High Performance Risk Management

LOS ANGELES—Risk managers, whose job once focused on a basic “bucket of risks,” and making decisions about which risks are transferable and which ones the company should retain, have been “migrating along an evolutionary path which is allowing us to be more strategic,” said Chris Mandel, senior vice president of strategic solutions at Sedgwick, at the RIMS ERM Conference 2017.

During the session “The Trouble with ERM,” he noted that risk managers now need to alter their focus. “The question for risk managers now is, how do we get our organizations to focus on long-term success and recognize the link between strategy and risk?” he said.

Erin Sedor, president at Black Fox Strategy, said that personal experience taught her the importance of connecting with the CEO and aligning with the company’s strategy when setting up a program. “You need to know what they are talking about and understand strategy,” she said.

Unable to find a satisfactory definition of strategy for ERM, Sedor came up with her own: A set of decisions made at a given point in time, based on business intelligence, that when successfully executed, support the purpose, growth & survival of the organization.

She added that, unfortunately, enterprise risk is not a term that resonates with the C-suite, but strategy is.

She identified three major problems with ERM that can dampen its prospects:

  1. A limited view of the organization’s mission, growth and survival.
  2. Silos. Breaking through them is a nonstop process, no matter how a company tries to improve the situation—especially in the areas of risk management, continuity planning and strategy, which typically happen in very different parts of the company. “It is important to link risk management and continuity planning in the strategic planning process, because that will get some attention and get the program where it needs to be,” she said.
  3. Size. Because ERM programs are notoriously huge, she said, “the thought is that ERM will cost too much money, take too many resources and take too long to implement. And that by the time it’s finished, everything will have changed anyway.”

Starting the process by “saying you’re going to focus on mission-critical,” however, can help get the conversation moving. “Because as you focus on that, the lines between risk management, continuity planning and strategic planning begin to blur,” she said.

Sedor described mission-critical as any activity, asset, resource, service or system that materially impacts (positively or negatively) the organization’s ability to successfully achieve its strategic goals and objectives.

She said to find out what mission-critical means to the organization, what is the company’s appetite and tolerance for mission-critical, and the impacts of mission-critical exposures on the organization. “Risk managers will often ask this question first, but you have to come to grips with the fact that not every risk is a mission-critical risk,” she said. “And not everything in a risk management program is mission-critical.” Using that context helps in gaining perspective, she added.

When viewing risk management, continuity planning and strategic planning from a traditional perspective, strategic planning is about capturing opportunity and mitigating threats; risk management is the identification, assessment and mitigation of risk; and business continuity planning is about planning for and mitigating catastrophic threats.

Looking at them from a different vantage, however, strategic planning is planning for growth; risk management allows you to eliminate weaknesses that will impede growth, which is why it’s important; and continuity planning will identify and mitigate the threats that impact sustainability. “That is how they work together,” she said, adding, “you are also looking at weaknesses that, when coupled with a threat, will take you out. Those are your high-priority weaknesses. Using a mission-critical context makes it all manageable.”

At this point, if a risk manager can gain enough leverage to talk to executives throughout the organization about what mission-critical means to the company, its impact, and then about tolerances and creating a more integrated program, “all of a sudden, you’ve talked about ERM and they didn’t even know it,” she said. “They thought you were talking about strategy.”

Protecting Your Company from Rogue Employees

While employee malfeasance rarely takes down entire companies, it can result in serious fines, sanctions, court judgments, settlements and reputational damage. Big data analytics is one way leading companies are able to mitigate risk, by proactively detecting threatening or illegal behavior.

Traditional ERM Approaches Won’t Do

Compliance officers do their best. They generally work within enterprise risk management (ERM) frameworks to introduce corporate policies and procedures, conduct risk avoidance training and audits, and create inter-disciplinary committees. They work with IT to run compliance auditing software on critical structured data, including financial databases and transactional applications.

By targeting only well-behaved structured data, however, compliance officers can lose sight of one key fact—structured data is a small percentage of organizational data. Data storage analysts report that most organizational data are only 15% to 20% structured data and 80% to 85% unstructured. This leaves a huge volume of data that presents serious compliance risk to IP, especially electronic communications.

While e-mail, instant messaging, texting and social media are ingrained in our culture, traditional auditing software does not focus on communications. These threats often evade notice until the damage is done.

Here are some ways threats can escape the radar of employers that have traditional ERM approaches:

  • Limited ability to analyze unstructured data. The inability to monitor unstructured data leaves the company open to regulatory consequences and other risk.
  • Keyword searching to winnow down data sets often delivers a high volume of false positive results. Filtering techniques such as keyword searches may not be highly accurate and require intensive manual review. The result is higher cost and longer timeframes for manual-review projects.
  • Potential security issues. Communication platforms are rapidly proliferating. Employees might be sharing inappropriate corporate information on social media, yet these mentions often go unmonitored by the company, potentially missing evidence of employee misconduct.
  • Complex regulatory changes. Many governmental and industry regulations are already complicated, and their revisions only intensify complexity. For example, since introducing Dodd-Frank, regulators have written 224 of 400 expected rules and continue to modify existing rules.
  • Case-by-case approaches. Case-centric approaches to litigation, investigations and regulatory compliance matters impede applying learning and attorney work product on these cases to other matters. This inability lengthens legal reviews and investigations and multiplies costs. Case-based discovery also makes it difficult to discover widespread risky communications between employee groups and outside organizations.
  • Geographic and organizational silos. Relevant data is spread across different storage locations and eDiscovery platforms, creating distinct data silos.

A Cautionary Tale

Here is an example of risk that can go undetected until it’s too late, as it did at Wells Fargo. Banker 1 is responsible for reaching high quarterly sales goals. His manager increases his sales goals for the next quarter. Banker 1 emails a colleague complaining about how his goals are impossible to meet. Banker 2 suggests he try a creative process called “pinning,” which consists of a banker enrolling an actual customer in online banking to create a “sale.” The banker fills in the customer’s name and address but puts in a fake email address so the customer never receives banking communications. The banker meets his sales goals—and hopes the customer never finds out.

How Big Data Analytics Can Help

Analytics tools are already omnipresent in eDiscovery and compliance reviews. They include predictive coding, email threading and concept searching. They are highly useful for culling large data volumes to more manageable sizes. They also locate meaningful text and concept patterns so that reviewers can strategically work with high priority documents.

The catch is that these analytics can only filter to a point, and only work on a single-case basis. No matter how the case management software learns from tagging and work product, that learning cannot be applied across multiple matters if it resides on different review platforms or with different vendors. Each time a new case begins, reviewers and their software must start over. This leads to very long and repetitive document review processes, already the single most expensive activity in eDiscovery. Clients and attorneys also risk exposing sensitive information as the matter makes its way between document review platforms and multiple stakeholders.

A big data approach, versus specific analytics tools can continuously consolidate billions of documents into a central repository. It can also apply machine and human learning to enable the reporting of trends, new data relationships, and fresh insights into data across all cases—not just a single matter—for greater efficiency, cost control and risk mitigation.

In a Changing World, Questions For the CRO

Before the financial crisis in 2008-2009, many businesses didn’t think of risk as something to be proactively managed. After the crisis, however, that paradigm shifted. Companies began perceiving risk management as a way to protect both their reputations and their stakeholders.

Today, risk management is not just recommended, it is considered crucial to successful operations and is required by federal and state law. The SEC’s Proxy Disclosure Enhancements, enacted in 2010, mandate that organizations provide information regarding board leadership structure and the company’s risk management practices. Company leadership is required to have a direct role in risk oversight, and any risk management ineffectiveness must be disclosed.

The CRO’s role

Volatility in the current business environment—a confluence of factors including transfers of power, the world economy and individual markets—is nothing new. Political transitions have always been accompanied by new agendas and shifting regulations, economies have always experienced bull and bear markets, and the evolution of technology constantly changes our processes.

Even so, recent events like Brexit, the uncertainty of a new administration’s regulatory initiatives, and thousands of annual data breaches have contributed to an unprecedented atmosphere of fear and doubt. To navigate this environment, the chief risk officer needs to adopt a proactive risk management approach. Enterprise-wide risk assessments grant the visibility and insight needed to present an accurate picture of the company’s greatest risks. This visibility is what the board needs to safely recognize opportunity for innovation and expansion into new markets.

To grow a business safely—by innovating and adding to products/services and expanding into new markets—risk professionals should not focus on identifying risk by individual country. This approach naturally leads to a prioritization of “large-dollar” countries, which aren’t necessarily correlated with greater risk. Countries that contribute a small percentage of overall revenue can still cause major, systemic risk management failures and scandals.

A better approach is to look at risk across certain regions; how might expanding the business into Europe, for example, create new challenges for senior management? Are there sufficient controls in place to mitigate the risks that have been identified?

When regional risks are aggregated to create a holistic picture, it becomes possible for the board to make sure expansion efforts are aligned with strategic goals.

Three processes that require ERM

Risk management is an objective process, and best practices, such as pushing risk assessments down to front-line process owners who are closest to operational risk, should be adhered to regardless of the current state of the international business arena.

While today’s political climate has generated a significant amount of media strife, it’s important not to let emotion influence decision-making. By providing the host organization with a standardized framework and centralized data location, enterprise risk management enables managers to apply the same basic approach across departments and levels.

This is particularly important when an organization expands internationally, which involves compliance with new sets of regulations and staying competitive. Performing due diligence on an ad hoc basis is neither effective nor sustainable. Instead, the process should follow the same best-practice process as domestic risk management efforts:

  1. Identify and assess. Make risk assessments a standard part of every budget, project or initiative. This involves front-line risk assessments from subject matter experts, revealing key risks and processes/departments likely to be affected by those risks. For example, financial scrutiny is no longer a concern just for banks. Increased attempts to fight terrorism mean transactions of all kinds are becoming subject to more review. Anti-bribery and anti-corruption processes estimate and quantify both vulnerability and liability.
  2. Mitigate key risks. Connect mitigation activities to the resources they depend on and the processes they’re associated with. ERM creates transparency into this information, eliminating inefficiency associated with updating/tracking risks managed by another department. Control evaluation is the most expensive part of operations. Use risk management to prioritize this work and reduce expenses and liability.
  3. Monitor the effectiveness of controls with tests, metrics, and incident collection for risks and controls alike. This ensures performance standards are maintained as operations and the business environment evolve. Evidence of an effective control environment prevents penalties and lawsuits for negligence. The bar for negligence is getting lower; technology is pulling the curtain back not only internally but (through social media and news) to the public as well.

Lastly, the CRO role is increasingly accountable for failures in managing risk along with other senior leaders and boards—look no further than Wells Fargo.

Increasing Risk Complexity Outpaces ERM Oversight

More organizations are recognizing the value of a structured focus on emerging risks. The number of organizations with a complete enterprise risk management (ERM) program in place has steadily risen from 9% in 2009 to 28% in 2016, according to the N.C. State Poole College of Management’s survey “The State of Risk Oversight: An Overview of Enterprise Risk Management Practices.”

Yet this progress may lag behind the increasingly complicated risks that need addressing. Of respondents, 20% noted an “extensive” increase in the volume and complexity of risks the past five years, with an additional 38% saying the volume and complexity of risks have increased “mostly.” This is similar to participant responses in the most recent prior years. In fact, only 2% said the volume and complexity of risks have not changed at all.

Even with improvements in the number of programs implemented, the study—which is based on responses of 432 executives from a variety of industries—found there is room for improvement. Overall, 26% of respondents have no formal enterprise-wide approach to risk oversight and currently have no plans to consider this form of risk oversight.

Organizations that do have programs continue to struggle to integrate their risk oversight efforts with strategic planning processes. “Significant opportunities remain for organizations to continue to strengthen their approaches to identifying and assessing key risks facing the entity especially as it relates to coordinating these efforts with strategic planning activities,” the researchers found.

According to the study:

Many argue that the volume and complexity of risks faced by organizations today continue to evolve at a rapid pace, creating huge challenges for management and boards in their oversight of the most important risks. Recent events such as Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, immigration challenges, the constant threat of terrorism, and cyber threats, among numerous other issues, represent examples of challenges management and boards face in navigating an organization’s risk landscape.

Key findings include: