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Strategic view of risk absent at most buyers

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Strategic view of risk absent at most buyers

Risk managers have yet to tap their full potential to turn risk into opportunity and help improve their company's bottom line in pursuing a strategic approach to risk, the sponsors of an annual survey say.

The survey, cosponsored by Marsh Inc. and the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc., shows that the percentage of companies implementing enterprise risk management—a component of a strategic risk approach—has doubled over the past year, yet only 15% of respondents consider their risk approach to be strategic.

Risk management that is considered strategic includes ERM as well as indexing risk—or categorizing and prioritizing risk factors.

In the Marsh/RIMS study "Excellence in Risk Management IV, Turning Risk into Opportunity," 75% of respondents agreed their company should take a more strategic approach.

The study was conducted by New York-based TNS North America, which interviewed 391 RIMS members from midsize and large organizations as well as 77 corporate-level executives, which included chief executives, chief financial officers, board members and general counsels.

Now in its fourth year, the survey builds on past years' efforts and is unique in identifying where the risk management profession is headed, said Jackie Hair, a RIMS board director.

The study is "a large effort made to really capture the essence of the risk management profession and what it is that makes it a profession and where it's going," said Ms. Hair, who also is corporate director of risk management for Ingram Micro Inc. in Santa Ana, Calif.

The survey shows a move toward strategic risk management and a broader view of risk. In 2006, 4% of respondents said they had fully implemented ERM programs. In this year's study, that grew to 10%. Thirty-five percent said they are in the process of implementing ERM programs, 24% said they are planning to do so; 31% said they have no plans to implement ERM.

The more strategic a corporation is about risk management the more likely it is to be implementing ERM, said Pam Rogers, senior vp and managing consultant in Minneapolis for Marsh.

The survey findings, which will be presented during a session at this week's RIMS conference in New Orleans, also show a minority of companies treat risk as an opportunity, Ms. Rogers said.

Just one-third of company senior managers now look for ways to use risks to their entity's advantage, the survey concludes.

But there are examples of companies turning risk into opportunity, according to information to be presented at the RIMS conference. For example, a university with 1,500 olive trees now presses the olives into an award winning product, the study notes. In the past, the trees were viewed only as a slip-and-fall risk given that their leaves are slippery when shed.

Given the expectation that rating agencies will increase their scrutiny of ERM efforts, Ms. Rogers said, a strategic approach may present greater opportunities in the future.

Yet just 25% of risk managers and top-level executives agreed that they could pass the "rating agencies' risk challenge." On one of the questions, just 35% of respondents said senior management knows how much it is willing to lose from all sources of risk to achieve long-term financial objectives.

The findings reveal "a clear opportunity for risk managers to see how they can truly bring value to the bottom line of the company," Ms. Rogers said. Risk managers who help improve a rating agency's view of a given company could add to its profit by lowering their company's cost of capital—a departure from the past when risk managers mostly worked to reduce risk expense, she said.

It's not clear that rating agencies will increase their focus on corporations beyond the financial reporting already required, Ms. Hair said.

Other study findings showed somewhat surprising agreement among top executives and risk managers in their view of whether senior management looks for opportunities to use risk to a competitive advantage as well as their ranking of risks such as brands and regulatory compliance.