Managing Systemic Risks in Organizations

The gross turnover of top 100 multinationals is higher than the gross domestic product of a few countries. As it was obvious from the financial crises, organizations employing a few hundred thousand employees can rock the global financial stability. From then on, a lot of discussion is occurring around systemic risks. However, I wonder about the actual momentum in addressing systemic risks.

As per my understanding, an inaccurate perception has formed that governments have the major responsibility to address systemic risks and not the organizations. The picture below depicts the increasing level of risks for human civilization or society as a whole and the increasing level of risks within an organization. Though we do not see linear relationships, they are interconnected. While an organization is a subset of the civilization, their large sizes have also made it a significant component of creating systemic risks.


Systemic risks


Another fallacy is that organization’s need to track systemic risks at the global level alone. From the financial crises, it was obvious that the Retail Housing Loan departments of US Banks shook the real estate industry. Various CDOs of banks investment divisions were the cause of collapse of major banks. Hence, something as small as the functioning of a department, process or product can destabilize the industry and economy when incorrect practices are followed in multiple organizations.

Moreover, senior management of organizations that have implemented Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) believe that systemic risks are automatically addressed. None of the ERMs is going beyond strategic risks. The focus is mostly on operational and tactical risk coverage. Unless the risk management department has taken concrete measures to identify systemic risks, in all probability they are unmitigated.

Lastly, for most of the systemic risks, the organization by itself can only partly mitigate the risks. Except for taking insurance, they cannot develop and implement full-fledged solutions to treat the risks. Though the impact of systemic risks is huge, the lack of understanding, information and solutions, make organizations negligent about identifying and addressing these risks. Hence, the question is – what should organizations do to manage systemic risks?

1. Global Systemic Risk Monitoring Group

Within the risk management department there should be dedicated resources tracking systemic risks from process to country level and reporting to the global group. In the interconnected world, the risks in one country impact other countries. For instance, consider the attack on Malaysian airplane by rebels in Ukraine. A geo-political risk of one country has brought an organization of another country down. Hence, now the risks have to be viewed from a global perspective. To do this organizations must incorporate the group within the organization structure, deploy funds and resources, use technology to connect and track risks at a global level.

2.  Connecting With National Risk Boards

The 2014 World Bank Risk Report suggests formation of National Risk Boards (Same name, could they have got inspired by this blog :)). This will be a huge plus, since risk identification and mitigation will be done at a national level. For instance, if a large country like India were connected at district, state, and national level through risk boards, the level of risk management would improve significantly.

Moreover, this will facilitate in addressing inter-state risks and cross border risks. For example, cyber security threats mitigation requires coordination within the country and significant amount of international collaboration. The national risk boards of countries become the focal point for international cooperation and collaboration for risk mitigation. Developing relationships with the board members and participating in the initiatives will help organizations in dealing with systemic risks.

3.  Connecting With Industry Risk Boards

The systemic risk group needs to connect with the industry risk boards and regulators to capture the industry level risks. For instance, Back of England conducts a half-yearly survey to determine systemic risks in UK financial sector and the confidence of the organizations in dealing with it.

If organizations facilitate in formation and management of industry risk boards, they can cooperate with the competitors to mitigate industry level risks. Relationships with international industry boards would be a huge plus in acquiring knowledge and formulating plans.

4.  Assessing Preparation at National Level

The World Bank report states that investment in risk mitigation and prevention is low, and most of the expenditure is done during and after a disaster to recover and continue operations. Therefore, the challenge is that risk identification may not result in developing and implementing risk mitigation plans. For example, various cities in India regularly suffer from floods during monsoons. ALthough the government knows the problem and solutions, it has not done much to resolve the issue. There are ongoing battles between city, state, and national level for risk prioritization.

That is, the same risk may have different impact and loss level due to national level preparation. Organizations need to assess the level of preparation of government and local communities to determine the impact and develop risk mitigation plans accordingly.

5.  Assessing Impact at Social Level

Previously, organizations were insulated from the society to some extent. The social networks have changed the scenario, and any incident can become an explosive issue. Hence, impact has to be calculated at social level rather than at an incident level. For instance, recently a six-year-old girl in Bangalore was gang-raped in school by her teachers. Last weekend, parents in Bangalore organized marches to demonstrate their anger against the schools lackadaisical attitude towards children security. Police has lodged complaints against the school and politicians are talking about closing the school.

Presently, rape, women, and child security are sensitive topics in India. India is fourth unsafe country in the world for women. Hence, a single incident can close down an organization. Therefore, risk managers need to identify sensitive issues related to systemic risks and extrapolate the impact at city, state, country, and global level to determine impact of various risks.

Closing Thoughts

Systemic risks impact is sometimes more than losses of earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters, hence they cannot be ignored. Higher level of focus is required within organizations, industry, community, and nations to build processes, institutions, and infrastructure to identify and mitigate systemic risks. Timely investment in this area can save billions of dollars. Hence, risk managers need to put their thinking caps on, develop concept notes, and influence senior managers to deploy funds in managing systemic risks.