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View from the Top: Nowell Seaman, Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.


Nowell Seaman has risen in the ranks of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. over the past 21 years, starting with his work with the Saskatchewan chapter of RIMS, where he served as a director from 1997-2007, and then as chair of the RIMS Canada Council in 2003-2005. Now Mr. Seaman, director of global risk management for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., will spend the next year serving RIMS as its president. He recently spoke with Business Insurance Deputy Editor Gloria Gonzalez about assuming the presidency and the biggest challenges and opportunities for risk managers. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: Congratulations on becoming RIMS president. Let’s talk about what made you decide to take on the role.

A: The driver behind this is that I’m a very strong believer in the mandate of RIMS. And I’m very passionate about the value RIMS brings to risk practitioners and to corporations through people that practice risk management.

Q: What are your goals as president?

A: The presidential theme for the year is moving forward together. It’s about continuing momentum. But we’ve also experienced exciting things that we started, things such as certification. The initiative is to set the standard for the profession through the RIMS-CRMP: Certified Risk Management Professional certification. And we’ve invested a considerable amount of energy and resources to develop that in a way that is useful and practical and will help organizations recognize who is a certified risk management professional. We’ve been careful to follow ISO certification for the standard to ensure that it compares with professional standards across the globe.

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing your members these days, and how has that evolved since you joined the organization?

A: I don’t want to use the word dinosaur. I’ve been around for a few years. But one of the key observations I’ve made is that I think 20 years ago, you were trying to gain buy-in. You were trying to help people understand what risk management was. I think gaining that buy-in is no longer the challenge that it was. I think management, executive management and boards of organizations understand the importance of risk management to their organizations.

I think right now the majority of organizations do have some form of enterprise risk management to ensure that they understand the primary risks facing their organization and what the organization is doing about those risks. I think one of the challenges right now is how do we make risk management add value to strategy and add value to the decision-making process? How can risk management processes, tools and information add more value to management’s strategic decisions and operational decisions?

The challenge for the risk manager is we live in an evolving world. Risk is evolving. Cyber risk has been around for a long time, but we’ve also seen in the last couple of years an increased focus on cyber risk and the threats that cyber risks impose. We also have political risks, and I wouldn’t say it’s just from globalization. I think the world is changing a little bit. We have things such as Brexit and financial crises that have occurred over the last few years. All of these are challenges for an organization, and the question is how can the risk manager ensure that the risk management process is adding value? How can we build that competency in our organizations so that our organizations are resilient, prepared and making good decisions?

Q: Is there anything that risk managers should be particularly mindful of on the risk side?

A: Well, cyber is certainly a hot topic. We can’t forget that risk management is not only about protecting the organization against the consequences of risk, but also ensuring that risk management includes mitigation, loss prevention, loss control and doing those basics exceptionally well.

We often think of cyber as the theft or the loss of data and whatnot. But we can’t forget that there’s also the operational technology where there seems to be increasing profiles of cyber attacks on operational systems at utilities and things that have been in the news very recently.

As we’ve seen, you can have recall issues with technology. You can have safety issues with new technology. And I don’t know if you’ve ridden an airplane lately, and they’ll say if you’re carrying this kind of a device, you’re not allowed to carry (hoverboards) on here.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities for risk managers these days?

A: I think the biggest opportunity is there’s an increasing demand for effective risk management tools and processes. The opportunity is in ensuring that we are working to bring those available tools and processes to our organizations.

Q: What are you most looking forward to over this next year?

A: I’m very excited about the progress of RIMS, the certification, the advance of the continuing educational and conference opportunities that we give people, and really moving forward to engage our community.

We’ve really seen over the last few years an increasing desire for countries around the world to be involved in RIMS. And while the environments they operate in have significant differences, there’s a real common desire to (advance the profession and the practice). And we can actually learn a lot from risk practitioners in other countries as well.

I’m also very excited about some of the work that we do with the rising risk professionals and the students. The quality of them is just amazing. And I think that they will continue to make a really great contribution as we evolve and grow.

I do think that there are going to be some important legislative contacts and initiatives coming down the pipe. I think they’re looking at reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, and there’s also legislation on cyber risk and cyber security and possible regulatory changes affecting risk managers. It should be a very active year in terms of the legislative front.

And the conference will be exciting. We always get a great response when it’s in Philadelphia. I think it’s going to be a busy year. Get your hoverboards charged.