Many banks began the transition to CECL in earnest when the final version was issued in 2016. While banks are in various stages, some are already working through more nuanced aspects of the transition.
Many lessons have been learned from actual CECL implementations, and here are some tips to assist bank directors as they guide management through the transition.
1. The quantitative impact of CECL adoption may be less straightforward than initially expected. Even before the final CECL standard was issued, industry observers tried to predict just how much the allowance would increase upon adoption. In truth, it will be almost impossible to estimate the impact of the transition for an individual institution. The actual impact will depend upon many bank-specific factors, the estimation method, the length of the reasonable supportable forecast, the size of today’s qualitative adjustment, and management’s outlook, to name a few. Additionally, some banks with short-term portfolios have been surprised to discover the CECL estimate may be lower than the current allowance due to a shift from an estimate based on a loss emergence period to one that considers the next contractual maturity date.
2. CECL may result in a requirement to manage model risk for unsuspecting institutions. Similar to reserving practices today, banks are employing a variety of approaches. General trends include the largest institutions employing statistical software to build custom in-house models, while the smallest institutions favor a less complex approach that relies on adjusting historical averages. Many institutions who are not using models are relying on “correlations” to support their adjustments. However, this practice needs to be managed carefully, as per regulatory definition, any method that applies a statistical approach, economic, financial, or mathematical theory to derive a quantitative estimate is considered a “model.” Therefore, using a correlation – regardless of whether it is identified in a spreadsheet, vendor solution, or anywhere else – to quantify the impact of a factor is by definition a model, and subject to model risk management. Institutions taking this approach to CECL should carefully consider the scope of model risk management, and avoid accidentally creating or misusing models.
3. Qualitative adjustments will still be necessary. Regardless of the method used to estimate the impact of forecasted conditions, there will still be a need to apply expert judgment for factors not considered in the quantitative (modeled) estimate. Even the most sophisticated models used by the largest banks will not consider every factor. Further, many banks prefer the flexibility to exercise judgment in their reserving process. While it’s not yet clear which factors the industry will use or how to quantify the lifetime impact, as it relates to regulatory and auditor oversight, the level of scrutiny around qualitative adjustments will not decrease from existing practice. Again, accidentally creating models is particularly important given the scrutiny on management judgment and the overall impetus to quantify it.
4. Think beyond compliance. One of the overarching goals of CECL is to better align credit loss measurement with underwriting and risk management practices. The transition to CECL presents banks with an opportunity to have unprecedented insight into the credit portfolio. For example, a comparison between the CECL estimate and the interest margin can provide insight into underwriting practices. But this can only happen if banks take a holistic approach to the transition and make the necessary investment in systems and reporting.
5. Reporting and analytics will be more important than ever. Bank directors will be responsible for answering shareholder questions related to the CECL reserve, which will be sensitive to changes in forecasted conditions. As a key constituent of the disclosures and internal management reports, bank directors have a responsibility to ensure a proper reporting framework is in place – one that integrates the data inputs and quantifies the change in expected credit losses at the instrument level. Attribution reports, for example, will be especially helpful in explaining why the allowance changed because they isolate and quantify the impact of individual variables affecting the reserve.
6. Be prepared for an iterative process, even after adoption. Translating the conceptual to operational can reveal unintended consequences and further questions. The industry has continued to work through implementation concerns since the final version was issued in 2016, including several meetings of the CECL Transition Resource Group. Industry best practices will evolve well after initial adoption.