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What is a 'Risk-Based Capital Requirement'

Risk-based capital requirement refers to a rule that establishes minimum required liquid reserves or regulatory capital for financial institutions. Risk-based capital requirements exist to protect financial firms, their investors, their clients and the economy as a whole. These requirements ensure that each financial institution has enough capital on hand to sustain operating losses while maintaining a safe and efficient market.

BREAKING DOWN 'Risk-Based Capital Requirement'

In June 2011, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) adopted a rule that enforces a permanent floor for risk-based capital requirements. The rule also provides some flexibility in risk calculation for certain low-risk assets.

What Is the Risk-Based Capital Requirement?

The Collins Amendment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, imposes minimum risk-based capital requirements for insured depository institutions, depository institutions, holding firms and nonbank financial companies that are supervised by the Federal Reserve. Under the Dodd-Frank rules, each bank is required to have a total risk-based capital ratio of 8% and a tier 1, risk-based capital ratio of 4%.

How Do Banks Calculate Capital?

Typically, tier 1 capital includes a financial institution's common stock, disclosed reserves, retained earnings and certain types of preferred stock, and total capital refers to the difference between a bank's assets and liabilities. However, there are nuances within both of these categories, and to set guidelines on how banks should calculate their capital, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which operates through the Bank for International Settlements, publishes the Basel Accords. Basel I was introduced in 1988, followed by Basel II in 2004. Basel III was developed in response to deficits in financial regulation that appeared in the late 2000s financial crisis.

Difference Between Risk-Based Capital and Fixed-Capital Standards

Both risk-based capital and fixed-capital standards act as a cushion to protect a company from insolvency. However, fixed-capital standards require all companies to have the same amount of money in their reserves, and in contrast, risk-based capital varies the amount of capital a company must hold based on its level of risk.

The insurance industry began using risk-based capital instead of fixed-capital standards in the 1990s after a string of insurance companies became insolvent in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, in the 1980s, under the fixed-capital standards, two insurers of the same size in the same state were generally required to hold the same amount of capital in reserve, but after the 1990s, those insurers faced different requirements based on their insurance niche and their unique level of risk.

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