Risk and Reward

Successful Businesses pay attention to risk.

– How much risk to take compared to their capacity to absorb risk via their level of average earnings and their capital position.  They have a basket.  Each basket is different.  It can easily hold so much.  Sometimes, you decide to put a little more in the basket, sometimes a little less.  They should know when they have stacked their risk far over the top of the basket.
– What kinds of risk to take.  They have a plan for how much of each major class of risk they they will pick up to use up the capacity of their basket.

– Then when the actually go to fill the basket, they need to carefully choose each and every risk that they put into the basket.

–  And as long as they have those risks in the basket, they need to pay attention and make sure that none of the risks are spoiling themselves and especially that they are not spoiling the entire basket of fruit or ruining the basket itself.

But that is not what a successful business is all about.  They are not in business to be careful with their basket of risks.  They are in business to make sure that their basket makes a profit.

+ So how much risk to take is informed by the level of profit to be had for risk in the marketplace.  Some business managers do it backwards.  If they are not being paid much for risk, they fill up the basket higher and higher.  That is what many did just prior to the financial crisis.  In insurance terms, they grew rapidly at the peak of the soft market.  Just prior to the cirsis, risk margins for most financial market risks were at cyclical lows.  What makes sense for a business that wants to get the best reward for the risk taken would be to take the most risk when the reward for risk is the highest.  Few do that.  However, the problem faced by firms whose primary business is risk taking is that taking less risk in times of low reward for risk creates even more pressure on their income because of decreased expense coverage.  This problem seems to indicate that businesses in such cyclical markets should be very careful to manage their level of fixed expenses.

+ What types of risk to take is also informed very much by the margins.  But it also needs to be informed by diversification principles.  Short term thinking suggests that risk taking shift all to the particular risk with the immediate best risk adjusted margin.  Long term thinking suggests something very different.  Long term thinking realizes that the business needs to have alternatives.  For most markets, the alternatives are only maintained if a presence in multiple risks is maintained in good times and bad.  Risk and reward needs to develop a balance between short term and long term.  To allow for exploiting particularly rich markets while maintaining discipline in other markets.

+ Which specific risks to select needs to incorporate a clear view of actual profitability.  It is very easy on a spreadsheet to take your sales projection and profit projections and multiply both numbers by two.  However, it is only through careful selection of individual risks that something even remotely like that simple minded projection can be achieved.  The profit opportunity from each risk for the additional sales may be at the same rate as the original margins, it may be higher (unlikely) and it may well be lower.  The risk reward system needs to be sensitive to all of these three possibilities and ready to react accordingly.

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