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Periodically, Emerging Risk Strategies highlights the achievements of a successful risk manager. The story today is of risk manager Susan Meltzer, chairman of the International Federation of Risk & Insurance Management Assns.
In September, Susan Meltzer took the podium in Singapore as the keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Federation of Asian, Pacific & African Risk Management Organizations. As the risk manager for an insurance company in Canada, how did she get invited to an event half a world away?
The story begins at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and no knowledge of risk management or insurance. She found a job with an insurance brokerage and later jumped at an opening in risk management. It is one thing to jump. It is another thing to have the skills to do the job. Ms. Meltzer has learned that success in risk management is based upon knowledge, relationships and sharing best practices.
Fast forward to 2000. After a stint as president of the Risk & Insurance Management Society, she got involved with the International Federation of Risk & Insurance Management Assns. By this time, she had spent her career encouraging insurers, brokers and risk managers to keep current on risk trends. She defined such knowledge as having a global perspective and forged relationships with peers around the world. That is what led FAPARMO to invite her Singapore, where she shared several important lessons.
Risk managers need to get the right tradeoff between quantitative and qualitative tools, she says. She also argues for a global perspective on risk. This is true even for noncomplex organizations that operate in a single region. Do risk managers take the time to engage with risk experts across a broad spectrum and learn lessons from other parts of the world? In her keynote, she said some areas of the world were ahead of others in addressing risk in an enterprise-wide framework. Europe and Australia are among the leaders in applying cutting-edge concepts and technology to mitigate risk in a world of terrorism, natural disasters and pandemics. Other parts of the world are lagging.
A curious observation was the position of the United States in the hierarchy of enterprise risk management. She placed U.S. risk management at the bottom of the list. Ms. Meltzer was not criticizing U.S. risk managers. She was observing a situation where many U.S. organizations do not support their risk managers in efforts to manage critical risks. Compliance is a focus, to be sure, thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley and stiff federal sentences. At the same time, compliance is not risk management. Risk management is more than internal controls. It is the fiduciary duty of the board to join with institutional investors and regulators to demand that organizations achieve risk transparency, disclosure and risk mitigation for all stakeholders. That was her point.
A hidden message
A hidden message in her presentation in Singapore was Ms. Meltzer's ability to network with risk professionals. She brought together a panel of three risk managers who are prominent in advancing the global agenda of risk management. They were Marie-Gemma Dequae, president of the Federation of European Risk Management Assns.; Jorge Luzzi, head of the Asociacion Latinoamericana de Riesgos y Seguros; and George Niwa, risk manager for Panasonic in Japan and president of the RIMS chapter in Japan.
Suffice it to say, risk management does not get interesting until risk managers join the discussion. That is a lesson Susan Meltzer knows well. Without excluding anyone from the exchange of information, she increased the chances for the risk manager to have a place at the table when risk is discussed with the CEO and other C-level officers and the board.
Susan Meltzer is arguably the best-known risk manager in the world. It helps that she has ideas and propels them forward with energy and enthusiasm. Natural intelligence and a curiosity for problem solving are key ingredients. But her story has an extra component. She knows that bringing people together is the most important aspect of understanding how to achieve efficiency, safety and economy. Networking brings a broad perspective to risk management. She became a respected risk manager by interacting with risk managers in situations where they sought best practices. This was primarily through direct involvement in RIMS--not simply participating in annual conferences and the local Toronto chapter but by volunteering. First she was a student. Now she is a mentor. She teaches courses, puts together panels and interacts with everyone from senior risk manager to junior data analyst to claims administrator.
Showing the way forward
Her efforts show the risk management community the way to bring in the next generation of risk managers. While she was risk manager at Sun Life, Ms. Meltzer encouraged her people to get involved with other risk managers at every opportunity and facilitated their networking opportunities. Niver Rubenyan, now director of operational risk at Sun Life, says, "Susan is keen on the training and development of her staff. She got me involved in RIMS, supported me when I joined the board of the local chapter and encouraged me to take up public speaking."
In retrospect, her most important accomplishment may involve her current role as chairman of the IFRIMA. Ms. Meltzer works tirelessly to bring together risk managers from around the world to share their best practices. In a time of technological changes, global warming, rapid economic development in third-world countries and complex logistical structures, risk managers need to cross borders with ideas just as companies cross borders with goods and services.
A career in risk management has the potential for challenge, excitement and making contributions to others. Ms. Meltzer, who received the 2001 Don Stuart Award for outstanding achievement in risk management and the 2005 Dorothy & Harry Goodell Award--RIMS' highest honor, reflecting lifetime achievement--has fulfilled that potential.
Susan Meltzer is the assistant vp of risk management for Aviva Canada Inc. in Toronto. She has performed the risk management function at a number of major corporations, including Sun Life Financial.