Monday 5 March 2018

Risk Assurance: The Challenge Ahead

I wrote about risk assurance a while ago (here). More recently, I have had a chance to talk with a few people in banking and consulting about it, and to reflect further on the subject.

By way of background, my working definition of risk assurance is a structured activity undertaken by the risk function (second line) which is aimed at evidencing that risk management is embedded in the business. Feel free to comment on this definition.

The important thing about risk assurance is that it matters because it contributes to shifting (or to maintaining, if you wish) the appropriate risk culture in the business. What do I mean by this? I hope we can all agree that the appropriate risk culture in financial services is one that includes the following:
  • the business takes into account risks in decision making and can evidence that, including compliance with regulatory requirements; and
  • the risk function provides the parameters for taking into account risk in decision making (risk appetite framework, stress testing, etc) and aggregate risks.
Truly achieving that is a challenging journey that takes time. Many insurers and banks started the risk management journey as a result of regulatory requirements—Solvency 2 or Basel. In practice, this has meant that sometimes risk functions have taken up activities like approvals that belong to business functions. Risk assurance will generate evidence about how risk management operates in practice. It will also help to shift the focus of the risk function—and, in turn, the business—in the appropriate direction.

I have worked with a number of clients to implement programmes of risk assurance. Interestingly, these engagements have turned out to be rather different because they must reflect the starting point for the business. In one case, the risk function was well resourced, and the focus was planning. In another case, the focus was a combination of up-skilling and evidencing through pilot risk reviews that the activity can add value.

Leaving aside the considerations associated with implementation, it is important that there be a shared perspective about the overall aim of risk assurance, i.e. ‘integrated assurance’. This reflects two simple observations:
  • internal audit functions already provide assurance about the overall control environment;
  • from a Board perspective, assurance is assurance, regardless of which team/line of defence provides it.
In other words, the aim would be to develop a risk-based assurance plan which covers deliverables by 2LOD and 3LOD in such a way that the Board can understand where independent assurance has been provided.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

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