What Makes Risk Management Work – or Not
Richard Steinberg 270004HRBG firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  grc risk_management | 0 Comments | 1,040 Visits
We know that MF Global, the firm run by Jon S. Corzine, recently imploded under the weight of bad bets and huge leverage. Reports say that Corzine, former U.S. Senator, Governor of New Jersey, and co-head of Goldman Sachs, did at MF Global what he did at GS – and that’s take large risks in trading. How, one could ask, could it have turned out so wrong?
Effective risk management processes have at their core identifying, analyzing and managing risks. It will be a while before we know all the details of MF Global’s risk management process, but it appears to have worked reasonably well. Wait, what – is that a misprint? Probably not.
Based on reports, Corzine knew the risks he was taking. Basically, he bet that the European leaders would act in a way to alleviate the sovereign debt crisis. He put over $6 billion of the firm’s money at risk, which with the associated leverage put the firm’s existence at risk. And the firm’s risk officers also knew, and they seemed to have done what they were supposed to – they brought the matter to the board of directors. Reports say a senior risk officer described the situation and the risks to the board, with Corzine present. The risk officer pointed out not only the nature and size of the risks, but also that risks included both potential defaults on the sovereign debt and the bonds losing sufficient value to cause a liquidity crisis at the firm. The directors listened, and decided to approve what Corzine was doing.
Now, we weren’t in the room with the directors, or inside their heads, so we don’t know whether they made a thoughtful and rational business judgment, or whether they rolled over under Corzine’s undue influence. If the latter, then they failed in their job. But if the former, then they determined that they and the firm had a risk appetite large enough to “bet the ranch.”
So, whether this is a failure of risk management will be decided as the investigations continue and more facts emerge. And of course the missing “segregated” client funds is another matter, likely centered on specific internal controls over that money and what control activities might have been overridden by more senior executives. Also at issue is whether regulators did their job effectively. It will be interesting, indeed, to learn more, as no doubt we will as the investigations unfold.