Size and complexity in model financial systems

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 07 October 2012

Working Paper No. 465
By Nimalan Arinaminpathy, Sujit Kapadia and Robert May

The global financial crisis has precipitated an increasing appreciation of the need for a systemic perspective towards financial stability. For example: What role do large banks play in systemic risk? How should capital adequacy standards recognize this role? How is stability shaped by concentration and diversification in the financial system? We explore these questions using a deliberately simplified, dynamical model of a banking system which combines three different channels for direct spillovers from one bank to another: liquidity hoarding, asset price contagion, and the propagation of defaults via counterparty credit risk. Importantly, we also introduce a mechanism for capturing how swings in ‘confidence’ in the system may contribute to instability. Our results highlight that the importance of relatively large, well-connected banks in system stability scales more than proportionately with their size: the impact of their collapse arises not only from their connectivity, but also from their effect on confidence in the system. Imposing tougher capital requirements on larger banks than smaller ones can thus enhance the resilience of the system. Moreover, these effects are more pronounced in more concentrated systems, and continue to apply even when allowing for potential diversification benefits which may be realised by larger banks. We discuss some tentative implications for policy, as well as conceptual analogies in ecosystem stability, and in the control of infectious diseases. 

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