Monday 29 April 2019

The Curse of Risk Appetite

In this post, I go back to one of the fundamental aspects of an ERM framework: risk appetite. ‘The Curse of Risk Appetite’ is part of the title of an interesting paper reviewing the misuses of risk appetite.[1] Some of the misuses described in the paper might sound familiar, but perhaps the key point to take away from the paper is that there is a potential for risk appetite to become synonymous with ‘a consideration of risk’. I am not sure this was ever the intention. 

The paper includes several useful suggestions to enhance risk appetite. They are focused on the long-run value of the firm and on the structure of risk appetite statements, reflecting a view that risk is the likelihood of falling below critical levels of performance. However, my attention was really caught by the authors’ suggestion to improve the organisational process for risk management. They suggest that a risk function’s role should be defined to include responsibility for evaluating the combined effect of strategic initiatives and capital budgeting on the firm’s overall risk profile.

On one level, this prescription is consistent with the view that the aim of the risk function should be to ‘protect and enable’, with the emphasis on the ‘enable’ aspect which sometimes gets overshadowed by ‘protect’. I am attracted to this suggestion because it turns a vision into a practical requirement that can be incorporated into an articulation of roles and responsibilities for a CRO or risk function. 

If, however, this was implemented literally in UK financial services, I suspect there would be an issue with regulators’ expectation about the independence of the risk function (second line of defence) from the business (first line). 

A similar outcome could be reached by clarifying that the role of the CRO/risk function includes providing a risk opinion in the early stages of the consideration of major strategic initiatives that have the potential to alter the business’s risk profile. The emphasis on timing is important. Providing a risk opinion only when major strategic initiatives are presented for approval is unlikely to add value. A CRO/risk function opinion in the early stages is likely to support consideration of the details of the initiatives and how they can be shaped to strike the appropriate balance between risk and return.

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[1] Alviniussen, Alf and Jankensgård, Håkan, The Risk-Return Tradeoff: A Six-Step Guide to Ending the Curse of Risk Appetite (May 7, 2018). 

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