The ERM Value Connection

Research has shown that enterprise risk management (ERM) adds value. One research paper showed that ERM adds to the value metric called Tobin’s Q. Other award-winning research has shown that ERM enables better decision making. The authors of that research state:

“Specifically, as companies implement an ERM process, the new knowledge it provides them about objectives, risks, oversight, information and communication, and the internal environment leads to enhanced management, as evidenced by increased management consensus, better-informed decisions, better communication with management regarding risk taking, and increased management accountability. This enhanced management, in turn, leads to improved performance.”

ERM and Reputation
As an extension, it would make sense that there would be some impact on reputation risk if a company does ERM well, is sophisticated at ERM, and has developed a mature process. While this common sense may prevail, empirical data and testing is lacking. This is primarily because measuring both ERM and reputation risk is not so easy. But the questions remain:

  • Is there a relationship between ERM effectiveness and reputation?
  • Furthermore, does this relationship show up in performance metrics?

While we cannot answer these questions here, we can explore some simple relationships and at least gain a few insights. Admittedly, reputation risk and ERM are still young disciplines and more data is needed to explore these and other questions. Any attempt to answer these questions with current data carries some caveats. First, this is complicated data from nonfinancial firms and all data was before the year 2014. Second, these are simplistic looks at the data as split into the upper and lower percentiles (split at 50%). Third, the information discussed below reveals levels that have not been tested for statistical significance. In spite of these, let’s examine what may be obvious to some business risk experts.

What data reveals about ERM and Reputation Level
The big question might be, “Do we see higher reputation levels associated with better ERM?” The answer is not yet (at least in this data at this point in time). Companies in the sample with lower reputation scores have higher ERM effectiveness scores than companies with higher reputation scores.

Other Explanations
A good researcher knows to develop the theory first and also to consider alternative explanations. It is wise to follow that process. For example, in this sample companies with greater reputation are bigger than the lower tier reputation companies. It might be true that larger companies have more difficulty building a more mature ERM capable company because they are so large and spread around the globe. It could also be true that smaller companies are over confident in the ERM processes. Either theory (and others) could explain why the high ERM and high reputation levels do not match up. This testing is left for future research.

The Volatility Theory
An alternative theory (what academics explore and test) is that the level of reputation is not what’s important because the company already had their long-standing (developed over many years) reputation when they established ERM. Instead, it might be true today that the real reputation value of ERM is that it helps manage the volatility around reputation because the company is better prepared, sees the reputation risk, correlated risks, helps get the companies ahead of the risk events, and helps them understand how these events might play out and impact the organization’s reputation.

Examining the data shows that the answer on volatility is that this could be true. The data show that at set reputation levels (meaning when the data is split on high and low reputation volatility levels), better ERM leads to lower volatility in reputation at both levels and that is probably a very good thing for most organizations. It appears that ERM does have an impact on reputation but the impact is likely on reputation volatility.

Conclusion
Prior research shows ERM adds value and helps improve decision making. With further testing, future research may be able to confirm another obvious truth, that better ERM improves reputation. But it may be doing so in a surprising way via reduced volatility of reputation.

Combating Risks to the Electric Grid

Electricity is the foundation of society, making the electric grid one of our most critical infrastructures. It is also one of the most vulnerable, and is subject to a number of variables, according to, Lights Out: The risks of climate and natural disaster-related disruption to the electric grid, a study by students of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, funded by Swiss Re.

According to the report, in recent years there has been a trend of more natural disasters globally, with 191 natural catastrophes in 2016 and a 24% increase from the level in 2007. In the United States, 43 natural catastrophes caused huge property losses in 2016, almost double those of 2007.

Lights Out focuses on the Pacific Northwest, which is an “illustrative case study in climate and natural disaster related electric grid disruption. The region is prone not only to high-frequency, low-intensity natural disasters such as droughts and flooding, but also at risk of catastrophes like the Cascadian Subduction Zone (CSZ) event, an earthquake-tsunami combination that is expected to devastate the coastline from northern California to southern British Columbia,” according to the report.

As climate change alters the seasonality of water runoffs in the Pacific Northwest, the study found that electricity generation and the operation and maintenance of hydroelectric dams face greater challenges. What’s more, different parts of the grid are vulnerable to different perils. For example, above-ground lines are vulnerable to weather events, while underground lines are susceptible to earthquakes. In Oregon, for example:

More than 50% of substations would be damaged beyond repair in the event of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. In addition, the vulnerability of the electric grid is highly interdependent with other critical infrastructure systems, including roads, water and sewage treatment, and natural gas pipelines. In the event of a major earthquake, damage to road networks can make it impossible to repair transmission and distribution lines, thereby preventing the restoration of all other electricity-dependent lifeline services (water, sewage, telecommunications).

The costs of outages for construction and restoration of the grid are estimated to be 1.59 times higher in highly populated locations versus flat land areas with fewer inhabitants. Costs are also higher when infrastructures such as emergency roads are destroyed, which would slow down repairs to roads, in turn delaying restoration of electric power and impacting telecommunications, water and sewage services.

There may be long-term financial implications as well, as entire communities would be impacted, leading to a possible migration of residents to areas not effected by the disaster. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, the population of New Orleans dropped dramatically, and 10 years later, had only returned to 90% of its pre- 2005 levels.

Total population of New Orleans 2000-2015; Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005:

With the increase in natural disasters, the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy as well as the prospect of a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia earthquake, “It is imperative that public and private sector entities explore potential solutions for combating and mitigating damage to the electrical grid and disruption from power outages.” The report urged utilities to increase the resilience of their systems in a number of ways, beginning with conducting utility vulnerability assessments to identify vulnerable infrastructure and develop resilience plans. While many utilities have taken the initial step of identifying the resilience and mitigation strategies that they intend to implement, their implementations after these assessments vary widely by utility.

Utilities have several options for hardening the resilience of their systems, depending on the specific types of natural hazards they face. For example, checking poles for rot and moving infrastructure out of flood zones and landslide-prone areas helps to maintain distribution and transmission infrastructures, keeping them from going down in regions with heavy rainfall and flood risk. Pruning trees to protect wires from falling branches is also important in regions experiencing higher intensity storms, according to the report.

Highlighted trends:

  • Climate change is causing more severe and frequent natural disasters, meaning power systems face increased strain from catastrophes.
  • The interdependence of systems creates further complications: if the electric grid is down for an extended period, collateral effects can lead to disruptions in other services such as water, sewage and telecommunications.
  • The economic implications are challenging governments and energy providers. Not only do they require pre-disaster financing provided by insurance, they must address how to make their systems more resilient to future flooding, droughts and earthquakes.

GM Halts Venezuela Operations Following Plant Seizure

General Motors has ended its operations in Venezuela after authorities in the strife-torn country seized the company’s plant there on Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday, General Motors said that assets, including vehicles, were also seized from the plant as it was taken over by Venezuelan officials while demonstrations surged throughout the country. The company said in a statement that the facility was taken without due process and that it intends to defend its interests.

General Motors has about 2,700 workers and 79 dealers employ 3,900 in Venezuela, according to the Detroit News, which added that “GM’s Venezuelan operations have been a drag on earnings for several years.” Last year the company lost $400 million before taxes in South America, which accounted for roughly 6% of global sales at 583,000 vehicles. GM also took a $720 million charge in the second quarter of 2015 for currency devaluation and asset valuation write-downs as Venezuela’s economy crumbled.

Losses such as the plant and possibly even including the currency hits may or may not be covered by political risk insurance. The challenge in securing such coverage is in accurately predicting when and where it might be needed—companies cannot wait until a threat emerges before securing cover, which is likened to attempting to buy home insurance after your house has caught fire. GM did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking whether the plant was insured for misappropriation.

In its statement, GM said workers at the seized plant would get separation benefits if the government allows such. The statement added that dealers in Venezuela will continue to service vehicles and provide parts.

In its “Credit and Political Risk Insurance Report & Market Update, January 2017,” insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher ranked Venezuela as one of the world’s riskiest nations, describing the county’s risk potential as “very high,” ranking it just above Libya.

Indeed, this is not the first instance of Venezuela’s government appropriating private assets amid rising nationalist sentiments and domestic unrest. “It fits a broader pattern, in the sense that the government’s response to surges in opposition activity tends to be the deepening of the revolution,” Phil Gunson, a Venezuela-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The Washington Post.

Opposition forces on Thursday called for further mass protests against the government. Venezuela has been in crises as forces opposing the government of President Nicolas Maduro accuse the hand-picked successor of populist leader Hugo Chavez of running a dictatorship. Runaway inflation and shortages of food, fuel and goods have stoked nationwide protests that killed three on Wednesday, including a 17-year-old male and a National Guard sergeant.

The fuel shortages are especially ironic given that Venezuela holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves with 298.4 billion barrels, topping Saudi Arabia’s 268.3 billion barrels of reserves, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Mitigating Environmental Risks at Argos

Ana Maria Duque is the environmental assessment manager at Argos in Colombia. Here’s what she had to say about the environmental challenges her company faces.

RMM: Please describe what you do for Argos.

AMD: In my current role as environmental assessment manager, I oversee planning and implementation of the processes related to environmental assessment of projects, water and biodiversity management, and administration of environmental liabilities across the three regions where the company is present: Colombia, Caribbean and Central America and the United States. The purpose is to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and the organization’s environmental policy.

RMM: What is Argos’ philosophy on environmental challenges?

AMD: We are committed to develop our production activities responsibly, seeking a balance among profit generation, social development and environmental impact mitigation. This is why we have defined an environmental policy with goals up to 2025. Our goals are to promote prevention, mitigation, correction or compensation of the environmental impacts caused by our operations. Efforts are organized into five pillars that represent our main risks and opportunities: climate change, eco-efficiency (including water and atmospheric emissions), biodiversity, sustainable construction and environmental awareness.

RMM: Why should corporate risk managers be paying attention to environmental issues?

AMD: Corporate risk managers must pay attention to environmental issues since businesses, as well as other human activities, depend on goods and services provided by ecosystems, such as fresh water, timber, climate regulation, natural hazard protection and recreation. At the same time, business activities can negatively impact ecosystems, jeopardizing their ability to supply these goods and services. These dependencies and impacts pose several types of risks and opportunities to companies which need to be properly managed to ensure the sustainability of the business.

RMM: Are risk managers receptive to environmental issues, or is there more convincing to be done?

AMD: Environmental issues are an integral part of the business strategy of large corporations, that have understood the importance of managing environmental issues in order to ensure successful corporate performance and contribute to a sustainable world. There are some small companies, however, that are not completely aware of their dependence and impact on ecosystems, and therefore they have not integrated the management of these risks and opportunities into their business strategy. Environmental awareness is growing among these companies as well, and they are starting to realize the importance of managing these issues.

RMM: How does Argos handle water risks in Colombia and the region?

AMD: We are committed to using water in an efficient and responsible manner, focusing our management strategy in two action lines: efficient water use, by measuring the consumption in our operations and implementing reduction plans; and water risk management, through the identification, evaluation and management of water-related risks at our facilities. Our targets are to reduce by 30% the specific water consumption in the cement business by 2025; and 20% in the concrete production, across all the three regions where we are present. In order to measure our exposure to water scarcity risks, we monitor the water stress degree of the basins where our facilities are located, using the WBCSD [World Business Council for Sustainable Development] Global Water Tool. Furthermore, we assess the exposure to several categories of water risks at a local level using the tools WRI [World Resources Institute] Aqueduct and WWF [World Wildlife Fund] Water Risk Filter. This allows us to prioritize the sites where we need to develop action plans. We have also endorsed the CEO Water Mandate aiming to adopt and implement a comprehensive water management approach in its six action lines: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

RMM: What other environmental risks should be on the minds of risk managers?

AMD: All risks and opportunities derived from the companies’ dependencies and impacts on ecosystems must be on the minds of corporate risk managers, including those related to biodiversity, air quality and climate change. But more importantly, environmental issues need to be the top priority of the board of directors to ensure that the company invests what is needed to address those issues.

RMM: What do you envision as an ideal interaction between risk managers and environmental assessors/engineers?

AMD: Within the companies, risk and environmental managers should work together in order to raise awareness to the strategic level of the risks and opportunities related to environmental issues, as well as to develop and adopt robust action plans that allow the companies to mitigate their environmental risks and foster their environmental opportunities. This adds value to both the companies and society.