The Misconstrued Likelihood

Source: Lancashire Resiliency Forum

Source: Lancashire Resiliency Forum


Have you ever thought of stopping the use of “likelihood” in preparing a risk matrix? The shocked reaction is – “how can we calculate risk without likelihood?” But seriously, how competent are we in calculating the probability of each risk. As risk managers, don’t we just check the box based on our judgment? The thought process is – earthquake – rare, hurricane – rare, data theft – occasional, and we don’t need data to make these judgments.

 1. Inaccurate Calculation

My claim is that all this is hyperbole and we draw inferences from inaccurate information. To substantiate my argument, here are two statements of the EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014 and Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014.

EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014 quote:–

“More than 1 in 10 executives surveyed reported their company as having experienced a significant fraud in the past two years. In fact, the level of fraud reported by respondents has remained largely unchanged over the past six years: from 13% in 2008 to 12% in 2014.”

 Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014 quote:

 “The incidence of fraud has increased. Overall, 70% of companies reported suffering from at least one type of fraud in the last year, up from 61% in the previous poll”

The EY report does not define “significant fraud” .Kroll report does state that “the economic cost of these crimes mounted, increasing from an average of 0.9% of revenue to 1.4%, with one in 10 businesses reporting a cost of more than 4% of revenue.”

 Now assume you do not have historical data on incidence of fraud in your organization and have to infer the likelihood of fraud from the above-mentioned statements.


Please share the logic you used to determine the likelihood in the comments section.

 2. Unidentified Representative Bias

Implicit in our judgment is representative bias, which only a discerning eye can decipher. For instance, read the following lines from the EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014.

“The survey results show a correlation between executive roles and willingness to justify certain activity when under pressure to meet financial targets:

CFOs are more likely than other executives to justify changes to assumptions relating to valuations and reserves in order to meet financial targets.

General counsel are more likely than other executives to justify backdating contracts in order to meet financial targets.

► Sales and marketing executives are more likely than other executives to justify introducing flexible return policies in order to meet financial targets.”

How is this news worth reporting? Aren’t risk managers aware that employees are more likely to conduct frauds within their area of job responsibility and authority?

It would be interesting to know the probability of other departments (excluding sales and marketing personal) introducing fraudulent flexible return policies. Without that information, while conducting a fraud investigation we are likely to assume the fraud in sales department was conducted by sales personnel, whereas it is possible that another department personnel had done it.

Now if you want further proof of representative heuristic, here is a classic example of a study conducted on women’s propensity to conduct fraud by Steffensmeler. He concluded:

“There is reason to believe that over time increasing the number of female CEOs would reduce corporate corruption because women tend to promote a more ethical business climate rather than one that promotes personal and corporate profits at all costs, no matter what the potential societal costs or harms might be.”

Then he further states that lower rate of fraud might be because men do not conspire with women to conduct frauds and women may not have access to higher echelons of management to do big frauds.

However, it still does not explain how he has made the above statements. According to child psychology reports, both girls and boys in childhood have nearly equal tendency towards anti-social behavior though it reflects in different ways. For example, boys bully directly, girls bully indirectly.

So, are we saying nature and nurture have less impact on girls than boys because they are somehow hardwired to be more ethical? Alternatively, do you think that social conceptions are at play here because women are the weaker sex and therefore nicer. Wouldn’t it be interesting to study the tendency to commit fraud by giving equal opportunity to both genders to steal without fear of punishment and then find who is more likely to do so? It might show that women commit less fraud not because they are more ethical, but more fearful.

Closing Thoughts

Risk managers must ask themselves – “What is the worst that can happen if they do not check any box of likelihood? It is possible to create a bucket list of known risks, with undetermined likelihood and impact?” Adopt an alternative method or procedure, since inaccurate calculations lead to misguiding the management and implementation of wrong risk mitigation plans.

If we do not know something, why pretend to have a magic wand and claim knowledge. What is the harm in admitting that we do not have all the answers?



  1.  EY 13 Global Fraud Survey 2014
  2. Kroll Global Fraud Survey 2013/2014
  3. Women still less likely to commit corporate fraud