Monday 6 October 2014

Guest Post: the Use of the Use-Test (Part 1)

One of the lessons from my post on the objective of risk management was that there are number of perspectives about it.  I asked a number of leading industry experts to share their perspective.

Today, I am sharing the views of Jim Suttcliffe, Chairman of Sun Life Financial (Canada) and Chairman of BaxterBruce (UK) and former CEO of Old Mutual Group.  Jim sets out the objective of risk management in terms of the 'use test'.  His next post will consider how to implement it in a meaningful manner.

Previous posts on this series shared the views of James Tufts, Group CRO of Guardian Financial Services (here) and Carlos Montalvo Rebuelta, Executive Director of EIOPA (here). I will continue sharing these perspectives in the next few weeks.


Defining the use-test
Jim Suttcliffe, Chairman of Sun Life Financial (Canada), and Chairman of BaxterBruce (UK)

The Use Test is a simple but powerful concept to think about the objective of risk management. You should actually use your risk management system as part of your business, not as an afterthought.

But it's still true in many places that the risk department are those interfering people from Head Office whom we have to placate occasionally, but whom we basically avoid. Grrr.

Happily, in some of my interests, this era has passed and the power of doing things properly is showing through in the share price. 

Actually there are two sides to this story. Risk departments need to be staffed by potential CEOs and not Dr No's. Risk people need to be able to contribute to the development of these organizations, not just inhibit. But with the right people in place, good first lines will welcome the second pair of eyes, and the help in avoiding pitfalls, that risk departments with their broader vision can contribute. Bad first lines put up boundaries around their activities, and restrict access to information. They have their ears closed to different ideas, and are the weaker for it.

I sat with a lunch group of non-executive directors recently, not from the financial services industry, and found the room split between those who thought risk management was a waste of time, and those who embraced it wholeheartedly. There were few in the middle. Actually good risk management, and the embedding of risk management in the first line is not new. Good managements have always done it, and when risk is physical, as in the extractive industries, there are some very advanced techniques, and acknowledgement of the behavioural aspect of the subject.

And the Use Test has this behavioural issue at its heart. All the rules in the world won't prevent risks from crystallizing if the culture is against it. And that too needs attention. Risk managers are managers, and the art of management needs to be on the agenda as well as statistical technique and Monte Carlo simulation.

The prize is still out there to be won in many organizations. Some already have it in their hands and will be the winners in the next crunch. But beware the backwoodsmen who think that risk is for boring HO people!!

If you work in financial services, I would be keen to hear your thoughts about this perspective on the objective of risk management.  If you don’t, I would be keen to know if these lessons resonate with your experience. 

You can subscribe to future posts here.  

No comments:

Post a Comment