Risk decisions that matter: What financial firms can learn

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8 October 2012
Cubillas Ding
Recently, at a seminar I was presenting at, I had the privilege to hear from a person, for which risk management is likely to be the most important aspect of his livelihood. The person is Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the British adventurer described by The Guinness Book of Records as “the world’s greatest living explorer” - not to be confused with Ralph Fiennes, the actor - who is a cousin of his. The title of Sir Ranulph's talk was "Risk Management in Life and Death Situations", and it centers on the lessons learned in pushing himself to the limits, and examines his life-and-death risk decisions. I have summarized (in certain cases, paraphrased) the risk management dimensions which I gleaned from his witty, humourous and sometimes, soul cringing presentation. The principles are as follows:

1. Know your team up members close and personal. For big life and death expeditions, although the motivation and incentives of the team are important, these are not sufficient elements in order to reach your end goals. You need to discern and understand the character of the individual members of the team, or face the risks of failure, or worse endanger the team's lives if there are serious weaknesses in a team member's character. Hence select your sojourners very carefully.

2. Be of "one mind" - The team who are going to take the risks, is the same team who assesses the risks, is the same team who reaps the rewards - you need to plan, operate and execute with "one mind"

3. Assess your routes and research the terrain you are trying to conquer very carefully, especially the danger zones, pitfalls and hidden crevices

4. Ensure you have the proper tools suitable for the terrain

5. Face (and expect) adverse conditions, resistance and 'boring waiting periods' by maintaining discipline and endurance, with a unrelentless focus towards the end goal

6. Adaptibility and innovation is required (without compromising point 5)

7. Big picture plans and detailed tactical steps are equally important to execute towards the goal - don't underestimate either

8. Use political levers to get past road blocks, rough terrains or to cut journey time (without compromising point 5)

9. Ensure timely monitoring mechanisms to gauge progress, safety checks to measure critical (team and personal) healh indicators, and landmarks to determine closeness to target destinations

10. Plan against big risks: Try to avoid or go around these altogether rather than face it

... if there is one place risk management matters, this is it: when your life and death depends on it! How much can financial instiutions learn from these principles? I believe, a lot. And for some organizations, its life and death may indeed depend on executing to these principles in the coming years ahead.

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