Lessons Learned from Crises in the Financial Markets: Impoved Regard for Risk Management Systems

The Director of the European Offices of the International Monetary Fund, Saleh M. Nsouli, recently gave an address that examined some of the lessons that can be learned from the crisis in today’s world financial market. In both the private and public sectors, Nsouli advises taking a harder look at the risk management sector.

For the private sector, Nsouli advises that risk analysis not be ignored, even when profits are up:

The governance structure of the risk management system needs to be improved in financial firms in which the incentives are biased toward returns rather than the risks involved in attaining them.

“Compensation schemes in many organizations focus on returns and, for the most part, ignore the risk taken to obtain such returns. The risk managers, because they are not profit centers and do not sell products or write trading tickets, tend to be ignored when profits are up. Indeed, many of them apparently did sound the alarm bells before the crisis set in and were often disregarded as too out-of-touch with new structural trends, though not all firms downplayed the advice of their risk managers. The key is to ensure that top management hears both sides at equal volume, choosing the risk-return combination which best represents the risk appetite of the firm.”

And in the public sector, Nsouli identifies shortcomings in risk management systems as a key lesson:

Supervisors and regulators need to have the incentives and resources to look hard and deep at possible flaws in the risk management systems of the institutions they oversee.

“Often, stress tests did not stress the right areas or not enough; funding liquidity risks received inadequate attention; and holistic views across credit, market, and funding risks were not emphasized in part because of the recent and constant attention on Basel II regulations, covering primarily credit risk.”

These lessons point to the centrality of risk management, whatever the state of the current market. At many failing banks, there are risk management specialists who have had a frustrating experience in the last few months. Hopefully lessons of this financial crisis will be taken to heart, and credence will be given to proper risk analysis even when profits are up.

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