It’s Usually the Second Truck
In many cases, companies survive the first bout of adversity.
It is the second bout that kills.
And more often than not, we are totally unprepared for that second hit.
Totally unprepared because of how we misunderstand statistics.
First of all, we believe that large loss events are unlikely and two large loss events are extremely unlikely. So we decide not to prepare for the extremely unlikely event that we get hit by two large losses at the same time. And in this case, “at the same time” may mean in subsequent years. Some who look at correlation, only use an arbitrary calendar year split out of experience data. So that they would consider losses in the third and fourth quarter to be happening at the same time but fourth quarter and first quarter of the next year would be considered different periods and therefore might show low correlations!
Second, we fail to deal with our reduced capacity immediately after a major loss event. We still think of our capacity as it was before the first hit. A part of our risk management plans for a major loss event should have been to immediately initiate a process to rationalize our risk exposures with our newly reduced capacity. This may in part be due to the third issue.
Third, we misunderstand that the fact of the first event does not reduce the likelihood of the other risk events. Those joint probabilities that made the dual event, no longer apply. In fact, with the reduced capacity, the type of even that would incapacitate the firm has suddenly become much more likely.
Most companies that experience one large loss event do not experience a second shortly thereafter, but many companies that fail do.
So if your interest is to reduce the likelihood of failure, you should consider the two loss event situation as a scenario that you prepare for.
But those preparations will present a troubling alternative. If, after the first major loss event, the actions needed include a sharp reduction in retained risk position, that will severely reduce the likelihood of growing back capacity.
Management is faced with a dilemma – that is two choices, neither of which are desirable. But as with most issues in risk management, better to face those issues in advance and to make a reasoned plan, rather than looking away and hoping for the best.
But on further reflection, this issue can be seen to be one of over concentration in a single risk. Some firms have reacted to this whole idea by setting their risk tolerance such that any one loss event will be limited to their excess capital. Their primary strategy for this type of concentration risk is in effect a diversification strategy.