7%-38%-55% Communications MythBy Robert P.
Top 10 Big Mistakes Of Big BusinessBy Francis T.
Climate Change Is Real! Act Now!By Kathrin G.
Improving The Quality Of Decision MakingBy Niladri R.
The Pitch - 20 Ways To Chat Up A New Client.By Sid P.
Top 10 Big Mistakes Of Big BusinessBy Francis T.
Best Practice Benchmarking - The Path To ExcellenceBy Robert C C.
What Is A Healthy Company?By Raymond H.
Challenges And Opportunities In The New EconomyBy Alkistis A.
Managing Bad Debt - Importance Of Good Collection SkillsBy GERARD A.
Also Interesting ...
Do You Have Eggs?By Rajesh V.
Getting The People 'Right' In The Supply -ChainBy Stuart E.
The Art Of Asking The Right QuestionsBy Will K.
Kiss Skills And Experience Goodbye!By James A.
Do You Brighten A Room When You Walk In - Or When You Leave?By Roy S.
Better Operational-Risk Management For Banks
Operational risks are costly, but they can be conquered when high-ranking executives join the battle.
Consider the trader who receives an urgent request from an unknown counterparty to enter into a sizable currency or derivatives transaction with the trader's bank. Surprisingly, the counterparty is unconcerned about price. But the deal is potentially lucrative, and no one appears to be breaking the law.
Does the trader pause, referring his or her suspicions upward, or proceed with the deal, brushing aside doubts that the counterparty may have something to hide and that the deal could well be tainted? The answer may depend on the effectiveness of the bank's operational-risk-management procedures.
This area of risk management is one that many financial players now recognize must be reviewed and perhaps radically reassessed, despite their increased spending to comply with new regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II. In recent years, losses incurred as a result of improper business practices, failed processes, and other operational risks have mushroomed across a range of industry sectors, including pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and financial services. From 2001 to 2005, risk-related losses in financial services at the top 12 US banks represented 4 to 5 percent of their net income?and considerably more if unpublicized events are added to the total. In 2005 at least two large banks had operational losses that wiped out more than 10 percent of their pretax net income.
Risk management, to be sure, is a game of big numbers. Losses can be as enduring as they are large. What's more, the impact of such losses on shareholder value can be disproportionately severe. In our analysis of 350 large risk events at European and North American financial institutions since 1990, the decline in market capitalization of the institutions affected was roughly equal, in the short term, to the financial loss. But after 120 days, the decline was, on average, roughly 12 times the reported loss. The most harmful crises involved embezzlement, loan fraud, deceptive sales practices, antitrust violations, and noncompliance with industry regulations.1
Successful risk management is not just about limiting the downside, however. Banks with robust approaches to managing operational risk can often take on and succeed in businesses that others are unable or unwilling to accept. Some banks, for example, created the appropriate level of separation for the prime brokerage business more swiftly than others did and could therefore scale up more aggressively. Players that added operational-risk skills and capacity in the credit derivatives back office have managed to pursue the most structured and most lucrative trades. Moreover, banks that need to hold regulatory capital against operational risk can free up funds for their investments by reducing their risk-related losses. Banks with better operational-risk practices also will enjoy improved market sentiment and, ultimately higher share prices (all other things being equal).
In our work with banks, we find that their operational-risk infrastructure remains overly focused on measuring risk rather than mitigating it. Procedures for wrestling with potentially risky business practices are rarely in place and, where they do exist, are rarely systematic. "Soft," qualitative issues such as front-office culture and the concerns of key external stakeholders are typically overlooked. Complacency at the business unit level?a consequence of the centralization of risk functions and the feeling that "it's someone else's job"?frequently goes uncorrected.
Old methods no longer work
Managing risk?which comes in many varieties, including not only operational and reputational risk but also market, credit, and regulatory risk?is inherent in almost everything banks do, from controlling inventory levels to developing new products to managing loan portfolios. Bank executives must understand that operational risk is inextricably and increasingly linked to the reputations of companies. Its management directly influences their actions and thus their reputation among stakeholders.
More specifically, operational risk is the risk of loss stemming from the inadequacy or failure of internal processes, people, and systems or from external events such as conspiracies. Reputational risk derives from the stakeholders' perceptions of companies and of their employees' behavior. It is the risk that this intangible asset will lose value and cause future financial losses?for instance, if employee turnover increases or regulators intensify their oversight of the company.
With that understanding, executives need to review and challenge some long-standing and deeply held assumptions about how to control and manage these risks. The use of traditional methods of measurement and historical data may, for example, be an effective way to manage credit or market risk, but operational risk is far less predictable, because past events give much less guidance about future ones.
Another cause of difficulty is the centralized risk function found in many banks. Centralized risk teams may be desirable for monitoring and managing regulatory developments that affect an entire bank, but these teams on their own lack the sort of insights that let managers respond quickly to changing needs.
Some companies have started to address individual areas, but piecemeal strategies can prove downright dangerous if they overlook important risks. Banks should simultaneously address business practices in the front office, the risks that may be festering in operations, and the organizational structures that most readily guarantee consistency, reliability, and universal adherence. In addition, banks need to engage with their external stakeholders more intensively than they used to do, by understanding and shaping those stakeholders' perceptions and constantly adjusting their own risk mitigation priorities in response.
A tight grip on business practices
Let's start with business practices, keeping in mind the trader's dilemma set out at the beginning of this article. In our experience, banks need to focus on three areas: new risks, the routine business practices that permeate companies, and the culture that surrounds these practices.
Identify and deal with new risks
In most industries, and not least in banking, companies that face changing market conditions, new regulatory requirements, and intensifying competitive pressures must adjust their business practices quickly and robustly. What may seem, in isolation, like minor modifications to an operating environment can quickly assume substantial proportions.
Too often management fails to detect or act on new types of risk. Take the fast-growing global bank that put more than 300 new products onto its back-office platform in a single year. So many changes occurred so fast that senior leaders lacked a shared understanding of the client disclosure requirements in some of their highest-growth businesses. Instead of following a standardized approach, hundreds of midlevel traders had to exercise individual discretion, thereby exposing the bank to unnecessary risk.
In the context of new risks, a crucial challenge for senior management is recognizing the limitations of inexperienced, junior employees and rectifying their shortcomings. This effort might involve stopping an activity or practice to keep frontline employees out of harm's way, training or coaching them to cope with specific shady situations (such as the overhasty counterparty), providing tools to help them identify and deal with such situations, and creating policies that clarify what is and isn't acceptable.
In our trader's case, the bank's management should already have recognized and prepared for this sort of day-to-day dilemma by reassessing its priorities and giving itself sufficient time to understand the threats and prepare ways of dealing with them. A training program would highlight warning signs (such as sudden price insensitivity by counterparties) and instill in traders a willingness to avoid such deals or to refer them upward. Effective tools?for example, a structured set of what-if questions that trigger concerns about possibly shady deals?could be developed to identify gray areas and flag problem deals.
Constantly evaluate principles and practices
In other cases, a company's routine business practices may be flawed. The trader in the example of the suspect deal may lack experience because the bank has no procedures to ensure adequate training. Alternatively, the bank's incentive scheme may reward traders only for turning a profit, not for alerting management to dubious deals. Or any sanctions may be insufficient, so that even if the trader is fired, he or she will leave with reputation intact and easily find a job elsewhere. Management must review its practices regularly and unearth such issues; it needs to create an environment that does not tolerate poor judgment on matters of operational and reputational risk.
In particular, banks need to recognize changes in their product or client mix, such as a sudden increase in the level of traded products marketed to retail customers. Other retail businesses can offer some lessons. A credit card issuer, for example, provoked outrage among consumers when it recklessly migrated customers from one product to another without persuading them of the benefits. The issuer responded to the outcry by establishing a clear taxonomy of current business practices and highlighting those that seemed to present the greatest operational and reputational risk. It then investigated these practices in an effort to understand the risk-reward trade-offs more fully and made clear decisions about which practices to modify, and how.
Tackle the cultural root causes
Even if a bank does have the appropriate control, mitigation, and managerial backstops in place, its culture may not support them. Danger signs include a tendency to say one thing but do another or to measure power and status only by income generated, despite bank policies that urge employees to forgo income that would involve excessive operational risk.
Only by pursuing a combined approach to business practices and culture will banks eradicate these issues. The first step is conducting regular surveys to understand how the existing culture affects the behavior of the staff. Institutions should then take steps to ensure that employees fully understand what is expected of them, to install sound role models, and to introduce appropriate evaluation and compensation schemes. (Banks should, for example, keep records of deals refused because of the operational risk they posed and factor an operational-risk performance metric into individual rewards.)
Getting a grip on practices and culture is no one-off exercise but a continuing effort. To root out the real causes of risky practices, managers need to be alert, inquisitive, and skeptical. If employees are just operating by the book, it's time to change the book. Managers must be prepared to lead by example, to change the behavior of other employees, and to set and enforce new policies?applying tough sanctions if necessary.
Taking the risk out of operations
Most companies have already removed most excess costs from their operations, apparently leaving little scope for further gains. The next frontier involves eliminating unnecessary operational risks from seemingly efficient back offices.
Our recent experience suggests that the savings achieved in some processes by reducing error rates (in other words, losses from operational risk) can far outweigh the savings achieved through traditional cost reduction measures. We suspect that the same thing will hold true in many cost-focused operations. Companies need to create a methodology that simultaneously tackles costs and operational risk, trading them off against each other where necessary.
A single stream of initiatives can help banks enjoy the double benefit of reducing operational risk and cutting costs. One leading bank fortified its combined lean-Six Sigma methodology with measures to reduce operational risk. The bank found that the factors pushing up costs?waste, inflexibility, and variability?often trigger risk-related losses too.
In pursuing lean or Six Sigma process improvements (or both) that include a risk mitigation objective, experts may be nominated to serve as evangelists, disseminating new risk-aware working practices across the operating platform. One leading European wholesale bank made such evangelists the cornerstone of a two-year rollout of new products. In pilots at this bank, the savings from lower costs and reduced losses came to $60 million thanks to a smaller number of errors in the back office. Moreover, the bank holds capital against its operational risk, as mandated by the Basel II accord, so the program has led to a corresponding reduction in its regulatory-capital requirements (Exhibit 2). This result can be a strong motivator for change, but companies must realize that capital release often has a significant time lag and that capital held to cover credit risk tends to dwarf any capital set aside for operational risk.
Such programs also carry symbolic weight: companies that are less tolerant of their small risks are better able to control larger and less frequent ones because they create a culture of risk awareness across the organization.
Getting the organization right
Embedding risk consciousness in every aspect of a bank's business has major organizational implications. An integrated approach means that controlling operational and reputational risk is no longer the preserve of a few special functions but becomes an active pursuit for all senior managers, including those who oversee compliance, audit, risk, investor relations, regulatory management, communications, and?above all?business and operations. While many companies claim that the business serves as the first line of defense, few organize themselves so that it actually does.
In our experience, banks must assign responsibility clearly to business and operations managers. Also, an appropriate role should be found for those who are formally charged with risk functions.
Management structures and responsibilities
To boost motivation and accountability, banks should assign clear responsibility for operational and reputational risk to individual business and operations managers, ensuring that they have the right skills and support to fulfill their charge. In one securities back office, the responsibility for reducing the number of failed trade confirmations was split among several managers, so no one took full ownership. Risk avoidance must be specifically written into the performance criteria and incentives of operational leaders?a difficult challenge, since lowering the level of risk in an environment seldom immediately reduces the number or size of short-term losses. Banks and other financial institutions should reward risk mitigation efforts either by providing capital relief or by implementing a charging mechanism for expected losses; the mechanism can be relaxed after action has been taken to mitigate a problem.
The role of the risk and control functions
With frontline managers and staff now occupying the first line of defense, what about the bank's traditional risk and compliance functions? We have identified four different models they can adopt within the broader organization:
1. Full-service provider. In this model the in-house operational-risk team has the expertise to deal with all risk- related issues. The wholesale adoption of this approach probably isn't practical, as it requires a very large risk function. However, it may be feasible to approach individual topics such as risk modeling in this way.
2. Joint venture partner. Operational-risk professionals and business teams share the same workspace and report jointly on specific projects. An example might be a program to improve product design and simultaneously reduce the level of operational risk inherent in the production process.
3. Adviser. The operational-risk team offers its expertise to specific parts of the business. The risk function could, for example, build a cadre of experts to drive down the level of risk in a number of operations. This approach was taken by the previously mentioned European bank, which loaned risk managers from a central group to the businesses, where they helped implement a lean program, returning to the center once it was complete. Another possibility might be to give middle managers expert training in the risk implications of business practices.
4. Devolved entity. Operational-risk professionals are fully integrated into the business units and have a permanent dual reporting line?to the manager of the business unit and to their own functional manager. They may also carry other responsibilities within the business and function, subject to the requirements of the bank's regulator.
Different models will be appropriate for different banks, according to their starting position: size, complexity, risk exposure, risk culture, and the credibility of the risk and control functions. Whatever model a bank chooses, the risk and control functions must become credible partners for the underlying businesses, and the perception that the control group is just a necessary evil (delaying approvals or appeasing internal auditors) must be altered.
Along with any model a bank may adopt, its risk and compliance functions should continue to use traditional forms of influence?namely, measuring, quantifying, and managing the consequences of risk events. In banking, risk functions are augmenting the way banks charge business units for an expected loss, by taxing their profit figures as well as adjusting capital assigned. The most effective risk functions will find a way to make such profit and capital charges meaningful enough to prompt action across business units and other functions.
Senior managers, notably in banking, live in fear that some big operational or reputational scandal will one day shake the organization. They should confront this growing threat and rethink their entire approach to risk. Leading players are already embracing some of the initiatives we have outlined, though few have yet adopted a fully integrated approach. It's time they did. Making the mitigation of risk a routine and conscious part of the work of the whole organization can put managers in control and allow banks to reap the rewards of better risk management.
What's your opinion?
54 more Articles by Albert
4 min. US Recruiting, Retaining & Developing Talent Statistics & Best Practises
9 min. The success of strategic investments depends largely on the subsequent moves of competitors. Uncertainty about competitive conduct can lead executives ...
13 min. Of all the findings on business strategy yielded by the study of the businesses in the PIMS? database, the following is one of the most controversial: ...
POP11 min. Somewhere in Corporate America, a human resources manager is tweaking her company's employee-incentive program. Maybe she's dumping last year's customized ...
17 min. Over the next two decades, the country's middle class will grow from about 5 percent of the population to more than 40 percent and create the world's fifth-largest consumer market.
5 min. Improving the customer-centricity of your organization isn't just good business, it's also good marketing.
POP19 min. The art of leading deep corporate change can be learned. The trick is to help each member of the company discover a new reality...
11 min. Lean Thinking is a highly evolved method of managing an organization to improve the productivity, efficiency and quality of its products or services. The ...
4 min. The proliferation of brands and channels is forcing companies to restructure their marketing efforts significantly.
21 min. Are you on board with enterprise risk management? You had better be. It's the future of how businesses will be run.
31 min. There appears to be plenty of room for much greater effort and involvement by companies and organizations around the world. Here a few thoughts and pointers.
15 min. Further reform will be essential if one of the world?s fastest-growing regions is to seize a broader role in the global economy
13 min. Employees' personal connections can be as valuable as their individual knowledge base. Social network analysis, or SNA, helps maximize a company's collective smarts.
8 min. Companies based in the GCC states are using their petrodollars to expand into global markets. But in the long run, these companies will have to develop distinctive capabilities and skills.
8 min. Foresee the future, that's what your customers expect, that's what you need to deliver.
13 min. Talent can be bought, but the best companies develop their own.
8 min. Gen X-ers want far more collaboration with companies - both as customers and as employees. CIOs are uniquely positioned to help their enterprises meet ...
28 min. Surprisingly, many organizations lack a proper succession plan. One reason is that they do not have an effective succession planning process. This author ...
7 min. Sometimes we can all use a friendly reminder to keep us from backsliding into old ways of thinking about selling that lead us down the wrong path with potential clients.
POP4 min. Recently, I came across a code of ethics for hackers (yes, it really does exist) that I'd like to share with you, because I think it really hits home with ...
4 min. Few companies have the skills to effectively manage procurement across all spending categories. Smart enterprises should examine their procure-ment strategies ...
POP18 min. Looking for inspired leadership, passionate employees, unsurpassed productivity, and grateful customers? Forget the dispirited corridors of corporate ...
6 min. Valuable insights on using your speaker to maximise the success of your event
14 min. Newspapers have tried a host of measures to halt the long-term decline in their readership, but they haven't stopped consumers from turning to TV and the ...
4 min. How do you know if the speaker fits? How do you avoid embarrassing mismatches?
12 min. Value created by knowledge is often not captured. Five accounts of knowledge strategies.
POP6 min. Two of today's buzzwords are Team and Teamwork. Those with a particular desire to conform to the spirit of the age portray them as the polar opposite of ...
13 min. Everything that we do for our clients is based on the idea that improved communications will improve an organisation's performance and contribute to the ...
11 min. Growth is necessary, but size is no guarantee of a successful future! Nevertheless, growth is needed. Without growth there is no life. In a certain sense, ...
15 min. Five easy-to-use tools help negotiators in complex deals arrive at a negotiating position that is not only acceptable to them but also palatable to other ...
9 min. The global talent war has seen organisational leaders scratching their heads to understand how they can attract and retain the very best talent that is ...
13 min. The days, weeks, or months between taking the job and assuming power are precious. Put them to good use.
8 min. Organic search engine optimization has some distinct advantages over pay-per-click advertising. However, there are undoubtedly certain situations and scenarios ...
9 min. Complexity has been one of the most frequently used words for some years now. People talk about complex systems, complex interrelationships, complex problems ...
17 min. How leading-edge companies are streamlining applications development.
POP19 min. Eight emerging trends are transforming many markets and businesses. Executives should learn to shape the outcome rather than just react to it.
3 min. The aim of this guide is to prepare you for discussions with a bureau, and to get you thinking about all the factors that affect your Facilitator choice.
3 min. Over the last two years of working with hundreds of clients from all walks of life, I have noticed trends of what my clients want and need. This top ten ...
6 min. Plenty are the professionals who are on the "front lines" of the industry, knowledgeable of the countless changes, and who are willing and able to speak ...
POP10 min. To get beyond survival and to grow both profits and margins, the successful companies of the future will be forced to become true customer experts.
15 min. The CEO helps a transformation succeed by communicating its significance, modeling the desired changes, building a strong top team, and getting personally involved.
11 min. Reasons Why You Should Speak at and Attend Professional Seminars
12 min. Companies that rely on IT governance systems alone will come up short.
6 min. Trying to perfect a flawless presentation can result in disaster...
15 min. By building social issues into strategy, big companies can recast the debate about their role in society.
16 min. Services are more difficult to measure and monitor than manufacturing processes are but executives can rein in variance and boost productivity - if they implement rigorous metrics.
17 min. An organization is much more likely to improve its current performance and underlying health by using a combination of complementary practices rather than ...
16 min. For GCC states, liberalizing the labor market and developing the local workforce are the keys to moving beyond a reliance on foreign workers.
5 min. Should work be fun? Must it be fun? Today, the answer to these questions is mostly yes. What else should it be? Yet however plausible this answer might ...
20 min. What is success, what is failure, and how can you improve your odds for success?
4 min. "Size is no guarantee of future success." What is strategically important is strength not size. Speed is more important than physical mass and flexibility ...
7 min. In 15 seconds, a visitor to your site determines whether or not they are interested in your product or service. Web usability experts can provide all sorts ...