Archive for the ‘Chief Risk Officer’ category

You have to show up

June 20, 2016

Woody Allen’s adage that 80% of success is showing up is particularly difficult for some managers to take to heart regarding risk management.

When risk management is successful, there is no bell that rings.  There are no fireworks.  Usually, a successful risk management moment is evidenced by a lack of big surprises.

But most days, big surprises do not happen anyway.

So if risk managers want to be appreciated for their work, they have to do much more than just show up.  They need to build up the story around what a very good day looks like.

  • One such story would be that a very good day might happen when the world experiences a major catastrophe.  A catastrophe that is in the wheel house of the firm.  And because of a good risk management process, the firm finds that its losses are manageable within its capacity to handle losses.
  • In 2011, there were major earthquakes in New Zealand, Japan and Chile.  One reinsurer reported that they had exposures in all three zones but that they were still able to show a (very small) profit for the year.  They credited that result to a risk management process that had them limiting their exposure to any one zone.  A risk manager could work up a story of events like that happening (multi event stress scenarios) and preview the benefits of ERM.

With such stories in mind, when that big day comes when “Nothing Happens”, the risk managers can be ready to take credit!

But to do that, they need to be sure to show up.


The CRO is making a list and checking it twice

February 2, 2015

“You never said that you wanted me to do that”  is an answer that managers often get when they point out a shortfall in performance.  And in many cases it is actually true.  As a rule, some of us tend to avoid too much writing things down.  And that is also true when it comes to risk management

That is where ERM policies come in.  The ERM policy is a written agreement between various managers in a company and the board documenting expectations regarding risk management.


But too many people mistake a detailed procedure manual for a policy statement.  Often a policy statement can be just a page or two.

For Risk Management there are several places where firms tend to “write it down”:

  • ERM Policy – documents that the firm is committed to an enterprise wide risk management system and that there are broad roles for the board and for management.  This policy is usually approved by the board.  The ERM Policy should be reviewed annually, but may not be changed but every three to five years.
  • ERM Framework – this is a working document that lists many of the details of how the company plans to “do” ERM.  When an ERM program is new, this document many list many new things that are being done.  Once a program is well established, it will need no more or no less documentation than other company activities.  RISKVIEWS usually recommends that the ERM Framework would include a short section relating to each of the risk management practices that make up a Risk Management System.
  • Risk Appetite & Tolerance Statement – may be separate from the above to highlight its importance and the fact that it is likely to be more variable than the Policy statement, but not as detailed as the Framework.
  • Separate Risk Policies for major risk categories – almost all insurers have an investment policy.  Most insurers should consider writing policies for insurance risk.  Some firms decide to write operational risk policies as well.  Very few have strategic risk policies.
  • Policies for Hedging, Insurance and/or Reinsurance – the most powerful risk management tools need to have clear uses as well as clear lines of decision-making and authority.
  • Charter for Risk Committees – Some firms have three or more risk committees.  On is a board committee, one is at the executive level and the third is for more operational level people with some risk management responsibilities.  It is common at some firms for board committees to have charters.  Less so for committees of company employees.  These can be included in the ERM Framework, rather than as separate documents.
  • Job Description for the CRO – Without a clear job description many CROs have found that they become the scapegoat for whatever goes wrong, regardless of their actual authority and responsibilities before hand.

With written policies in place, the board can hold management accountable.  The CEO can hold the CRO responsible and the CRO is able to expect that may hands around the company are all sharing the risk management responsibilities.

More on ERM Policies on WillisWire.


The ERM Pioneers and the Settlers – Let’s not have another range war!

January 24, 2015

Most of the people with CRO jobs are pioneers of ERM.  They came into ERM from other careers and have been working out what makes up an ERM process and how to make it work by hard work, trial & error and most often a good deal of experience on the other side of the risk – the risk taking side.

As ERM becomes a permanent (or at least a long term) business practice, it is more likely that the next generation of CROs will have come up through the ranks of the Risk function.  It is even becoming increasingly likely that they will have had some training and education regarding the various technical aspects of risk management and especially risk measurement.

The only problem is that some of the pioneers are openly disdainful of these folks who are likely to become their successors.  They will openly say that they have little respect for risk management education and feel strongly that the top people in Risk need to have significant business experience.

This situation is a version of the range wars in the Wild West.  The Pioneers were the folks who went West first.  They overcame great hardships to fashion a life out of a wilderness.  The Settlers came later and were making their way in a situation that was much closer to being already tamed.

Different skills and talents are needed for successful Pioneers than for successful Settlers.  Top among them is the Settlers need to be able to get along in a situation where there are more people.  The Risk departments of today are large and filled with a number of people with a wide variety of expertise.

Risk will transition from the Pioneer generation to the Settler generation of leadership.  That transition will be most successful if the Pioneers can help develop their Settler successros.

ERM: Who is Responsible?

November 7, 2014


The Board is Responsible.

The CEO is Responsible.

Top Management is Responsible.

The CRO is Responsible.

The Business Unit Heads are Responsible.

The CFO is Responsible.

And on and on…

But this sounds like a recipe for disaster.  When everyone is responsible, often no one takes responsibility.  And if everyone is responsible, how is a decision ever reached?

Everyone needs to have different responsibilities within an ERM program.  So most often, people are given partial responsibility for ERM depending upon their everyday job responsibilities.

And in addition, a few people are given special new responsibilities and new roles (usually part time) are created to crystallize those new roles and responsibilities.  Those new roles are most often called:

  • Risk Owners
  • Risk Committee Members

But there are lots and lots of ways of dishing out the partial responsibilities.  RISKVIEWS suggests that there is no one right or best way to do this.  But instead, it is important to make sure that every risk management task is being done and that there is some oversight to each task.  (Three Lines of Defense is nice, but not really necessary.  There are really only two necessary functions – doing and assurance.)

To read more about a study of the choices of 12 insurers &

Hierarchy Principle of Risk Management

September 8, 2014

The purpose of ERM is NOT to try to elevate all risk decisions to the highest possible level, but to master discerning the best level for making each risk decision and for getting the right information to the right person in time to make a good risk decision.

This is the Hierarchy Principle as it applies to ERM.  It is one of the two or three most important principles of ERM.  Why then, might you ask, haven’t we ever heard about it before, even from RISKVIEWS.

But most insurers follow the hierarchy principle for managing their Underwriting process for risk acceptance of their most important risks.  

You could argue that many of the most spectacular losses made by banks have been in situations where they did not follow the hierarchy principle.  

  • Nick Leeson at Barings Bank was taking risks at a size that should have been decided (and rejected) by the board.
  • Jerome Kerviel at Soc Gen was doing the same.
  • The London Whale at JP Morgan is also said to have done that.  

On the other hand, Jon Corzine was taking outsized risks that eventually sank MF Global with the full knowledge and approval of the board.  Many people suggest that the CRO should have stopped that.  But RISKVIEWS believes that the Hierarchy Principle was satisfied.  

ERM is not and cannot be held responsible for bad decisions that are made at the very top of the firm, unless the risk function was providing flawed information that supported those decisions.  If, as happened at MF Global, the board and top management were making risk decisions with their eyes fully open and informed by the risk function, then ERM worked as it should.  

ERM does not prevent mistakes or bad judgment.

What ERM does that is new is that

  1. it works to systematically determine the significance of all risk decisions, 
  2. it ranks the significance and uses that information, along with other information such as risk velocity and uncertainty, to determine a recommendation of the best level to make decisions about each risk,
  3. it assesses the ability of the firm to absorb losses and the potential for losses within the risks that are being held by the firm at any point in time,
  4. it works with management and the board to craft a risk appetite statement that links the loss absorbing capacity of the firm with the preferences of management and the board for absorbing losses.

ERM does not manage the firm.  ERM helps management to manage the risks of the firm mainly by providing information about the risks.  

So why have we not heard about this Hierarchy Principle before?  

For many years, ERM have been fighting to get any traction, to have a voice.  The Hierarchy Principle complicates the message, so was left out by many early CROs and other pioneers.  A few were pushing for the risk function to be itself elevated as high as possible and they did not want to limit the risk message, deeming everything about risk to be of highest importance. But RISKVIEWS believes that it was mostly because the Hierarchy Principle is pretty fundamental to business management and is usually not explicitly stated anywhere else, even though it is applied almost always.

ERM now receives a major push from regulators, to a large extent from the ORSA.  In writing, the regulators do not require that ERM elevate all risk decisions.  But in practice, they are seeing some insurers who have been elevating everything and the regulators are adopting those examples as their standard for best in class.  

Just one more way that the regulatory support for ERM will speed its demise.  If regulators advocate for consistent violation of the Hierarchy principle, then ERM will be seen mainly as a wasteful burden.  


Key Ideas of ERM

July 24, 2014

For a set of activities to be called ERM, they must satisfy ALL of these Key Ideas…

  1. Transition from Evolved Risk Management to planned ERM
  2. Comprehensive – includes ALL risks
  3. Measurement – on a consistent basis allows ranking and…
  4. Aggregation – adding up the risks to know total
  5. Capital – comparing sum of risks to capital – can apply security standard to judge
  6. Hierarchy – decisions about risks are made at the appropriate level in the organization – which means information must be readily available

Risk management activities that do not satisfy ALL Key Ideas may well be good and useful things that must be done, but they are not, by themselves ERM.

Many activities that seek to be called ERM do not really satisfy ALL Key Ideas.  The most common “fail” is item 2, Comprehensive.  When risks are left out of consideration, that is the same as a measurement of zero.  So no matter how difficult to measure, it is extremely important to really, really be Comprehensive.

But it is quite possible to “fail” on any of the other Key Ideas.

The Transition idea usually “fails” when the longest standing traditional risk management practices are not challenged to come up to ERM standards that are being applied to other risks and risk management activities.

Measurement “fails” when the tails of the risk model are not of the correct “fatness“.  Risks are significantly undervalued.

Aggregation “fails” when too much independence of risks is assumed.  Most often ignored is interdependence caused by common counter parties.

Capital “fails” when the security standard is based upon a very partial risk model and not on a completely comprehensive risk model.

Hierarchy “fails” when top management and/or the board do not personally take responsibility for ERM.  The CRO should not be an independent advocate for risk management, the CRO should be the agent of the power structure of the firm.

In fact Hierarchy Failure is the other most common reason for ERM to fail.

Supporting Success with Risk Management

May 12, 2014

Risk Management is often seen as the Business Prevention Department and the Chief Risk Officer as the Wizard of NO.

But in some ways that can be seen as a glass half full, half empty sort of thing.

A major and sometimes neglected aspect of risk management relates to dealing with the planning for and execution of major changes.  We call this CHANGE RISK MANAGEMENT.

If we think of the Control Cycle as the major manifestation of risk management, Change Risk Management is the special process that is followed to make sure that important new things get on to the Control Cycle without stumbling.

Many times, these changes are the future of the company.  They are the new products, new distribution systems, new territories and acquisitions that will change the course of the company’s path forward.

The Change Risk management process can be performed as Business Prevention or it can be a support to the success of the company.  A good Change Risk Management process will help to identify the ways that the new activity might fail or might harm the firm.  If the Change Risk Management process is designed properly, the Risk Management inputs of that sort can be brought into the process in plenty of time to correct the problems that cause the concerns.  In that sense, fixing those problems adds to the potential success of the company.

But if Risk Management is brought very late to the process, many people have become invested in the change as it is currently planned and any input from risk management that something might go wrong is seen as an attempt to scuttle the project.


So timing and attitude are the two things that make the Change Risk Management process something that supports the success of the company.




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