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). 

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Risk Management as Infrastructure for Artificial Intelligence and FinTech

During 2018, I wrote several posts about FinTech, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and risk management.  I was kindly invited to present to the Network of Consulting Actuaries, I chose to use this opportunity to consolidate my views on the subject.  

There were several ideas flowing through my mind.

Firstly, informal evidence suggests that, for all the hype, FinTech and AI have not yet become mainstream in insurance or in financial services more generally.

Secondly, the largest business transformation arising from FinTech and AI is the adoption of these technologies by incumbents.  Indeed, I explored this in the context of banking through the group project at the Oxford FinTech Programme I completed in December 2018.

Thirdly, someone who works for a multinational insurer made the observation during an InsurTech event in London that as a regulated entity, the insurer has responsibilities and obligations towards their customers and must follow due process before they roll out new technologies.  There was a hint of an apology in this observation to the nimble start-ups in the audience.

Putting all these thoughts together led me to see the main challenge to the adoption of FinTech by incumbents as governance, including how risk management is applied in practice.  If the aim of risk management is to ‘protect’ or block, then the incumbent does not have an obvious lever to support the introduction of AI tools and FinTech.  

If, on the other hand, the aim of risk management is perceived as to ‘protect and enable’, then risk management can be part of the solution.  Risk management can lead to the creation of necessary infrastructure to ensure that AI tools achieve their transformational potential.  This includes articulating a vision of how a control framework should be leveraged, considering the impact of FinTech and AI on risk management frameworks, focusing on explainable AI, and articulating the implications for the target operating model.  This will facilitate incumbents’ adoption of FinTech and AI.  

Take a look at the presentation I gave (here) for a more detailed articulation of these points.

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