Adverse Selection and Moral Hazard: Pondering Policy Implications of Asymmetric Information

How do firms mitigate adverse selection and moral hazard derivative of asymmetric information? How do hidden characteristics or profiles exacerbate adverse selection? How do hidden actions and material changes in behavior exacerbate moral hazard? The answers to these strategic questions are critical to effective formulation and execution of optimal adverse selection and moral hazard mitigation strategies that equate marginal costs to marginal benefits. Additionally, optimal mitigation strategy minimizes the known probability and incidence of decision failures with the attendant adverse effects and maximizes the profit producing capacity of the enterprise.

In this review, we examine some pertinent and extant academic literature on effective adverse selection and moral hazard optimal mitigation strategies. Each mitigation strategy has costs and benefits. Therefore, the objective function is to maximize the net benefit of mitigation strategies. In practice, the optimal risk mitigation strategy equates marginal costs to marginal benefits by minimizing the incidence of adverse effects derivative of decision failures and maximizing the profit producing capacity of the enterprise.

Adverse selection and moral hazard are terms used in risk management, managerial economic and policy sciences to characterize situations where one party to a market transaction is at a disadvantage due to asymmetric information. In market transactions, adverse selection occurs when there is a lack of symmetric information prior to agreements between sellers and buyers, while moral hazard occurs when there is asymmetric information between the two parties and material changes in behavior of one party after agreements have been concluded.

For example, adverse selection arises in any situation in which one party to a contract or negotiation, possesses material information relevant to the contract or negotiation that the other party lacks; this asymmetric material information leads the party lacking relevant and material information to make decisions that cause it to suffer adverse effects. Therefore, adverse selection occurs when one party makes decisions without all the relevant material information, which changes the risks allocation between the parties to the transactions.

When one party has access to better or material relevant information than the other party during a transaction, it is said that one has asymmetric information. Therefore, when a party has asymmetric information, they may make an adverse selection. Adverse selection arises when the actual risk is substantially higher than the risk known at the time the agreement was reached. One party suffers adverse effects by accepting terms or receiving prices that do not accurately reflect actual risk exposure. The consequences of asymmetric information may be exacerbated by bounded rationality and cognitive biases attendant to most competitive use of information. Conversely, moral hazard occurs when a party conceals or misrepresents material relevant information and changes behavior after the agreement is concluded and is shielded from the consequences of the risks emanating from material change in behavior.

Economic and policy sciences suggest the decision makers must not only know, but indeed, understand and anticipate consequences of asymmetric information to mitigate risks of adverse effects attendant to adverse selection and moral hazard. There are classic examples from academia and insurance industry.

Non-selective academic programs attract a disproportionate number of students whose previous academic background and profile make them higher risk for academic success, retention, graduation, and placement. Indeed, this is a classic case of adverse effects derivative of adverse selection and moral hazard.

For example, non-selective admission process combines recruitment and selection which results in adverse selection. And once admitted, refusal to attend classes, refusal to complete assignments, refusal to take notes in classes, critical listening, disruptive and inattentive conduct in classes are instances of post-enrollment moral hazard that make non-selective students a higher risk for retention, graduation and placement. Please note, it is not the change in behavior per se that causes moral hazard in this instance. It is the discounted consequences from changed behavior that gives rise to moral hazard.

There is gathering evidence that some of these non-selective academic programs are increasingly willing to accept higher risks derivative of adverse selection and moral hazard because their operating budget is enrollment driven. Therefore, in the short-run enrollment is a more pressing need than retention, graduation and placement rates. The focus on enrollment is necessary but short-sighted and misguided because in practice, these benchmarks and indices are interrelated, circular and cumulative.

In the insurance industry, insured healthy females in child bearing age and healthy middle-aged females who subsequently seek creative ways to get pregnant present adverse selection and moral hazard problems. Further, insurance applicants whose actual risks are substantially higher than the risks known by the insurance company are potentially interesting case studies. The insurance company suffers adverse effects by offering coverage at premiums that do not accurately reflect its actual risks exposure.

Risks Mitigation Strategies and Some Practical Guidance

Please consult with competent professional for specific advice. The following are general guidelines based on review of extant academic literature, cumulative professional practice and best industry practices. In sum, adverse selection and moral hazard derivative of asymmetric information expose parties to transactions to undue amounts of higher risks for which they are not adequately and appropriately compensated. Therefore, it is essential for parties to take all the steps possible to mitigate risks of adverse effects derivative of asymmetric information and the attendant decision failures.

Managerial economic principles and best industry practices suggest screening and sorting to mitigate adverse selection, and incentive contracts to mitigate moral hazard. Additionally, strategic intelligence systems (SIS) that provide relevant, accurate and timely identification and quantification of risk factors is strongly recommended.

In risk management, the use of aggregate limits of liability and policy riders that proscribe post-contract material unilateral actions, and caps aggregate financial risks to parties is strongly recommended. Further, dispositive disclosure, discovery, monitoring, random inspection, and verification are highly recommended.

Finally, because adverse selection derives from hidden characteristics and profiles and moral hazard derives from hidden actions, the decision systems and strategic intelligence systems must be transparent and provide relevant, accurate and timely information to facilitate decisions based on known probability of risks incidence and allocation between the parties to the transactions with due and appropriate compensation.

Prof. James Gaius Ibe, is the Chairman/Principal-At Large, of the Global Group, LLC-Political Economists and Financial Engineering Consultants; and a tenured professor of Economics, Finance and Marketing Management at some of the local universities.