Many of us are familiar with the following chestnut, but for those who are not:
A man is walking one afternoon and comes upon a snake writhing in the road, obviously wounded by a passing car. The snake is stunningly beautiful, and as the man admires the snake's metallic blue, yellow and orange scales, the snake slides into unconciousness.
The man feels compelled to save the snake.
He carries the snake home and prepares a home for him using a cardboard box and a comfortable blanket. As the snake slips in and out of conciousness, the man feeds him. The snake grows stronger and stronger, until one day the snake is fully healed. One morning,
the snake climbs over the edge of the box and slithers to the front yard to bask in the early sunlight. The man sees the snake in the yard and walks out to enjoy the glorious sunrise with him. The man looks down at the snake with a bit of self-satisfaction,
just in time to see the snake coil back and lunge forward, burying his fangs deeply into the man's calf.
The man lurches forward in seconds and drops to his knees as he feels a burning venom course through his body. He looks at the snake and says - "Why? Why would you kill me? I found you. I fed you. I healed you. I cared for you."
The snake looked at the man and said "You knew I was a snake when you found me. You knew I was a snake when you were nursing me back to health. Why would you think I would be anything other than a snake when I regained my strength? And, you should have asked
if I was poisonous. The most beautiful snakes are always the most poisonous."
It is astounding that 50% of banks and nearly 75% of hedge funds still do not feel that they have the technological capability to measure, monitor, manage and mitigate risk. For a generation that has seen the rise of risk management as a career discipline,
for a generation that saw the creation and populating of Chief Risk Officer positions, for a generation that has witnessed the spectacular catastrophes of companies like LTCM and Enron (to name just a few), how could risk management be treated with such non-chalance
that it warranted so little investment over the last 10 years?
When the world economy was happily rolling along, professionals around the globe couldn't buy a minute of the Board's, CEO's or COO's agenda to talk about implementing risk intelligence and management systems, processes and staff. Risk management was seen
as unnecessary overhead and not a direct contributor to revenue or market share growth. And yet, risk basked in the sunlight - concealed in the vibrant colors of reward.
I cannot count the number of executives that I've spoken with over the last several months, in numerous industries, who stated "I had no idea that it would get this bad." But, that is really the crux of the issue, isn't it? Risk management is the constant
and vigilant identification, pursuit and remediation of events that will lead to a worst case scenario. Being prepared for things to be "this bad" is exactly the responsibility that we executives have to our employees, our shareholders, our customers and ourselves.
While it is shameful that corporations did not fund the necessary systems and organizations to stay ahead of risk over the last decade, it will only be more shameful if these lessons are not learned from and we fail to take action going forward. We must
not forget that risk is always wrapped in the pretty colors of potential reward. We must not lull ourselves into believing that worst case scenario cannot happen - realizing that a stock plummeting 70% isn't the worst case, but rather that our stock settling
at zero is the ultimate outcome for failing to master our own risk profile.
The tools, techniques and technologies for owning and controlling our risk have been at our fingertips for many years. It is past time to take action in your organization.
Markets may be efficient, but risk is hyper-efficient. Risk kills quickly, quietly and completely - and then basks in the sun waiting for the next complicit victim.