Happy Diwali

Wishing all my readers a joyful and

prosperous Diwali. 

Diwali greetings

Best wishes, 

Sonia

Justin Bieber’s Lesson For Risk Managers

Surfing through Twitter one gets deep insight of human behavior. I am sharing a couple of tweets that got me thinking on our (risk managers) approach. The hat tip goes to Justin Bieber and Mark Robinson for the post.

 1. Get a tribe

 Justin Bieber tweeted the message below and it got 119,562 retweets and 62,959 favorites at the last count.

“Live life full”

— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) May 10, 2013

Now you might say, what is so original in this message. Nothing remarkable, except that Bieber has 39,087,920 followers.

The message for risk managers is that if we want business team to listen to us, then we need to get a tribe of followers. Sitting in a corner or a cabin, writing reports isn’t going to help us. We need to be on the floor  interacting with the business teams daily.

2. Connect with a popular leader

Then Mark Robinson tweeted this message:

“Justin Bieber got 100,000 retweets for tweeting “Live life full”. That’s just 3 random words. I’m going to try now.

Nipple squirrel ham”

— Mark Robinson (@robboma3) May 11, 2013

The message was retweeted 26,972 times and favorited 4379 times. Mark has 23,694 followers. While Bieber’s message was tweeted by just 0.3% of his followers, Mark’s message was tweeted more than the number of his followers. Isn’t that fascinating.

This is a trick which risk managers need to learn. Even the most mundane message of a popular leader will be followed more ardently than their sanest advise. People don’t follow bosses, they follow leaders whom they like. Hence, risk managers need to identify the popular figures in office, ask them to give their message or link up their own version to the popular person’s message. Risk management advise is going to spread faster then, rather than with all the technical stuff.

I am dedicating Justin’s song to all of you. We need to believe it too – “I got that power”.

2013 – Will Thirteen Prove Lucky?

All my readers – Wish you and your loved ones a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year. I hope that 2013 will prove lucky for all of you.

Big thanks to all of you for your faith and commitment to my blog and making it a success.

Of course, you must be wondering how we did last year. The blog had 99,121 page views. Damn! Missed the six figures by a few hundreds. I missed the target so no bonus for me. I shall not go on a shopping spree today.

Seriously speaking, the reader statistics are amazing. In 2011, the blog had 51,556 page views. In 2012, the number has nearly doubled, as was the case from 2010 to 2011. I wrote 71 new posts in the year, and now there are 242 posts in the archive. Majority of the readers are coming from India, US and UK. What is simply awesome is that during the year, visitors came from 184 countries. Wow, I can’t even list so many countries. It is a time to celebrate! I shall again aim at doubling the numbers in 2013.

Let me share a couple of tips that I learnt during the year with my fellow bloggers. Hope they help you out.

1. Be Original

The most popular posts for 2012 were the ones in which I viewed an old subject from a different lens. Putting different perspective to things, challenging the status quo and discussing new topics makes the posts popular. For instance, the most popular post of the year – “Why auditors fail to detect frauds?” I challenged the basic expectation that auditors are more capable than others to detect frauds. Look at the top five and see for yourself.

a) Why Auditors Fail To Detect Frauds?

b) Adidas India Euro 125 Million Fraud Story

c) Fraud Symptom 12 – Unethical Compromises by External Auditors

d) Highlights of Ernst & Young India Fraud Survey 2012

e) Re-branding Risk Management and Audit Function

2. Write Research Posts

Research posts have a long life as these help readers. For instance, the posts that I wrote in 2010 and 2011 are still getting hits. Here are the top five old posts that were hugely popular in 2012. Write posts that last over a time.

a)    Pre-employment Background Screening Verification Program  July 2010

b)    Impact of Organization Culture on Internal Controls October 2010

c)     Risks of Doing Business in India  September 2011

d)    Mother Teresa – An Inspiration For Social Responsibility  August 2010

e)    Risk Management Strategy of Virgin Group November 2010

I hope you had a good time reading the blog. Your feedback is valuable; please share with me to make this blog better.

I dedicate to all of you Whitney Houston’s “One moment of time” and once again wish you a very happy new year.

Manipulating Purchasing Decisions

I read “Influenced Decisions” on Philos blog. It talks about Dan Ariely’s experiment on rationality of decision-making. According to the experiment, though we think we are making rational decisions, we can get easily influenced in making the wrong decisions. He experimented students for subscribing for a magazine with the following results.

As per Philos blog, 100 MIT students tested for Economist.com gave the following preferences:

Ariley1

Interestingly, 84% chose the third option and no one subscribed for second option.

Ariely, then conducted the experiment with just two choices and removed the dummy choice.

ariely2

Students preference changed. While in the first experiment they preferred the third option, in the second experiment, majority chose  the first option. The dummy option played a major role in the first experiment as students thought they were getting a better deal.

Now think of the impact this has from fraud perspective. Either a purchasing manager to get approval for a favoured supplier can insert fictitious proposals or have real suppliers submit dummy-like proposal

Submission of a fictitious proposal will be a clear case of fraud. Auditors might detect in regular course of audit and definitely during investigation. However, a dummy-like proposal will appear completely normal in the course of business and will be far more difficult to detect.

The question is whether on detection the purchasing manager’s behavior will be considering unethical or fraudulent? As the intent was to defraud the company, it should be considered fraudulent. However, it will be more difficult to  pursue legally. A small twist changes the whole picture.

Closing thoughts

Think carefully when doing your Christmas shopping. Check out whether the pricing is done to influence your decision towards certain product choices.

Wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays!

christmad

Ruminations on Festival of Lights

Indians are in a festive mood celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights symbolising victory of good over evil. It is fascinating that in every religion, light symbolizes good and darkness signifies evil. But without darkness can goodness prevail in humanity? In my view, the darkest hours of our life sensitizes us to our deepest subconscious needs, desires, strengths, weaknesses and negative traits. We even notice the external environment entirely differently. For instance, switch off all the lights in your apartment. In five minutes, you will start noticing the smallest of sounds within and outside the apartment. Darkness heightens all our senses. Then why don’t we celebrate darkness or the darkest period of our life?

During Diwali, Hindu’s celebrate victory of Lord Ram typifying goodness, and defeat of Ravan, the embodiment of evil. However, if you read the fine print of Hindu mythology, Ravan wasn’t evil. As per one version of the mythology, Ravan and his brother Kumbhkaran were Lord Vishnu’s gatekeepers. Lord Ram was Lord Vishnu’s avatar. The story goes that Sanatha Kumara monks cursed Ravan and Kumbhkaran, when the two brothers mistakenly refused entry to the monks thinking they were children. As punishment, they had a choice between being born seven times as normal mortals and devotees of Lord Vishnu or three times as powerful people but enemies of Lord Vishnu. They chose the latter, to be back with Lord Vishnu at the earliest. If one relies on this story, then the difference between good and evil disappears. I end up asking the same question to myself – do we simplify distinctions between good and evil, to feel good about ourselves?

Alternatively, as on Diwali we welcome Goddess Lakshmi, (Goddess of Wealth), do we celebrate to get material possessions? From childhood, society has trained us to celebrate success and shun failure. Though, no one has succeeded without experiencing a huge amount of failure. Even Thomas Edison, the inventor of light bulbs failed repeatedly. Had he not gained strength and insight from his over 10,000 failed attempts, he would have never succeeded. Do we have a clear understanding of what is failure? Or do we just rely on stereotypical image that money, power, material possessions, trophies etc. signify a win and everything else is failure.

Hence, we pray to our respective Gods not to fail us. In my view, God has mapped a path for each human being for progressive growth of their souls. Each obstacle in life is for the spirit and soul to flourish. Thus, accept with serenity all the negatives in life – death, sickness, breakdown of relationships etc.. Why not look upon them as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. We can take a leaf from Arthur Ashe’s, the first African American grand slam winner. On contacting HIV from blood transfusion he said – ‘If I were to say, ‘God, why me?’ about the bad things, then I should have said, ‘God, why me?’ about the good things that happened in my life.”

We celebrate Diwali on Amawasya, a pitch-dark night without a moon. In a way, we celebrate nature’s darkest period.  I have shared my musings on the subject with you. Now I am going to celebrate Diwali with all of you.

Celebration Time -100K Views in 2 Years

On the day of Venus transit, this blog crossed 100,000 page views, a couple of weeks before the second anniversary. For a subject as dry as risk management, that is an achievement. My sincere thanks to all the subscribers and readers whose smallest click on the post motivates me to write more. I didn’t start of as a writer, but the slow and steady growth in readership has made me one. With an average of 8000 page views per month, it is time to celebrate.

Since I started this blog with the aim to build awareness and  change perceptions about risk management, specially in India, the song “Winds of Change” is dedicated to all my readers. For the next generation, we definitely need to bring changes in practices of business ethics, corporate governance and risk management.

In the last two years, I learnt a few personal lessons from blogging. These lessons are not about how to blog better, but life in general. So here goes.

1. Don’t give up your hobbies

Sounds simple, but with age we generally give up our hobbies due to various constraints. However, the hobbies of our childhood in some ways define us and one never knows how the dots connect in future.

My mother encouraged me to write from childhood. In my teens I wrote poems and essays. Most were deeply tragic, outrageously wicked or completely radical thoughts. My father got perturbed on reading them, since he believed I was going to implement my creative ideas. I was that mischievous! Over time, as the focus on career increased, I stopped writing. I picked up writing again with this blog after a 20 years break. It was an absolute challenge. My writing is still not as decent as I wrote during my teens. It is an art one forgets with time without practice.

Now blogging is the in-thing and being able to communicate well is the key to success. No one told us that during our school days, the focus was on qualifications. In the present environment technical skills have become secondary. Times change. The best way forward is to integrate hobbies with career aspirations.

2. In adversity, persevere

Blogging is a humbling experience. There is a lot of sales talk about how good and easy it is, but it takes a lot of persistence.

I think most bloggers start for two reasons – either they love writing and sharing ideas or they wish to build a name for themselves in their chosen field. The initial idea is we have got it made and can crack it easily. Nobody tells a new blogger that they will be publicly making a fool of themselves,  consistently, till they get the hang of it. Moreover, with all the competition, most readers will ignore you. In real life, we target a deal with at least 60:40 odds in our favor. In blogging world, less than 1% read the post, let alone appreciate it.

It taught me one big lesson. In adversity, I must not count what I don’t have. I must focus on the goals I wish to pursue and doggedly work on it. Every time I failed, I attempted to understand the reasons for failure and restarted. Hard work makes one luckier.

3. Be authentic

Blogging is about personal branding, hence be authentic. What I write is what I am. There is a lot of advise given on building a personal brand and developing a social persona to get an audience. The problem with that approach is that my personal brand is not different from another’s image. Hence, how will the readers differentiate and respect me?

For instance, my thoughts are uniquely mine, if I try to mimic someone’s writing style or thoughts, then it isn’t me. If I like to be someone else, who is going to be like me? It takes courage, because putting radical thoughts in open forums is sometimes equal to begging to be killed.

However, my authenticity determines my credibility. For example, if I value honesty as a trait, then not only my friends but my worst enemies should vouch me as honest. The measure of my success on personal branding is when I stand for certain values and traits, my competitors and enemies acknowledge those traits. A well packaged public persona goes only so far as most readers see through the game plan sooner or later.

Closing thoughts

I started writing this blog on my parents marriage anniversary. As I have lost them, this was my way of thanking them. I wanted to share some of the ethical values they inculcated in me. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that there are still some takers for it. I hope in the years to come, I can learn something more from blogging, career and life, and be able to share it with you.

Thank you once again for your continued support and faith.

Best wishes,

Sonia

A Women’s Day Special – Play with Colors of Life

“How wrong is it for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself?”   ― Anaïs Nin

Women are smart. They demand equality and have a special day for women. Men claim superiority and have no men’s day. One can say the rest of the days are of them, but are they? The male gender suffers; poor chaps can’t even protest as it isn’t a masculine trait to show weakness. Women can complain, shed tears, howl their heart out and it reflects feminine traits. Mothers teach sons – boys don’t cry. Wives complain – Husbands are unemotional. Haven’t women successfully shackled men in a stereotypical image from birth?

Shouldn’t women be fighting for the male cause to bring in some emotional gender equality? Shall we start by being a bit more honest ? Lets discuss some of the things that women should do for themselves and the male gender on this women’s day.

1. Miss Goody Two Shoes

Men are convinced women are more principled, honest and virtuous than them. Women have done a wonderful job of personal brand building. Most haven’t got their hands dirty publicly. However, surveys say women participate equally in sexual harassment in offices and are showing increasing propensity to commit white collar crime as their ratios improve in the workforce. Moreover, they backbite, rumor monger, tattletale and indirectly bully more than men in offices. Women are more likely to use sex to get a promotion. Yes, some strategically decide to sleep with the boss to boost their careers.

Women play an equal role in making destructive management practices flourish in an organization and do not hesitate to use them for personal gain. Let us stop playing the blame game and take ownership to improve the work climate within our organizations.

2. Women’s Worst Enemies

Women undercut women. They make loud claims that male gender does not support them. However, women make bad bosses to junior women. Women ruin careers of aspiring young women to remove competition. They feel insecure if men give attention to a younger woman, hence damage the youngsters chances of succeeding. If a senior male wishes to harass a young female, he uses her female colleagues to do so to avoid sexual harassment charges.

While women target the men’s club for all the negative events happening to them, they fail to collaborate to form a women’s club. With 20-50% female workforce in offices, female leaders need to push for reforms in their offices that benefit the gender. Laying the blame on male CXOs door doesn’t absolve women leaders of their responsibilities.

3. The Sacrificing Souls

Women undersell themselves by portraying the picture of sacrificing souls. At every opportunity they lament about the difficulties of being a mother and a career women. Yes, they have to make sacrifices but so do men, specially single dads. It is difficult but stop crying about it all the time. As Gloria Steimen said- “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.” 

Being successful is about managing different priorities effectively. Have you seen successful men or women incessantly talking about the same universal issue? Husband, kids and career are a woman’s personal choice, hence its an individual decision. No man or woman is going to get all three handed on a silver platter for all times. There is no point in attempting to win the corporate battle using these tactics.

Closing Thoughts

Fight the battle of equality on ethical and principled grounds, without playing the victim. Successful women don’t enact the damsel in distress routines while pointing fingers at others. Quit complaining and enjoy the colors of life. Be fair, be just and give both genders an equal chance of succeeding on merit and talent.

I know, women will be mad at me for writing this post.  But what to do, 90% of my readers are men :).

Wishing all my readers a special women’s day and a happy Holi.

1 Jan 2012 – A New Begining

I am feeling on top of the world. This blog in its first full year got 51,556 page views. More than doubled from last year (11,299 page views in six months). I have nearly twisted my arm from patting myself on the back for being such an incredibly brilliant writer. With great difficulty I have managed to reign in my egoistic enthusiasm and have decided to be a humble Level 5 leader.

Sincerely, my heartfelt gratitude to all my readers, who came again and again, to read, comment and share my blog posts. For keeping silent when I floundered, and giving me constructive feedback and encouragement to continue learning and growing. I owe it to you all  to share the lessons I learnt in blogging this year. Before I declare the top 10 posts of the year, there are two stories I wanted to share with you.

1. The Audience

Writers give one solid piece of advise – “write for your audience”. For new bloggers, this amounts to asking them to be James Bond when they haven’t read a spy novel.  Nevertheless, since I decided in blogging world the faint hearted can’t succeed, I devised a strategy. My blogging aim was to share my knowledge and experience with the younger risk managers to make a positive difference in their work. So I wrote on topics that I felt passionate about and felt risk managers approach should change.

Six months down the line in June 2011 I got a shock on reviewing audience statistics. To my utter amazement most of my subscribers are in the age group of 44-64 years.

I had missed my target group entirely. I realized most of my readers are more experienced than me. Phew, that discovery was very nerve wrecking. Gen Y seems to be reading entirely different topics. Since I already have over 300 Gen X and Boomers subscribers, I have changed my strategy and will continue to write topics for them. Lesson learnt was do better market research to match products with your own skill set. By the way, are any of my subscribers single men over 44 years of age?

Resolution for the year: Understand audience tastes better. Reading Only.

2. The Blogging Etiquette

Another advise given is be careful what you write on the blog, in the internet world all is visible. Ha, have you every heard of a risk management blog going viral. With my first few subscribers, I was hardly worried.

Till it suddenly dawned on me, my ex colleagues, bosses and clients were following my blog. None of them informed me, as they quietly used Risky Secretive Subscribers (RSS) feed. Have you ever imagined what you will feel when all your bosses, boy-friends and the not so friendly guys all are in one room. Here, they are not only in one room, they are invisible to each other and me.

Sob, sob, sob. I identified a couple of my posts where I had nicely put my foot in my delicate mouth. Wondered seriously, should I continue to chew the nails of my toes, or take my foot out and put my fingers inside my mouth.  Political correctness was never my strong point, but this. Me, the poor little baby.

Resolution for the year : Be politically correct. Seriously.

3. The Good Posts

As is the blogging tradition, I shall list down the top posts for the past year. Surprisingly, some of my 2010 are still going great guns. So, here are the top five from each year. Hope you enjoyed them.

2011

1. Key Performance Indicators for GRC Departments

2. Rs 300 crore CitiBank Fraud

3. Fraud Symptom 5 – Insufficient focus on Organization Culture and Processes

4. Enterprise Risk Management V/s Strategic Risk Management

5. Reflections on Definition of Corporate Governance in India

2010

1.  Impact of Organization Culture on Internal Controls

2.  Deviant Organization Culture

3.  Pre-employment Background Screening Verification Program

4.  Risk Management Strategy of Virgin Group

5.  Mother Teresa – An Inspiration for Social Responsibility

Resolution for the year: Write only good quality posts.

Wishing You A Very Happy New Year

Finally, once again a big thank you to all my readers. This song is my tribute to all of you. May our relationship grow and prosper in this year. And you enjoy the journey as much as I do.

Hope you are successful in achieving all your ethical dreams in 2012.

Best wishes,

Sonia


Auditors and Accountants – Humor

The weekend is starting and here are some jokes that I found on auditors and accountants. Hope you enjoy them.

1.  What did the auditor say at the vampire stock take?  Count Dracula

2.   Did you hear about the cannibal Audit practice? They charge an arm and a leg.

3.  What do cannibal auditors do after their Office Christmas Dinner ? Toast their clients

4.   If an accountant’s wife cannot sleep, what does she say? “Darling, could you tell me about your work”

5.  A guy in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and says, “Want to hear an accountant joke?” The guy next to him replies, “Well, before you tell that joke, you should know that I m 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, and I m an accountant. And the guy sitting next to me is 6 2″ tall, 225 pounds, and he’s an accountant. Now, do you still want to tell that joke?” The first guy says, “No, I don’t want to have to explain it two times.

6.  A patient was at her doctor’s office after undergoing a complete physical exam. The doctor said, “I have some very grave news for you. You only have six months to live.” The patient asked, “Oh doctor, what should I do?” The doctor replied, “Marry an accountant.” “Will that make me live longer?” asked the patient. “No,” said the doctor, “but it will SEEM longer.”

7.    A young accountant spends a week at his new office with the retiring accountant he is replacing. Each and every morning as the more experienced accountant begins the day, he opens his desk drawer, takes out a worn envelope, removes a yellowing sheet of paper, reads it, nods his head, looks around the room with renewed vigor, returns the envelope to the drawer, and then begins his day’s work. After he retires, the new accountant can hardly wait to read for himself the message contained in the envelope in the drawer, particularly since he feels so inadequate in replacing the far wiser and more highly esteemed accountant. Surely, he thinks to himself, it must contain the great secret to his success, a wondrous treasure of inspiration and motivation. His fingers tremble anxiously as he removes the mysterious envelope from the drawer and reads the following message: “Debits in the column towards the file cabinet. Credits in the column toward the window.”

Have a great weekend and hope it refreshes you for Monday’s work and meetings. :)

References:

1. The Alternative Accountant.

2.  Funny Jokes

CEO’s Day Out With Risk Managers

CEO’s responsibility for risk management has increased after the financial crises. Risk managers wish that they could read a CEO’s thoughts when they have meetings to do a better job. The big question is – What is really going on in a CEO’s mind?

Here is some telepathy from a CEO on his day scheduled to meet his risk management teams.

9 a.m.: Head of Internal Audit

This is going to be a long day. Let me understand what internal audit team has done the past month. After having three meetings with them I still don’t have the hang of things.

They carry on talking of ERM, ISO 31000, COSO, GRC and a number of other jargons. I don’t have the slightest idea how these will help meet the strategic objectives of the company.

Last time I asked a simple question – “is the organization SOX compliant?” I received a long explanation of the “C” of GRC standing for compliance or internal audit. How do I give a damn? Why can’t they respond with a simple yes or no?

Let it be, the regulators are not knocking at the door, so the team must have taken care of it. The CFO can deal with them.

11 a.m.: Head of Fraud

Oh no, whenever I see this man’s face I break into a cold sweat. He is always delivering one bad news one after another. I can’t take this anymore.

Maybe, I will put his beautiful deputy as the head of the department; at least my heart will race for the right reasons. Stop! That deputy is head of recently formed sexual harassment committee. My fate will be worse than Mark’s. Poor chap. One small indiscretion and the whole roof crashes. CEO’s are not God, why don’t they get it.

I hope this man has everything in control. I hate that competitor’s CEO, but didn’t wish that massive fraud on him. The market price of his company went down by 10% in 5 days and he is not going to meet his targets this year. If something like this occurs here, what will happen to my bonus and stock options?

1 p.m.: Lunch with Physical Security team

It is nice to have lunch with an energetic team. With terrorism and crime, increasing each organization needs these men.

Hey, wait a minute, why are they describing the gruesome details of the recent terrorist attack at lunch. How can they talk about bombs, blood and food in the same breath? When that man was eating the strawberry, I for a minute thought he was swallowing raw liver. Something is wrong with their psyche. Can’t say that to them. I am in my 50’s.

Never mind, they keep the offices and premises secure. Better, pat them on the back for doing a good job.

2.30 p.m.: Head of Business Ethics

Hold on, I got distracted there. What is he saying? He has turned vegan and now he wants me to issue some orders about the non-vegetarian food served in the canteen.  Aha, something about animal fat oil used to cook vegetarian food.  I don’t even know the name of the oil used at my home and he expects me to worry about office canteen food!

What is wrong with this man? Next, he will be talking about having morning prayers in office.

3.30 p.m.: Head of Information Security  

I wonder if his team is reading my mails. Last week when I passed his two confidantes, they were sniggering. That fiasco occurred the same day. Maybe I should get some external consultants to check it. What is the use? The systems are in these guys’ hands, they will again revert to reading my mails. I just hope they don’t leak out confidential information to competitors or have someone hack the systems. With the hackers targeting all big companies, I can’t stop worrying.

 4.30 p.m.: Chief Risk Officer

Welcome, the master of them all! Last week when I crossed him in the corridors, he didn’t wish me. Nowadays he has a frozen look on his face. Completely expressionless ! Maybe dealing with all the bad news is getting to him.

No, wait a minute, why does he have a condensing look on his face. Maybe I have got this wrong. Previously he used to bow in respect, treat me like God. Now he ignores me. Oh, he knows more about what is wrong with the company than I do. I am dependent on him and he gets that. I can’t even fire him without board permission.

I will have to figure out how to set him right.

5.30 p.m.: Day-end

 Thank God, the day is over. I still haven’t figured out how to deal with the Board’s Risk Management Committee. Last month I could pull of the excuse that my throat was bad due to flu and didn’t say much. These risk managers did all the talking. What do I do this month?

If Vikram had managed Citi better, I wouldn’t have to swallow this bitter pill every month. Now CEOs are responsible for risk management and Vikram takes away a cool $200 million payout for all the trouble he has caused us.

What an odd bunch to deal with. At least they are off my back for 30 days. I will just keep my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong meanwhile.

I need a couple of drinks tonight.