The ability to forecast results is now the top concern of US, Asian, and European chief financial officers according to a recent survey of nearly 1,300 senior finance executives by CFO Europe, Tilburg University, and Duke University (CFO, April 2009). That finance chiefs now rank their ability to forecast effectively as their top internal concern is instructive for the future of enterprise management. Other issues, such as working capital management, maintaining morale, and counterparty risk, stood behind forecasting as the top concern. As the global economic crisis continues its onslaught across the enterprise landscape, there appears to be a crying need for experts (and expert systems) in analytical forecasting around the world.
As the global financial disaster continues unabated, research is beginning to percolate findings about some of the causes of the storm, as well as the precautionary measures that might avert future crises of this nature. In a recent survey of over 500 key financial executives conducted by MPI Europe (April 2009), several important views prevailed. One of the survey's strongest findings was the perceived need to develop a “risk management culture” in today’s financial institutions, including bolstering the relative power of risk management functions vis-à-vis its trading counterparts. Now, as good as that sounds, I am skeptical as to whether our financial services industry has it within itself to embed a new risk-aware culture without demonstrable intermediate measures to lead the way (after all, our world is inspired by capitalism). The good news is that several other findings were more specific and actionable. Over 75 percent of the respondents saw a shortage of sufficiently and appropriately trained personnel as having a “high impact” on creating the crisis. Additionally, a significant majority of respondents wanted to see an improvement in their “risk management applications,” to include a shift from predominantly quantitative measures toward qualitative methodologies (e.g., internal controls). Both of these latter measures are fully actionable through increased investment in risk management technologies and training. Moreover, implementing stronger spreadsheet control regimes, coupled with stricter guidelines for spreadsheet checking and auditing, are another immediate requirement. Finally, I would argue that by funding and initiating improved risk management technologies and training, executives will be taking the first vital steps toward creating the risk management culture that they seek. The recognized need for effective risk management is gaining traction in today’s financial services industry. The real question remains whether the industry’s leaders will have the courage to recognize the deficiencies of their existing risk management structures, and respond by investing in the technologies and training that can address these shortcomings.
I have a theory I am pondering based on my reading of the emerging business intelligence literature. My hypothesis is that the more efficient and simple the analytical framework between the data and the decision, the more valuable the intelligence becomes. Said another way, if intelligence is what connects data to decisions, then the value of the intelligence increases as the analytical framework that supports and generates the intelligence is simplified. A related research question would be whether decision-makers who do their own analytical work make better decisions than those who rely on intermediaries. If I ever test the theory, I suppose the results could have implications for existing and emerging enterprise resource and risk management regimes, as well as management science in general. If you are contemplating a future research topic, this might provide you with a starting point.
The ongoing economic crisis has brought with it a heightened interest in risk analysis and management. Yet, something seems awry at the risk management desks of our nation’s largest banks and financial institutions. Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd C Blankfein was recently quoted as saying, “too many financial institutions and investors simply outsourced their risk management -- rather than undertake their own analysis, they relied on the rating agencies to do the essential work of risk analysis for them.” Mr Blankfein contended that banks and financial institutions must elevate the status of risk analysis in order to alleviate the “systemic lack of skepticism” that he alleged was precursor to the ongoing economic crisis. Mr Blankfein suggested that banks and financial institutions redefine the roles of risk managers, including giving them equal stature “with their counterparts in revenue producing divisions.” This redefinition of roles includes delegating greater responsibilities and authority onto risk managers, whereby “if there is a question about a mark or a disagreement about a risk limit, the risk manager's view should prevail” (WSJ, April 7, 2009). My personal interpretation of Mr Blankfein’s statements is that those trained and charged with risk analysis and management were apparently left standing outside the boardroom as our nation’s banking and financial “executives” undertook investment policy-making in isolation. Let us hope that the regulatory changes to come might at least mandate that risk managers and analysts get a seat at the table.