Women Bankers Riskier: Bundesbank Study

The image of women as safer managers who are less likely to fritter away a bank’s finances is wrong — and politicians should take note, according to a Bundesbank research report.

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Board changes at banks that result in a higher proportion of female executives “lead to a more risky conduct of business,” concluded the authors of an extensive study of German finance houses released by the country’s central bank.

They also find that younger executive teams increase risk-taking — but more PhDs in management suites have the opposite effect.

The results, which counter the popular image ofwomen managersas less likely to take risks, could prove politically controversial. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s labor minister, is among European politicians pushing for stronger measures to increase female board representation.

Such political pressure is based on a desire for greater gender equality, the report’s authors note, but the impact on corporate behaviour is discussed less. Their findings “suggest that a public policy debate must take this impact into consideration.”

The three authors are Allen N. Berger, of the University of South Carolina; Thomas Kick, of the Bundesbank; and Klaus Schaeck, of Bangor University. Although it published the report, the Bundesbank said on Tuesday that the results “do not necessarily reflect the views of the Deutsche Bundesbank or its staff.” The Bundesbank has one woman — Sabine Lautenschläger, deputy president — on its six-person board.

Explaining their controversial findings, based on an analysis of German bank executive teams from 1994 to 2010, the report’s authors suggest a main reason is that women executives tend to be “significantly less experienced” than male counterparts and that a lack of experience drives risk taking.

Another explanation could be that, with women still rare in boardrooms, their inclusion breaks up a clubby atmosphere. The authors write: “If group members come from heterogeneous backgrounds in terms of experience and values, this might increase the potential for conflict inside the group and hinder decision-making.” The obstacles women face in entering bank boards could also include accepting a higher risk exposure, they add.

They are probably on less controversial ground in arguing that a decrease in the average board age increases risk taking — and that regulators should take a closer look at the ages of bank executives. According to the study, a five-year reduction in the average age of a board’s members increases the ratio of risk-weighted assets to total assets by 2.66.

Their conclusion that more executives with doctorates reduces risk taking is attributed “to the fact that better educated executives employ more sophisticated risk management techniques and adjust the business model accordingly.”