Expert Commentary

Enterprise Risk Management: What's Beyond the Talk?

ERM is defined as a rigorous approach to addressing risks from all sources that threaten an organization's strategic objectives or represent opportunities for competitive advantage. The purpose of ERM is to increase the value of the enterprise. Properly understood, designed, and executed, ERM can be the effective decision-making framework.


Enterprise Risk Management
May 2000

Nearly all companies today are living under the well-known Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. They face increasing demands for performance from shareholders and other stakeholders. Their markets are globalizing while their industries are consolidating.

New competitors, often riding the crest of a new technology, can arise from unexpected quarters-whether from another part of the world or from what had been an unrelated industry. Governments, regulators, and the courts can rewrite the rules of anybody's game at almost any time.

All business is risky business. It's no wonder, then, that senior managers are paying greater attention to risk management as a strategic function. But our experience with clients suggests that they are not always certain about what they should be doing to manage risks strategically or how to do it. This uncertainty was reflected in the results of our recent survey of executives in the insurance sector, Enterprise Risk Management in the Insurance Industry, A Benchmarking Report, to be subsequently reported on in this space.

For instance, insurance company executives, like those in other sectors, say they want to manage all risks in an integrated way. However, as our survey discovered, most risk management activity in that industry focuses on financial strategies to deal with financial risks.

Insurers desire, but lack, a clear conceptual framework that would include both financial and operational strategies to deal with both financial and operational risks. Insurance company executives also are dissatisfied with the tools currently available to put such a conceptual framework into practice. They are not alone; we observe a similar discontent among senior executives in many industries.

This series of articles on enterprise risk management will address both needs: a clear, powerful conceptual framework to manage risk at the strategic level, and a better understanding of the tools that managers can use to put that framework to work. This article begins the series by describing a robust framework for strategic or enterprise risk management (ERM) and the value of that framework to managers.

Future articles will describe the ERM implementation process (including the tools now available for this process), operational risk management for financial institutions, and integrated risk financing approaches.

The What and Why of ERM

The place to begin is with a clear definition of, and statement of purpose for, ERM. ERM is defined as a rigorous approach to assessing and addressing risks from all sources that either threaten the achievement of an organization's strategic objectives or represent opportunities to exploit for competitive advantage. The purpose of ERM is to increase the value of the enterprise. For most organizations, ERM achieves that goal by accomplishing the following.

  • Improving capital efficiency by providing an objective basis for allocating resources, reducing expenditures on immaterial risks, and exploiting natural hedges
  • Supporting informed decision-making by uncovering areas of high-potential adverse impact on the drivers of share value and identifying and exploiting areas of "risk-based advantage"
  • Building investor confidence by establishing a process to stabilize results by protecting them from disturbances and demonstrating proactive risk stewardship.

The reasons organizations undertake ERM are both external and internal. External motivation comes from corporate governance studies (such as the reports from the Cadbury, Hampel, and Turnbull Committees in the United Kingdom, the Dey Report in Canada, and the Peters Report in the Netherlands), mandatory bills (such as the KonTraG in Germany), and pressure from institutional investors-all of whom insist that risk management be a board-level responsibility and the scope be all-encompassing.

We observe, however, that most organizations embarking on ERM are doing so for internal "good business" reasons. That is, they seem motivated by the goals outlined above: improving capital efficiency, making more risk-informed strategic decisions, and building investor confidence.

On this last point, we have done empirical research on the value that investors assign to organizations that display consistent earnings results. The research results show that, across a wide range of industries, investors assign materially higher value to those companies with lower earnings volatility than their peers, even after the study sample is stratified to adjust for other value drivers, such as growth and return. In short, there is demonstrable value in consistency-and consistency is a clear outcome of effective ERM.

Overview of the ERM Process

The actual ERM process consists of the following four steps that usually make use of existing company information and procedures.

  • Assessing Risk. Risk assessment focuses on risk as a threat as well as an opportunity. In the case of risk-as-threat, assessment includes identifying, prioritizing, and classifying risk factors for a subsequent "defensive" response. For risk-as-opportunity, this step includes profiling risk-based opportunities for later "offensive" treatment.
  • Shaping Risk. This "defensive track" includes risk quantification/modeling, mitigation, and financing.
  • Exploiting Risk. This "offensive track" includes analysis, development, and execution of plans to exploit certain risks for competitive advantage.
  • Keeping Ahead. The nature of risk, the environment in which it operates, and the organization itself change with time. That situation requires continual monitoring and course corrections.

Each of the substeps within these four steps could be the subject of its own article, if not an entire textbook. For purposes of this introductory article, we'll stop here.

The Value of the Appropriate Framework

Properly understood, designed, and executed, ERM can be the effective decision-making framework that executives say they are looking for. It accomplishes the following.

  • Allows a determination of the necessary capital level for the enterprise, and provides a means to efficiently deploy and improve return on capital
  • Permits the proper allocation of capital to business segments, thereby improving the performance tracking of those segments
  • Helps executives evaluate alternative capital structures that leverage returns
  • Provides a method to ensure that enterprise owners receive proper compensation for the risks they assume
  • Helps stabilize earnings by identifying and addressing the risks that create the most volatility
  • Guides the development of an optimal risk financing strategy
  • Provides better information, which increases negotiating leverage with the enterprises' stakeholders, from shareholders to analysts to regulators to capital markets to merger and acquisition targets

That's the overview and benefit of ERM. In our next article, we'll outline our view on its application to the financial services industry.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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