Skip to main content

What Bank Stress Testing Can and Can't Do

Victoria Ebel, Appian
June 20, 2023

Leaders are taking a closer look at bank stress testing in the wake of recent bank failures. The significant impact of these collapses on the financial system, along with the government's extensive measures to prevent additional bank failures, is increasing the sense of urgency around enhanced regulatory supervision.

In the Federal Reserve's latest financial stability report, the bank failures…were a new top concern for financial market participants, garnering mentions from 56% of respondents. —American Banker 

While stress testing provides valuable insights into a bank's ability to withstand adverse economic conditions and potential risks, it's important for leaders at financial institutions to understand the limitations of bank stress testing. 

[ To learn about more holistic and integrated risk management in banking, view the webinar: Making the Case for Integrated Risk Management. ]

What stress testing can do.

Identify vulnerabilities.

Stress tests help uncover vulnerabilities in a bank's balance sheet, capital adequacy, and risk management practices. By subjecting banks to specific scenarios, stress testing can reveal potential weaknesses that may appear during a time of financial crisis.

Banks do some tests in accordance with requirements from the Federal Reserve to see how investment portfolios would react to various scenarios. Appian VP of industry solutions Michael Heffner recently told Information Week that when risks surface, banks have the opportunity to examine and reshape lending standards and how they operate:

“You're changing behavior and decisions around everything from lending standards to operational processes around how you control risk, which is a big deal for banks and capital market firms,” Heffner said.

Inform risk management strategies.

Stress testing results provide valuable information for developing risk management strategies. Banks can use these insights to identify areas of improvement, adjust risk appetite, and enhance risk mitigation measures, as they do for risks related to managing the customer lifecycle.

Assist with regulatory compliance.

Stress testing is a regulatory requirement in many jurisdictions. By conducting stress tests in accordance with regulatory guidelines—such as the US Federal Reserve Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR, Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests (DFAST), the Bank of England Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), the European Banking Authority (EBA), Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HMA), Bank of Canada’s MacroFinancial Risk Assessment Framework (MFRAF), and others—banks can ensure compliance and demonstrate their commitment to prudent risk management practices.

What stress testing can't do.

Predict future events with certainty.

Stress testing is based on assumed scenarios and models, which inherently involve uncertainties. While stress tests simulate potential adverse events, they cannot predict the timing, severity, or nature of future economic crises or market shocks.

Account for unforeseen risks.

Stress tests are designed to capture known risks and scenarios based on historical data. However, they may not adequately account for emerging or unprecedented risks. As was the case with recent bank failures, stress tests didn’t encompass the current environment of increasing interest rates and therefore failed to highlight the banks’ weaknesses.

Replace risk management.

While stress testing can help identify vulnerabilities, it shouldn’t be regarded as the only source for risk mitigation in banking. A bank can effectively pass some stress tests and still collapse. Therefore, stress tests should be regarded as a piece of a larger risk management strategy.

4 steps related to bank stress testing to take now.

While stress testing isn’t the end-all be-all for risk management in banking, from a regulatory standpoint it is certainly here to stay. Banks must effectively and efficiently execute these tests under tight time constraints while managing complex test procedures and gathering data from multiple disparate sources. 

Financial institutions must implement solutions that can help enable more agile and effective stress test management and reporting to regulatory authorities. A unified platform for process automation that streamlines bank stress testing helps with all four of these key steps:

1. Improve access to necessary data.

Improving access to necessary data provides banks with a solid foundation for conducting accurate, comprehensive, and effective stress tests. Look for a solution with data integration capabilities to connect disparate data sources and accelerate data gathering. A solution with a data fabric capability can also help spot check information while sampling and validating the transactional and analytics data store to better prepare for tests.

2. Streamline workflows.

By streamlining workflows, stress test management can become more efficient, accurate, and collaborative. It saves time, reduces errors, enhances data management, promotes transparency, and enables scalability. Look for a solution that can design and automate the unique sequence of tasks and approvals required in the stress testing process, ensuring that each step is performed accurately and efficiently. With a centralized platform for test management, test cases can be created, executed, and tracked in one place, ensuring that all tests are conducted and recorded consistently and efficiently.

3. Enhance process monitoring.

Improved process monitoring allows for real-time visibility into stress test activities. This in turn helps to improve quality assurance and facilitate up-to-date reporting, supporting continuous improvement, and meeting compliance standards. Look for a solution that enables real-time monitoring of the stress testing process, allowing organizations to identify and address issues quickly. This monitoring should include both application and infrastructure performance monitoring, ensuring that performance issues are detected and resolved before they impact end users.

4. Improve collaboration and reporting.

Better collaboration capabilities can support the efficiency and accuracy of test activities and improve reporting. Implement a solution with collaboration and reporting tools that enable teams to work together efficiently, share test results with stakeholders, and identify any areas that need further attention. 

[ Get up to speed on integrated risk management in banking. Watch the webinar: Making the Case for Integrated Risk Management. ]