27 February 2008

Lessons Learned: The Impact of Executive Decisions...

In times of economic downturn the Operational Risks within your institution will begin to rise. Enron, Worldcom and HealthSouth are the few names people recognize as the major casualties of the last significant dip in our economy. When times get tough, people get desperate and try to keep the schemes and any red flags from being discovered.

So what are some of the areas that encompass Operational Risk:

  • Internal Fraud - bribery, misappropriation of assets, tax evasion, intentional mismarking of positions
  • External Fraud - theft of information, hacking damage, third-party theft and forgery
  • Employment Practices and Workplace Safety - discrimination, workers compensation, employee health and safety
  • Clients, Products, & Business Practice - market manipulation, antitrust, improper trade, product defects, fiduciary breaches, account churning
  • Damage to Physical Assets - natural disasters, terrorism, vandalism
  • Business Disruption & Systems Failures - utility disruptions, software failures, hardware failures
  • Execution, Delivery, & Process Management - data entry errors, accounting errors, failed mandatory reporting, negligent loss of client assets

Cynthia Cooper has written a new book "Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower" about her honorable quest to find the truth at Worldcom. Her quote in the March/April issue of Fraud Magazine says it all:

"Listen to your instinct. If people are acting out of character or appear to be working to head you in another direction, step back and ask yourself why. Continue to ask for support and dig until you're satisfied that you've gotten it right."

Beyond Cynthia's first person account to give the reader her emotional perspectives, Operational Risk Management professionals realize that their role and the job they have been trained to do is not always a "Pleasant" experience. This is why all of the training and education is so important and the rehearsals are absolutely imperative. Testing, evaluating and testing some more is the norm. Understanding what "Normal" looks like, takes time and persistence. Yet without it, our horizon for positive change could be in jeopardy.

With many of the "Lessons Learned" books now published from the last economic dip, who will be next to blow the whistle or expose the real risks that some companies are hiding from the Board of Directors and the shareholders. The class action lawyers are even gathering their evidence on the possibility of cashing in on predatory lending practices:

A federal appeals court is nearing a decision on a battle between Chevy Chase Bank and a Wisconsin couple that could for the first time enable homeowners across the country to band together in class-action lawsuits against mortgage firms and get their loans canceled.

The case is alarming Wall Street 's biggest banks, which could bear the hefty cost of reimbursing all mortgage interest, closing costs and broker fees to groups of homeowners who uncover even minor mistakes in their loan documents. After a federal judge in Milwaukee ruled last year that the Wisconsin couple had been deceived and other borrowers could join their suit, Chevy Chase Bank appealed to the circuit court in Chicago.

So what we have are markets that are volatile. Bankers who are raising the stakes for borrowers. And naive consumers who are facing higher prices across the board. The time for increased vigilance is in front of us all. From the Board Room to the Court Room it's time that we spend more time looking at the interdependencies and realize that risk is more than a prediction.

During these times, it's worth revisiting this post on Fear: The Elements of Prediction.

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