January 27, 2015
Modernization: CRO Faces New ‘Unknowns’
by Henry Essert, Maryellen Coggins and Dana Hunt
The chief risk officer has special challenges because the very nature of the function is changing.
Internal and external demands have resulted in the clarification and expansion of the role of the chief risk officer and the risk management function. Internally, senior management and the board see the merit of using key risk information. Ensuring the company is managed within its risk appetite enables it to best utilize its resources to take advantage of changing competitive needs and strategic opportunities. Externally, U.S. and global regulators are articulating clear expectations for the role of the CRO and governance of the risk function, as well as the role of the board in risk management and the CRO’s and risk function’s relationship with the board. These demands emphasize the need for clear policies and processes with appropriate documentation and governance.
As little as 10 years ago, the risk function was novel at most companies, and there were almost as many models of how to organize and manage the function as there were insurers. This has changed. Leading practice is becoming clearer, and expectations are now more consistent and defined. However, boards and regulators are increasingly inquiring about new “unknowns”: data security, cyber terrorism, reputational risk and competitive obsolescence. All of these also fall under the CRO’s purview and increase demands on risk resources.
The case for change
The risk function is the newest among the direct stakeholders that insurance modernization directly affects, and there are a number of important implications and outcomes.
- No existing “pipes” – For the majority of North American risk functions, many risk calculations and resulting reports are very recent creations. Very few have a solid network of pipes that transmit data and input through models and calculations onward to result in verifiable and controlled information. Therefore, compared with many other functions that modernization affects, the risk function does not need to dismantle existing pipes. However, it is critically important that, as insurers plan and develop these new pipes, they do so in cooperation with other stakeholders. If they do not, then the risk function may find itself unnecessarily tearing up what should be a common roadway.
- From build to oversee – While internal and external changes affect all stakeholders, the risk function is unique in that its very nature also is changing. When the risk function originally came into being, it was the CRO’s and his staff’s responsibility to create the models and capability needed to support the function. Now, as risk infrastructure takes shape, management, boards and other stakeholders are asking the CRO and risk function to play a key role in governance and control. This brings into question how best to manage and oversee both the risk and overall corporate infrastructure. Can and should these be responsibilities of the risk function, and, if not, who should be responsible for managing this infrastructure?
- Process and documentation – Much of the newly built infrastructure was constructed quickly and in a “learn by doing” mode. Much of it is parallel to but not coordinated with activity in other areas, especially actuarial. As companies have mapped processes and documented assumptions, models and output, functional overlaps have become clearer. In many cases, clarification and resolution of the overlaps will be necessary to enable rational enterprise level mapping and non-duplicative documentation.
- Demonstrated engagement – The CRO and risk management staff (with input from actuarial, investment, finance and others) support the foundation on which risk information is built Increasingly, the board and regulators are asking for holistic engagement in agreeing on assumptions and methodologies, not just siloed input from subject-matter experts. The risk function increasingly is being asked: Are the business managers – the first line of defense –in agreement? And, is their collective engagement substantive and verifiable?
- Governance – As the board’s role in risk management and risk taking becomes clearer, many boards and regulators recognize the need to include major risk and strategic initiatives under the oversight umbrella. They look to the CRO to be the conduit of information between them and the insurer. This strongly suggests that the CRO should have insight into modernization initiatives that go beyond just the risk function.
In a modernized company, a synergy of efficient processes with clearly defined stakeholder expectations exists among risk, actuarial, finance and technology (RAFT). The modernized risk function will share a common foundation of data, methods and assumptions and tools and technology with the other RAFT functions. (Naturally, the risk function will have certain unique processes that build on this foundation.) Finally, enterprise compatible business management, HR, reporting and governance all channel the process to its apex: intelligent decision making.
- Data – The organization, with significant risk input, clearly defines its data strategy via integrated information from commonly recognized sources. The goal of this strategy is information that users can extract and manipulate with minimal manual intervention at a sufficient level of detail to allow for on-demand analysis.
- Methods and analysis – Modern risk organizations emphasize robust methods and analysis, particularly the utilization of different approaches to arrive at insight from more than one perspective. Key to proper utilization of multiple methods is confidence that different outcomes are not the result of inconsistent inputs but rather truly reflect new insight.
- Tools and technology – Up-to-date tools and technology help the risk function gather, analyze and share information faster, more accurately and more transparently than ad hoc end-user computing analysis. With modern tools and technology, risk personnel can devote the majority of their time to understanding and managing risk rather than programming and running risk models.
- Stress testing – Stress testing has become a key weapon in the risk management arsenal. Test results convey risk information to senior management, the board and regulators. Resulting impacts on capital under stress scenarios become key to capital planning and calibrating economic capital (EC) models. Moreover, these tests are fully integrated in financial planning and the finance function’s agenda.
- EC/Capital modeling – Economic capital calculations continue to be an important tool for decisions at all levels, from strategic to micro-level asset trading and product design. A modernized organization fully integrates these models with key actuarial activities, and the process and results help the company more effectively plan for and manage risk. Results are available quickly, and efficiency of the process allows for extensive “what if” testing.
- Validation – A comprehensive model risk management structure is in place. The company routinely validates new models and model changes. Assumption consistency is transparent across risk, actuarial and finance. The company verifies data integrity and uses a model inventory to weed out duplication and overlap. Savings more than pay for model risk management (MRM) costs.
- Human capital – Risk functions employ more inquisitive and analytical analysts. The emphasis is on managing risk, not running models. A significant portion of the group devotes its time to understanding emerging trends and investigating potential new threats to the organization. Clear organizational design facilitates working in a collaborative manner with other control functions and business managers.
- Governance – Risk plays a key role in governance and risk appetite is well established. Decision making throughout the organization incorporates risk in a transparent manner. This is in large part because of confidence in risk output because data and input is consistent with finance and actuarial analytics, models are validated and senior management and the board understand key assumptions and limitations.
Realizing ERM’s promise requires more than just complex economic capital and value at risk (VAR) models. It requires confidence in these models and an understanding of their key assumptions and limitations. This confidence and understanding need to be pervasive – from risk, finance and actuarial personnel themselves, through line of business leadership, up to senior management and the board.
With a modernized platform in place, CROs and risk functions can turn their attention to managing risk, not calculating and reconciling numbers, as well as providing management and board with the best tools for intelligent decision making, confidence in capital deployment and competitive strategies consistent with risk appetite and capacity.
Critical success factors
Plan ahead and in concert with other stakeholders. The risk function is in the unique position of not having to dismantle infrastructure, but it definitely does need to build on it. The function’s relative youth and lack of legacy encumbrances mean it is in an ideal position to be a leader in modernization initiatives.
Moreover, the risk function has both an opportunity and an obligation to raise concerns about the risks involved in modernizing in an uncoordinated way or the risk to the insurer’s competitiveness from not modernizing at all.
Call to action – Next steps
Look for quick wins, like faster processing, more transparency, deeper insight, but stay true to the long-term plan. Some of these quick wins can be cost savings opportunities. For example, an inventory of documented models can reduce the number of models (and associated maintenance cost) by weeding out redundancies. In addition, the company can streamline internal reports when all areas use the same foundational data and calculations. Moreover, the company may be able to rationalize multi-jurisdictional, external and regulatory reporting.