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Risk managers seek greater involvement at top level


In the telecommunication's sector, the degree to which corporate risk managers have a voice in top management decisions is described by one expert as "inconsistent"--and, indeed, some risk managers are seeking a greater role.

"I am not up there, but I would like to be," said Anja Antonsen, risk manager at TDC A/S, a Danish telecom company in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"In the perfect world the risk management function should be close to the management of a company, but it is not always like that," she said. "The focus on risk management is higher now than it was five or 10 years ago, so it will probably move in that direction."

Ms. Antonsen was interviewed at last month's 2007 Marsh Technology, Media & Telecommunications Conference in Zurich, Switzerland, where the role and importance of the risk managers was a topic of discussion.

At TDC, Ms. Antonsen has worked to promote risk management, she said. Still, some in the company aren't even aware her department exists.

"I try to be active where I see a potential risk, but the people that are involved in the projects that could potentially develop into a different risk profile (for the company) are not necessarily aware that either there is a risk manager or what the risk manager does if there is one. So that is more of a problem I think," she said.

The status of risk managers in telecom companies is "very inconsistent," said Michael Whealon, managing director and head of the global technology, media and telecom group at Marsh Ltd. in London. The same holds true in the technology and media areas as well, he said.

"There are risk managers that I have been in touch with recently that have really embraced this whole concept of enterprise risk management and extending that into the full global operations of the company," he said.

Such managers have monthly, if not weekly, meetings with the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, or general counsel. They also are making presentations to the board of directors on a regular basis, he said.

"Then there are some risk managers that do not really get heavily involved in the operational aspects," he said.

That is changing, however, as firms globalize and experience more "industry convergence," Mr. Whealon noted. Areas where the risk manager could be useful would be in merger and acquisitions and outsourcing decisions, he added.

"It is becoming more difficult to understand and quantify the risk now inherent in the organization," Mr. Whealon said. "At the same time, there's obviously an imperative coming from the C-suite to the risk manager saying, 'We really have to get on top of this."'

An example of a company where there is top-level involvement by risk managers is at Bell Canada, the country's largest communications provider.

Paul Lenzi, director of risk management and insurance at Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. in Montreal, said he reports to the company treasurer. Another senior vp in charge of an enterprise risk management group reports to the chief financial officer and audit committee, he said.

The enterprise risk management group at Bell was formed January 1 to bring all the risk areas of the company under one umbrella, Mr. Lenzi said.

Although communication lines were always open, "It has been improved (with the new group); it gives the group more visibility I guess with the audit committee, as well," he said.