates the estimates into useful business information

This definition and guidance leave managers with some latitude. Financial institutions employ many applications that apply mathematical concepts to defined inputs in order to generate outputs. But the existence of inputs, outputs, and mathematical concepts alone does not necessarily justify classifying a spreadsheet as a model.

Note that the regulatory definition of a model includes the concept of quantitative estimates. The term quantitative estimate implies a level of uncertainty about the outputs. If an application is generating outputs about which there is little or no uncertainty, then one can argue the output is not a quantitative estimate but, rather, simply a defined arithmetic result. While quantitative estimates typically result from arithmetic processes, not every defined arithmetic result is a quantitative estimate.

For example, a spreadsheet that sums all the known balances of ten bank accounts as of a given date, even if it is supplied by automated feeds, and performs the summations in a complete lights-out process, likely would not rise to the level of a model requiring validation because it is performing a simple arithmetic function; it is not generating a quantitative estimate.3

In contrast, a spreadsheet that projects what the sum of the same ten bank balances will be as of a given future date (based on assumptions about interest rates, expected deposits, and decay rates, for example) generates quantitative estimates and would, therefore, qualify as a model requiring validation. Management and regulators would want to have comfort that the assumptions used by this spreadsheet model are reasonable and that they are being applied and computed appropriately.

Is this Spreadsheet a Model?

We have found the following questions to be particularly enlightening in helping our clients determine whether a spreadsheet should be classified as 1) a model that transforms inputs into quantitative estimates or 2) a non-model spreadsheet that generates defined arithmetic results.

Question 1: Does the Spreadsheet Produce a Demonstrably “Right” Answer?

A related question is whether benchmarking yields results that are comparable, as opposed to exactly the same. If spreadsheets designed by ten different people can reasonably be expected to produce precisely the same result (because there is only one generally accepted way of calculating it), then the result probably does not qualify as a quantitative estimate and the spreadsheet probably should not be classified as a model.

Example 1 (Non-Model): Mortgage Amortization Calculator: Ten different applications   would be expected to transform the same loan amount, interest rate, and term information into precisely the same amortization table. A spreadsheet that differed from this expectation would be considered “wrong.” We would not consider this output to be a quantitative estimate and would be inclined to classify such a spreadsheet as something other than a model.

Example 2 (Model): Spreadsheet projecting the expected UPB of a mortgage portfolio in 12 months:  Such a spreadsheet would likely need to apply and incorporate prepayment and default assumptions. Different spreadsheets could compute and apply these assumptions differently, without one particularly   necessarily   being recognized as “wrong.” We would consider the resulting UPB projections to be quantitative estimates and would be likely to classify such as spreadsheet as a model.

Note that the spreadsheets in both examples tell their users what a loan balance will be in the future. But only the second example layers economic assumptions on top of its basic arithmetic calculations. Economic assumptions can be subjected to verification after the fact, which relates to our second question:

Question 2: Can the Spreadsheet’s Output Be Back-Tested?

Another way of stating this question would be, “Is back-testing required to gauge the accuracy of the spreadsheet’s outputs?” This is a fairly unmistakable indicator of a forward-looking quantitative estimate. A spreadsheet that generates forward-looking estimates is almost certainly a model and should be subjected to formal model validation.

Back-testing would not be of any particular value in our first (non-model) example, above, as the spreadsheet is simply calculating a schedule. In our second (model) example, however, back-testing would be an invaluable tool for judging the reliability of the prepayment and default assumptions driving the balance projection.

Question 3: Is the Spreadsheet Simply Applying a Defined Set of Business Rules?

Spreadsheets are sometimes used to automate the application of defined business rules in order to arrive at a prescribed course of action. This question is a corollary to the first question about whether the spreadsheet produces output that is, by definition, “correct.”

Examples of business-rule calculators are spreadsheets that determine a borrower’s eligibility for a particular loan product or loss mitigation program. Such spreadsheets are also used to determine how much of a haircut to apply to various collateral types based on defined rules.

These spreadsheets do not generate quantitative estimates and we would not consider them models subject to formal regulatory validation.

Should I Validate This Spreadsheet?

All spreadsheets that perform calculations should be subject to review. Any spreadsheet that produces incorrect or otherwise unreliable outputs should not be used until its errors are corrected. Formal model validation procedures, however, should be reserved for spreadsheets that meet certain criteria. Subjecting non-model spreadsheets to model validation unnecessarily drives up costs and dilutes the findings of bona fide model validations by cluttering enterprise risk management’s radar with an unwieldy number of formal issues requiring tracking and resolution.

Spreadsheets should be classified as models (and validated as such) when they produce forward-looking estimates that can be back-tested. This excludes simple calculators that do not rely on economic assumptions or apply business rules that produce outputs that can be definitively identified before the fact as “right” or “wrong.”

We believe that the systematic application of these principles will alleviate much of the tension between spreadsheet owners, enterprise risk managers, and regulators as they work together to identify those spreadsheets that should be subject to formal model validation.

[1] In the United States, most model validations are governed by one of the following sets of guidelines: 1) OCC 2011-12 (institutions regulated by the OCC), 2) FRB SR-11 (institutions regulated by the Federal Reserve) and 3) FHFA 2013-07 (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks). These documents have much in common and the OCC and FRB guidelines are identical to one another.

[2] See footnote 1.

[3] Management would nevertheless want to obtain assurances that such an application was functioning correctly. This, however, can be achieved via less intrusive means than a formal model validation process. This might be addressed via conventional auditing, SOX reviews, or EUC quality gates. All of these are less intrusive.

Reducing the Cost of Model Validation Programs

Across the financial services industry, increased oversight has led to significant increases in expenses related to assessing and monitoring risk. We see over and over that institutions are weighted with significantly higher regulatory standards, but are not given commensurate financial resources. Model validation is an area where banks are incurring significant expenses to meet regulatory and internal requirements.In response to client demand, RiskSpan makes the following recommendations to institutions that are looking to maintain the quality of the model validation process while reducing the associated costs.

Model Governance Policy

The first step is devising a model governance policy that is aligned with regulations and the institution’s approach to risk management. Fundamental to the policy is the identification of the models themselves. Once the models are identified, model owners must be notified that their respective models (or tools or applications) are defined as a model, and as such, are expected to adhere to the institutions’ model governance policy. Model owners will need to fully understand the expectations of the model validation regulatory guidance in order to prepare their business units for successful model validation reviews.

Model Documentation

Once the policy is created and expectations are communicated to model owners, a risk ranking will need to be performed (for example, High, Medium and Low), which will shape the scope and prioritization of model validation activities. Risk managers within the organization may want to consider different standards for model documentation and the detail of model validation reports based on the risk ranking of the model. Model documentation is one area where there are significant cost-saving opportunities. Model validation is less costly when business owners have been given easy-to-follow documentation templates based on model governance policies. Template-building is an up-front activity that guides business units to produce quality documentation. Inversely, the lack of proper model documentation exposes the business to risk and a drag on financial resources. When there is limited communication of the model’s capabilities, purpose and limitations, the workload of a model owner ends up being transferred to a model validation team as the validators attempt to gain a basic understanding of the model. This can end up being a costly activity, and consume valuable resources.

Validation Scheduling

Scheduling of the actual validation itself should take place after model documentation is complete. In fact, the price of admission into a model validation program should be a robust set of model documents. Risk managers that coordinate the validation must be sensitive to business cycle of model owners and times of validators and regulator expectations. At the same time, validation activities should not be pushed to the very end of the year.

Validation Test Plans

An additional element that can be developed early-on is a validation test plan which increases transparency (particularly when third-party validators are used) and allows for testing to be run on a periodic basis more efficiently. Test plans can be used for years after they are first developed, and may be modified to account for market changes that could impact model performance.

Buy versus Build?

Bank executives are faced with a choice: outsource model validation or maintain an internal staff to perform model validation activities. Depending on the complexity and required technical expertise to understand a model, a bank may not have the specific expertise contained within an internal model validation department, therefore outsourcing all or part of the validation may be necessary. Alternatively, banks that prefer to keep validation resources “in-house” may consider periodic staffing support with subject matter expertise to make it through periods of high volume of validation activities (for many banks, validations end up occurring in the 2nd half of the year, and end up being in a crunch at year-end). About the Author: Pat Greene currently supports strategic and tactical initiatives by RiskSpan to enhance a suite of valuation tools that provide pricing, analytics, and risk reporting for multiple asset classes, including mortgages and structured securities. He has delivered technology solutions and provided financial model validation support to multiple RiskSpan clients whose business practices rely on credit models, interest-rate models, prepayment models, income simulation models, counter-party risk models, whole loan valuation models, and bond redemption forecasting models. Pat is an experienced executive who has been responsible for the management of a multi-billion dollar asset securitization program for a national financial institution. He has experience in the development and implementation of business unit objectives, management of a $4 million operating budget, and the oversight and monitoring of service levels with legal resources, accountants, and other financial institutions that supported an industry leading asset sales program. He is a skilled manager experienced in the development of business strategy that leads to business process change and technology implementation. Pat is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and received a M.B.A. from Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.

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