Archive for May 2013

The Five F’s of Risk

May 30, 2013

Most people have heard of the human reflex when threatened:

Fight or Flee

But in fact, studies show that the most common reaction is:


There are two additional reflexive reactions after an adverse event that have a big impact in Risk Management:

Forgive and Forget

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” — George Bernard Shaw

Risk Managers can start at the end of that list.

Forgetting can be part of an unhealthy process of putting the past behind us without dealing with or learning from it.  One important task for the risk manager is to make sure that the organization forms appropriate memories of adverse events.

Organizations can be too forgiving or too punitive.  Being too forgiving sends the wrong message.   It gives the message that there are no consequences.  Being too punitive puts a scare on folks so that they will fear to take any risk.  It is best if management can have some ideas of possible responses to problems before they happen.  That way, they can communicate their intentions, so that employees are aware of the types of things that do have serious consequences and the sorts that will be quickly forgiven.

One of the main benefits of organized risk management is that it has the potential to reduce the degree to which people will freeze in the face of a crisis.  The freeze reflex is the brain waiting for the memory to find a pattern that can be applied to the current situation.  If the problem is truly a Black Swan or Unknown Unknown, then there is no pattern in memory.  One objective of risk management it to create a bank of such patterns so that when the BS/UU happens, the brain finds something and does not go into an infinite loop, commonly known as freezing in place.

Risk Management is also supposed to be able to inform the Fight or Flee choice.  Risk management for trading desks was invented for exactly that purpose.  The people who were the best traders have a very high tendency towards fighting.  In their world, the heroes are the people who never flee in the face of adverse market trends.  They always know when they are right and the market is temporarily wrong and hold their ground until the market gets it head on straight.  Risk managers are supposed to be able to step in and ring the bell that says that it is time to take your losses and FLEE the position, before it loses $6 Billion or then entire firm as it has several places.

So there it is.  The Five F’s of Risk.

Why some think that there is No Need for Storm Shelters

May 22, 2013

The BBC featured a story about the dearth of storm shelters in the area hit last week by tornadoes.

Why so few storm shelters in Tornado Alley hotspot?

The story goes on to discuss the fact that Americans, especially in red states like Oklahoma, strongly prefer keeping the government out of the business of providing things like storm shelters, allowing that to be an individual option.  Then reports that few individuals opt to spend their money on shelters.

The answer might well be in the numbers…

Below, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a list of the 25 deadliest tornadoes in US history:

1. Tri-State (MO, IL, IN) – March 18, 1925 – 695 deaths
2. Natchez, MS – May 6, 1840 – 317 deaths
3. St. Louis, MO – May 27, 1896 – 255 deaths
4. Tupelo, MS – April 5, 1936 – 216 deaths
5. Gainesville, GA – April 6, 1936 – 203 deaths
6. Woodward, OK – April 9, 1947 – 181 deaths
7. Joplin, MO – May 22, 2011 – 158 deaths
8. Amite, LA, Purvis, MS – April 24, 1908 – 143 deaths
9. New Richmond, WI – June 12, 1899 – 117 deaths
10. Flint, MI – June 8, 1953 – 116 deaths
11. Waco, TX – May 11, 1953 – 114 deaths
12. Goliad, TX – May 18, 1902 – 114 deaths
13. Omaha, NE – March 23, 1913 – 103 deaths
14. Mattoon, IL – May 26, 1917 – 101 deaths
15. Shinnston, WV – June 23, 1944 – 100 deaths
16. Marshfield, MO – April 18, 1880 – 99 deaths
17. Gainesville, GA – June 1, 1903 – 98 deaths
18. Poplar Bluff, MO – May 9, 1927 – 98 deaths
19. Snyder, OK – May 10, 1905 – 97 deaths
20. Comanche, IA & Albany, IL – June 3, 1860 – 92 deaths
21. Natchez, MS – April 24, 1908 – 91 deaths
22. Worcester, MA – June 9, 1953 – 90 deaths
23. Starkville, MS to Waco, AL -April 20, 1920 – 88 deaths
24. Lorain & Sandusky, OH – June 28, 1924 – 85 deaths
25. Udall, KS – May 25, 1955 – 80 deaths

Looks scary and impressively dangerous.  Until you look more carefully at the dates.  Most of those events are OLD.  In fact, if you look at this as a histogram, you see something interesting…

Deadly Tornadoes

You see from this chart, why there are few storm shelters.  Between the 1890’s and 1950’s, there were at least two very deadly tornadoes per decade.  Enough to keep people scared.  But before the last week, there had not been a decade in over 50 years with any major events.  50  years is a long time to go between times when someone somewhere in the US needed a storm shelter to protect them from a very deadly storm.

This is not to say that there have not been storms in the past 50 years.  The chart below from the Washington Post, shows the losses from tornadoes for that same 50 year period and the numbers are not small.

It is RISKVIEWS’ guess that in the face of smaller, less deadly but destructive storms, people are much more likely to attribute their own outcome to some innate talent that they have and the losers do not have.  Sort of like the folks who have had one or several good experiences at the slot machines who believe that they have a talent for gambling.

Another reason is that almost 45% of storm fatalities are folks who live in trailers.  They often will not even have an option to build their own storm shelter.  There it is probably something that could be addressed by regulations regarding zoning of trailer parks.

Proper risk management can only be done in advance.  The risk management second guessing that is done after the fact helps to create a tremendous drag on society.  We are forced into spending money to prevent recurrence of the last disaster, regardless of whether that expenditure makes any sense at all on the basis of frequency and severity of the potential adverse events or not.

We cannot see the future as clearly as we can see the past.  We can only prepare for some of the possible futures. 

The BBC article stands on the side of that discussion that looks back after the fact and finds fault with whoever did not properly see the future exactly as clearly as they are now able to see the past.

A simple recent example of this is the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombers.  Much has been made of the fact that there were warnings about one or more members of the family before the event.  But no one has chosen to mention how many others who did not commit bombings were there similar or even much more dire warnings about.  It seems quite likely, that the warnings about these people were dots in a stream of hundreds of thousands of similar warnings.

A Risk Register is the Siren Song of Risk Management

May 20, 2013

Before we go any further, let me state unequivocally that filling in boxes in a risk register chart is not Risk Management.

But on numerous occasions, RISKVIEWS has come across risk officers who have been concentrating on managing a Risk Register for multiple years.  That is why the Risk Register is the siren song of Risk Management.  No not the siren that makes a loud noise for the Fire Department.  The Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey.

The siren’s song attracted sailors who as they got closer to listen crashed upon the rocks and died.

So with risk managers and risk registers.  Risk registers provide two convenient things: plenty of tasks and evidence of accomplishment.  However the tasks are ultimately lower value and the accomplishment is usually only internal to the Risk Register.  The risk manager who is enthralled by the song of the risk register gets further and further into the world of the risk register and loses touch with the world of the company.  They try to find ways to entice others into the world of the risk register.

But real risk management requires only a simple list of risks, risk owners and risk mitigation activities.  This should never be maintained on spreadsheets in formats that can only be printed with 8 point type or never seen in total because there are just too many columns of important details.  Nor should the list of risks require a special purchased system that allows only registered users to view or enter information.

Managing the process of

Adding cash or profits now while adding risk


reducing cash or profits now while decreasing risk

is real risk management.  

Because the real job of risk management is not the manufacture of lists that are elevated in status by the name register.  Real risk management involves making difficult decisions and taking actions based upon those decisions.  Those decisions always involve a trade-off between cash or profits now and risk later.  Adding cash or profits now while adding risk later or reducing cash or profits now while decreasing risk later.  That is real risk management.

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