Many Financial Services Companies Lack a Clear Risk Strategy

In a recently published study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the current maturity of risk management practices in financial services companies is examined. For long-time readers of this blog, most of the key findings (see a complete list below) will not be surprising.  According to the study, companies have realized the need for greater investment in risk management, both in terms of people and technology.

However, a surprising 40% of companies still have yet to define their overall risk strategy.  This may indicate that some companies are taking a “bottoms-up” approach to improving their risk management practices.  By doing so, these companies will ultimately spend more time and money on risks that may not be material or emerging as a future threat.  Senior management and board members of these companies should refocus efforts to address risks that are inherent in strategic objectives of the overall enterprise.
Key Findings
  1. Confidence levels are high but there is a risk of complacency. Financial institutions are feeling much more confident about the future compared with 12 months ago. Around three-quarters of respondents believe that prospects for revenue growth over the next year are good, whereas 68% are positive about the prospects for profitability. These levels of confidence, which are around double the levels reported in a similar survey conducted last year, reflect a widely held view that the financial system has stabilised. There is a risk of complacency, however. As governments withdraw stimulus packages and liquidity support for the financial sector, revenues and profitability could yet fail to meet expectations.
  2. The focus on regulatory compliance could distract attention from emerging risks. Around the world, regulators have stepped up their scrutiny of financial institutions. While few people would argue against a tougher regulatory regime in financial services, respondents to the survey highlight uncertainty regarding regulation as the main barrier to effective risk management. There is a danger that the focus on compliance could be “crowding out” day-to-day risk management at a time when formerly low probability risks, such as sovereign debt crises, are becoming more commonplace.
  3. A clearly defined risk strategy is in place at most institutions, but significant areas of weakness remain. Investment in risk management is increasing almost across the board, with risk processes, data, information systems and training being key areas of focus for the majority of institutions. Six out of 10 respondents now say that they have a clearly defined risk strategy in place at their organisations that is updated on a regular basis. However, this still leaves a worrying 40% whose companies do not conduct regular updates or do not have a clear risk strategy in place.
  4. Banks and insurers are filling gaps in risk expertise with investment in training and recruitment. Respondents recognise that shortfalls in the quality and quantity of risk experts have been an important part of the problem in risk management. Asked about key areas in which shortcomings need to be addressed, respondents list issues related to expertise as three of their top four priorities. More than one-half of respondents say that they are increasing their investment in training, both of risk professionals and across the broader business, and a similar proportion say that they are spending more on recruitment.
  5. Financial institutions need to further improve data quality and availability. An over-reliance on risk models, and problems with the data used to populate those models, have been widely seen as a key failure in financial risk management. Financial services firms recognise that data quality and availability need to improve further. Collecting, storing and aggregating data is an area of weakness for many institutions, with only 39% of respondents believing that they are effective at all these activities.
  6. The silo-based approach to risk management continues to pose problems. In the days leading up to the financial crisis, the separation of risk management into separate departments led many financial institutions to underestimate risk concentrations and correlations. Even now, less than one half of respondents to our survey are confident that they understand the interaction of risks across business lines and poor communication between departments is seen as a key barrier to effective risk management.

About Wheelhouse Advisors
Wheelhouse Advisors LLC is the publisher of The ERM Current™, an online publication and blog dedicated to providing the latest updates on current trends in Enterprise Risk Management & Control. Wheelhouse Advisors provides cost-effective Enterprise Risk Management & Control solutions to both large and mid-size corporations. To learn more about Wheelhouse Advisors, please visit our web site at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: