Every year, natural disasters have catastrophic consequences and cause billions of dollars of property damage. With climate change, the impacts are only getting worse. The most recent NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information disaster report, released in January, confirms rising costs from weather extremes in the United States: From 2016-2022, 122 separate billion-dollar disasters have killed at least 5,000 people and cost more than $1 trillion in damage.
Much of the damage occurs to housing, often burdening homeowners and insurers – and ultimately exposing mortgage providers to increased risk. Now a risk expert and his students at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business have developed a new way to quantify the risk.
“Climate risk is complicated because it’s a global risk,” says Professor of the Practice Clifford Rossi, who spent 25 years in risk management at banks and government agencies before joining the finance faculty at Smith. “This is not just about managing risk, it’s also about managing uncertainty – a much harder game.”
A lot of the problem has been having good data and the right models to quantify the risks, says Rossi. That’s where his students come in.
Rossi led a group of 11 students in Smith’s Master of Quantitative Finance program in a recent experiential learning project with government-sponsored mortgage enterprise Freddie Mac. The students built a model that leverages machine learning to pinpoint the regions of the country with the highest climate risk and the implications for homeowners and the mortgage industry.
The students created an interactive dashboard of all 13 million single-family mortgage loans originated in 2021 and merged it with FEMA's National Risk Index tool for all 78,000 U.S. Census tracts across 18 different climate hazards, including earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, coastal and river flooding, tornados and drought. Then they randomly selected 1 million mortgage loans and used a battery of different machine learning models and performance statistics to analyze the data, looking for such effects as adverse selection against GSEs Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, impact on low- and moderate-income borrowers, minorities and other key effects.
“Anyone can point and click on any county in the U.S., for any climate hazard type and get figures on borrower characteristics such as race, age, income,” says Rossi. “It is quite amazing.”
Rossi and his students are also taking that same data and conducting some machine learning analysis to differentiate high hazard risk areas from others based on borrower, tract and other characteristics. The Smith School plans to make the tool available online.
Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, banks, insurance companies and policy makers could all use this information for underwriting mortgages and insurance policies, and for figuring out which areas need more government resources. Rossi’s students presented their findings to executives on Freddie Mac’s Climate Risk team.
Rossi called the project “the finest student presentation on a highly technical subject I have ever been involved with.” He said senior leaders at Freddie Mac were also impressed with the extent and complexity of the students’ analysis, and their ability to explain difficult concepts, calling the presentation better than some by employees and consultants.
Rossi will continue heading up master’s student projects based on climate risk. Right now, another group of his students are working with Fannie Mae on modelling flood risk, building on a student project from last year.
He’ll continue leading projects on climate risk, eventually as part of the Smith School’s new master’s degree track in climate finance for students in the Master of Finance and Master of Quantitative Finance degree programs, starting in spring 2024. The track will add four new elective courses to Smith’s current MS curriculum, including an experiential learning project.
“This is a growing area,” says Rossi. “Many governments around the world are involved in trying to get their arms around this, and these students would need those tools adapted from our standard finance concepts, but focusing specifically on solving climate-related financial issues.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.