Managing treasury risk: Credit Risk (Part V)

| 23-2-2017 | Lionel Pavey |


There are lots of discussions concerning risk, but let us start by trying to define what we mean by risk. In my fifth article I will focus on credit risk. Many companies have very significant credit needs and this needs to be formally addressed with a credit analysis procedure in place. In my former articles I dealt with risk management, interest rate risk, foreign exchange risk and commodity risk. See the complete list at the end of today’s article.

Credit Risk

Credit Risk occurs when there is a risk of default from money that has been lent to a borrower, or funds that have been invested.
The risk can be caused by:

  • Trade credit extend to a client, who does not pay
  • Inability to make a payment on a loan
  • A company going bankrupt
  • An insurance company not paying under a policy
  • A bank becoming insolvent
  • A company not paying wages to employees
  • A government defaulting

Main categories

The main categories of credit risk are:

Default risk
Counterparty risk
Sovereign risk
Legal risk
Concentration risk

Default risk:
occurs due to the default on monies owed either from lending or investment. The counterparty could be unable to repay. Sometimes they could also be unwilling to repay. The default risk is therefore on 100% of the outstanding balance, unless some form of recovery (be it full or partial) was possible.

Counterparty risk:
occurs when counterparties have to perform an action on a contractual commitment.
This can happen at both the time of settlement and also before settlement, but after entering a contract. Since the start of the financial crisis settlement risk is a major factor for banks. If at settlement a counterparty fails to meet its obligation, this can potentially lead to large losses and, eventually, to a systemic risk as you are therefore unable to meet your own obligations. A default before settlement can be alleviated by substituting a new contract though this could occur at prices far less favourable.

Sovereign risk:
entails the political, legal and regulatory exposures arising from international trade and cross border transactions. It can relate to a government failing in its obligation to repay or to new laws that prohibit free movement of funds – exchange control. Any contracts entered into with nondomestic counterparties should be analysed for the embedded sovereign risks and potential political instability.

Legal risk:
can occur if the counterparty is not legally allowed to enter into certain trades – especially derivative trades. We see in the media stories of companies that have experienced difficulties with derivatives leading to losses and court cases are started to either enforce or negate the contract. Also special purpose vehicles are formed purely to enter into certain transactions like securitisation issues. These are companies with no staff, fixed abode, or assets other than the underlying collateral of the issue.

Concentration risk:
arises from lack of diversification. Too many loans from 1 or 2 banks, too many products purchased from 1 or 2 suppliers, too much revenue generated by 1 or 2 customers. This risk is a bit of a paradox as many companies become successful through concentrating their resources in key niche areas, whilst having to diversify their underlying risk at the same time.


There are, of course, measures that can be undertaken to identify and minimize these potential losses.

The first approach is counterparty ratings. Certain criteria can be examined – credit rating agencies, examination of financial statements, good knowledge of the counterparty, political, geographical (are they situated next to a volcano?) and legal status.

Notional exposure reveals the full amount outstanding with a counterparty – all the money that could potentially be lost.

Aggregate exposure netts the exposure with a counterparty between monies to be received and monies to be paid.

Clear picture of the replacement costs – the costs involved to replace the existing transaction with a new counterparty.

Techniques of measurement

Measurement of credit risk requires quantitative techniques to measure and model the risks.  An example would be Basel III that places a regulatory framework on banks to ensure adequate capital ratios. Eventually the techniques being used will trickle down to commercial companies. This should result in the creation of risk tools that are more sophisticated and improvements of the techniques used to report and measure risk.

However, as the financial crisis has clearly shown, over-reliance on sophisticated computer models appeared to lead to false comfort with the results generated by the modelling systems. This was caused by underestimating the risks in new financial products and the great assumption that is always prevalent in economic theory – people behave rationally at all times! Any model is a snapshot of the world and can only contain a few variables that are perceived as critical. All others are discarded to ensure that the model can work quickly and efficiently.

Lionel Pavey



Lionel Pavey

Cash Management and Treasury Specialist




More articles of this series:

Managing treasury risk: Risk management

Managing treasury risk: Interest rate risk 

Managing treasury risk: Foreign exchange risk

Managing treasury risk: Commodity Risk


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