Archive for the ‘Swine Flu’ category

Risk Reporting Conflict of Interest

March 2, 2015

We give much too little consideration to potential for conflict of interest in risk reporting.

Take for instance weather risk reporting.

Lens: Tamron 28-80mmScanned with Nikon CoolScan V ED

"Sneeuwschuiver". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Many of the people who report on Weather Risk have a financial interest in bad weather.  Not that they own snow plowing services or something.  But take TV stations for example.  Local TV station revenue is largely proportional to their number of viewers.  Local news and weather are often the sole part of their schedule that they produce themselves and therefore get all or almost all of the revenue.  And viewership for local news programs may double with an impending snowstorm.  So they have a financial interest in predicting more snow.  The Weather Channel has the same dynamic, but a wider area from which to draw to find extreme weather situations.  But if there is any hint of a possible extreme weather situation in a major metropolitan area with millions of possible viewers, they have a strong incentive to report the worst case possibility.

This past January, there were some terrible snow forecasts for New York and Philadelphia:

For the Big Apple, the great Blizzard of 2015 was forecast to rival the paralyzing 1888 storm, dubbed the White Hurricane. Up to three feet of snow was predicted. Reality: About 10 inches fell.

The forecast in Philadelphia wasn’t any better – and arguably worse. Up to 14 inches of snow were forecast. The City of Brotherly Love tallied roughly 2 inches, about the same as Washington, D.C.

Washington Post,  January 27, 2015

In other cases, we go to the experts to get information about possible disasters from diseases.  But their funding depends very much on how important their specialty is seen to be to the politicians who approve their funding.

In 2005, the Bird Flu was the scare topic of the year.

“I’m not, at the moment, at liberty to give you a prediction on numbers, but I just want to stress, that, let’s say, the range of deaths could be anything from 5 to 150 million.”

David Nabarro, Senior United Nations system coordinator for avian and human influenza

Needless to say, the funding for health systems can be strongly impacted by the fear of such a pandemic.  At them time that statement was made, worldwide Bird Flu deaths were slightly over 100.  Not 100 thousand, 100 – the number right after 99.

But the purpose of this post is not writing this to disparage weather reporters or epidemiologists.  It is to caution risk managers.

Sometimes risk managers get the idea that they are better off if everyone had more concern for risk.  They take on the roll of Dr. Doom, pointing out the worst case potential in every situation.

This course of action is usually not successful. Instead of building respect for risk, the result is more often to create a steady distrust of statements from the risk manager.  The Chicken Little effect results.

Instead, the risk manager needs to focus on being painstakingly realistic in reporting about risk.  Risk is about the future, so it is impossible to get it right all of the time.  That is not the goal.  The goal should be to make reports on risk that consistently use all of the information available at the time the report is made.

And finally, a suggestion on communicating risk.  That is that risk managers need to develop a consistent language to talk about the likelihood and severity of a risk.  RISKVIEWS suggests that risk managers use three levels of likelihood:

  • Normal Volatility (as in within).  Each risk should have a range of favorable and unfavorable outcomes within the range of normal volatility.  This could mean within one standard deviation, or with a 1 in 10 likelihood. So normal volatility for the road that you drive to work might be for there to be one accident per month.
  • Realistic Disaster Scenario.  This might be the worst situation for the risk that has happened in recent memory, or it might be a believable bad scenario that hasn’t happened for risks where recent experience has been fairly benign.  For that road, two accidents in a week might be a realistic disaster.  It actually happened 5 years ago.  For the similar road that your spouse takes to work, there haven’t been any two accident weeks, but the volume of traffic is similar, so the realistic disaster scenario for that road is also two accidents in a week.
  • Worst case scenario.  This is usually not a particularly realistic scenario.  It does not mean worst case, like the sun blowing up and the end of the solar system.  It does mean something significantly worse than what you expect can happen. For the risk of car accidents on your morning commute, the worst case might be a month with 8 accidents.

So the 150 million number above for flu deaths is a worst case scenario.  As were the Great Blizzard predictions.  What actually happened was in line with normal volatility for a winter storm in those two cities.

If you, the risk manager, learn to always use language like the above, first of all, it will slow you down and make you think about what you are saying.  Eventually, your audience will get to learn what your terminology means and will be able to form their own opinion about your reliability.

And you will find that credibility for your risk reporting has very favorable impact on your longevity and compensation as a risk manager.


Post Pandemic Period

August 31, 2010

10 August 2010 – the WHO declares that the Swine Flu Pandemic has ended.

Or rather they say that we have entered the Post Pandemic Period.

The H1N1 Pandemic is an example of what happens when you do a good job of risk management.  Because of the preparations that were made to develop and distribute vaccines as well as other measures to reduce possible transmission of the virus, and to the fact that the virus did not mutate in a way to become either lethal or resistant to the vaccine, the impact of the Pandemic was not severe.

This is what should happen with good risk management of an emerging risk like that.  Many companies created and/or tested their emergency plans and are now much better prepared for the next emergency.  The plans to prevent systemic failure did go into effect and they worked.

But one of the reactions to effective risk management is disbelief that there ever was a threat.

So it goes.  Do not be discouraged.  Keep up the good fight.

The firms that are run by the skeptics who refuse to take heed of such warnings will at some point get what they haven’t prepared for.

Meanwhile, we now get to learn what Post Pandemic Period means.

Concentration of Power Risk

February 8, 2010


Guest Post from Max J. Rudolph, FSA CERA CFA MAAA

Rudolph Financial Consulting

A risk that we never talk about has become the elephant in the room. Some would call this ego risk, but at most institutions decision making occurs primarily at only the highest levels. It has been a year since I wrote a financial essay titled Does Your Company Need a Chief Skeptical Officer? I don’t think it has gotten any better. This is not due to poor goal setting. These senior officers believe they are doing what is best for their firm. Unfortunately, all of us tend to fall in love with our best ideas. We see that when we invest, where we hold losers far too long. When a manager has worked hard for a long period of time to develop an opportunity it can gain such momentum that it can’t be stopped no matter how poor the idea or the timing for the idea is. Many companies continued to write loans that previously had been securitized while liquidity in this market dried up. Others threw good money after bad on commercial real estate properties while existing properties were sitting vacant. There are very few companies that have instilled this skepticism in their risk culture. Berkshire Hathaway is one, where both Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are comfortable in their own views and are encouraged to say what they think to each other. It will be interesting to see if this culture extends to the next generation of leaders at this highly successful firm. One way to ensure this is to practice consistent pricing discipline. When an opportunity comes about, the same financial analysis should always occur. This will include setting risk appetite, hurdle rates, and capital. It will not include having the CEO override the discussion.

There is no momentum to create this type of culture. Perhaps it should be developed at the board level with independent ERM experts providing the process and bringing in specific topic experts to anonymously consider these risks.

Warning: The information provided in this Post is the opinion of Max Rudolph and is provided for general information only. It should not be considered investment advice. Information from a variety of sources should be reviewed and considered before decisions are made by the individual investor. My opinions may have already changed, so you don’t want to rely on them. Good luck!

©2009 Rudolph Financial Consulting, LLC

%d bloggers like this: