Increasing Your Risk Awareness

Companies of all sizes are searching for direction as they seek growth during these tumultuous economic times. Some companies are looking for better ways to deploy capital while others are simply fighting for survival. It is during times such as these that many do not take the time to seek perspective on the risks that they face. However, the strongest companies realize that having a solid understanding of their unique risks is vital to their continued success. These companies also realize that the risks they face are ever-changing – both internally and externally.

The first step to developing a better understanding of risk is to conduct an Enterprise Risk Assessment based on the company’s strategic objectives. This risk assessment will serve as the baseline for measuring risk responses going forward and also as the foundation for a broader Enterprise Risk Management (“ERM”) program. As a company implements their ERM program, it is critical that a culture of risk awareness rather than risk aversion is promoted. A “risk aware” culture embraces risk as the flip side to the reward they seek.

However, simply identifying, measuring and mitigating risks is only part of achieving “risk awareness”. An effective way to gain this perspective is to examine how the business is evolving in relation to its overall strategic direction through the Risk Awareness Cycle (see figure below). At any given time, a product, service or an entire company is in one of four stages of evolution – Order, Complexity, Chaos or Simplicity. Within each of these stages, risks take different forms. In addition, to continue as a viable enterprise, movement from one stage to the other is essential. Without movement, an enterprise will lose forward momentum and ultimately fail.

To learn more about how you can increase your company’s risk awareness, visit

Risk Awareness Cycle

ERM Adds Strategic Value

As enterprise risk management (“ERM”) becomes a more widely accepted practice, many companies are realizing the value of including a risk viewpoint in their strategic planning exercises. In the past, many executives viewed risk management purely as a loss avoidance exercise.  However, now that ERM is providing a broader view of risks and allowing companies to become more resilient, companies are more willing to incorporate the employment of calculated risks into their strategy formation.  A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit provides the following insight into this changing view of ERM.

One important indication that a shift might be occurring, however, is that 75% of executives think that risk considerations are playing an increasingly important role in strategy at their organisations. This suggests that rather than playing a preventative role—avoiding financial losses, for example—risk management could be moving towards an enabling role that contributes more fully to corporate strategy.

To navigate risks for both the shorter and the longer term, many firms are beefing up their risk management systems. ABB, for one, is increasingly moving away from a decentralized risk management model and putting in place a more group-wide strategy. “We’ve put in place a centralized enterprise risk management program over the last 12 months, and viewing holistically all the risks we face in the organisation,” confirms Mr Hall. “What we realized in the financial crisis, particularly from a financial point of view, is that the best way to manage risk is centrally.”

Martin ten Brink, a director at Shell, a British oil giant, says his company intends to refine some aspects of its enterprise risk management system in the coming year, particularly the pricing of risk. Furthermore, he says, Shell is improving the way it gauges risk velocity. The firm is targeting “a better understanding of the speed with which a risk can materialize and impact business performance.”

Wheelhouse Advisors is uniquely qualified to help companies build ERM programs that can be a source of strategic value. To learn more, visit

Making the Leap from Risk Management to Risk Mindfulness

Viewpoints on the practice of risk management have changed dramatically over the past several years.  The financial crisis of 2008 as well as other high-profile catastrophes like the Gulf Oil Spill have forced companies and boards to re-examine how they are addressing potential risks to their businesses. A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit highlights this fact as evidenced in the following excerpt.

Risk management can be a thankless task. Just ask Paul Moore, the former head of regulatory risk at HBOS, who claimed that he was sacked because he told the bank’s board that it was taking too much risk. In the wake of the financial crisis, stories that banks would sidestep risk managers in order to get deals done were legion. Risk managers with legitimate concerns about the business were ignored and regarded as a brake on growth.

Three years on, the perception of risk management has changed. In the financial services industry, there is a clear consensus that serious mistakes were made with either risk management or risk governance. In response, banks and other financial institutions are beefing up risk departments and creating new governance structures that add to the risk function’s authority and independence. Boards are creating risk committees and ensuring that non-executives are providing effective oversight of the company’s risk exposure. Chief risk officers are being granted powers of veto over decisions made by executive management and reporting directly into non-executive directors.

This renewed zeal for risk management extends far beyond the banking sector. Events such as the financial crisis, and more recently the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, have reminded senior executives that failures in risk management can prove to be extremely costly, not just to a company’s financial performance, but to their own careers and, sometimes, the lives of employees. The incentive to ensure that there is a clear and consistent approach to managing risk across the enterprise has never been greater.

However, although risk management is currently enjoying an unprecedented level of authority and visibility, it remains a function in transition. Examples of companies that take a genuinely strategic approach to their risk management remain few and far between. Communication between risk functions and the broader business can sometimes be fragmented, while an enterprise-wide culture and awareness of risk can be difficult to achieve.

What is needed is a new approach towards addressing risks or what we call “Risk Mindfulness”.  “Risk Mindfulness” is a term coined by Wheelhouse Advisors as a result of discussions with many companies about their approaches to gain a better understanding of their risk profiles.  What we have discovered is that many people have a very narrow (and sometimes negative) view of the term “Risk Management”.  The term “Risk Management” usually conjures up thoughts of insurance or compliance activities that have a very limited, historical focus on minimizing known risks.

“Risk Mindfulness” is meant to be more forward-looking and integrative.  Rather than seeking only to minimize or eliminate risk altogether, “Risk Mindfulness” supports the notion that the only bad risks are those that are not well understood and not fully incorporated in a company’s strategic plan.  Also, “Risk Mindfulness” should be company-wide and not restricted to certain individuals.  As the company as a whole becomes more mindful of how objectives will be successfully achieved given the potential risk, better decisions will be made and greater value will be realized.  To learn more about how your company can benefit from this new way of thinking, email us at

A Case for Strategic Risk Management

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Governor Randall S. Kroszner delivered a speech to the 2008 Annual Risk Management Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  In his speech, Governor Kroszner made the case for strengthening risk management practices by integrating risk management with strategic planning.  Governor Kroszner stated,

“In my view, an effective overall corporate strategy combines a set of activities a firm plans to undertake with an adequate assessment of the risks included in those activities. Unfortunately, many firms have forgotten the second part of that definition. In other words, there can be no real strategic management in financial services without risk management, hence my use of the term “strategic risk management.” Risk management needs to be interwoven into all aspects of the firm’s business and should be part of the calculus for all decision-making. Strategic decisions about what activities to undertake should not be made unless senior management understands the risks involved; assessing potential returns without fully assessing the corresponding risks to the organization is incomplete, and potentially hazardous, strategic analysis.”

While many institutions may have thought they were considering risks when setting strategy, most were blinded by the potential profits without a healthy consideration of the risks.  As Governor Kroszner reiterated in his remarks,

“…the ongoing fundamental transformation in financial services offers great potential opportunities for those institutions able to integrate strategy and risk management successfully, and I will argue that survival will hinge upon such an integration….”

Click here to read Governor Kroszner’s full speech.