American Sociological Association

The Hazards of Expert Control: Chief Risk Officers and Risky Derivatives

American Sociological Review, Volume 82, Issue 3, Page 511-541, June 2017.
At the turn of the century, regulators introduced policies to control bank risk-taking. Many banks appointed chief risk officers (CROs), yet bank holdings of new, complex, and untested financial derivatives subsequently soared. Why did banks expand use of new derivatives? We suggest that CROs encouraged the rise of new derivatives in two ways. First, we build on institutional arguments about the expert construction of compliance, suggesting that risk experts arrived with an agenda of maximizing risk-adjusted returns, which led them to favor the derivatives. Second, we build on moral licensing arguments to suggest that bank appointment of CROs induced “organizational licensing,” leading trading-desk managers to reduce policing of their own risky behavior. We further argue that CEOs and fund managers bolstered or restrained derivatives use depending on their financial interests. We predict that CEOs favored new derivatives when their compensation rewarded risk-taking, but that both CEOs and fund managers opposed new derivatives when they held large illiquid stakes in banks. We test these predictions using data on derivatives holdings of 157 large banks between 1995 and 2010.


Kim Pernell, Jiwook Jung and Frank Dobbin





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