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Advance Learnings: Key Takeaways from RMA’s Annual Risk Management Conference

Last week, more than 6,000 RMA attendees joined us for our Annual Risk Management and Internal Audit conferences, as well as the debut of our Women in Risk Summit. The theme of this year’s conference was “Advance” and throughout the week, senior risk leaders from throughout the banking and financial services industry discussed the pressing risk issues of our time.

Here are some key takeaways from the week. If you missed any of the sessions, replays of the conferences are available on-demand for RMA members until December 31, 2021.

  • Stay suspicious and pay attention to near misses. In his keynote session, author Michael Lewis said risk managers should especially question assumptions that everyone believes to be true, and to pay attention to near misses, giving the example of previous pandemics that did not cause widespread health risk. He also encouraged risk managers facing difficult decisions to “minimize regret. Imagine after the fact which decision you will regret more.” 
  • Expect good growth for the economy, but be wary of supply chain issues, inflation, and employment constraints. Day Two commenced with an all-star CRO panel offering their views on 2022. While all shared a positive outlook, particularly for the near-term, the panel identified a few risk factors that could derail recovery. The team detailed issues posed by climate and cyber risk and highlighted ways their firms have responded. As Sandy Spring Bank CRO Kevin Slane explained, "(Cyber risk) is a space where if you ever think you have done enough, you're dead in the water." 
  • 2023 is closer than you think. As the January 1, 2023 deadline to implement the Current Expected Credit Loss standard at community banks nears, RMA gathered an experienced panel of CECL adopters. During the aptly named session "Are You Ready? CECL Adoption for Privately Held Entities," best practices and timely lessons were shared. Panelists dove into the nitty gritty around methodologies and offered advice on working with examiners. One tasty quote from Chris Stanley, Senior Director at Moody’s: "Focus on fundamentals, not formulas. Great chefs don't follow recipes, they interpret."  
  • Avoid the risk of overconfidence. To kick off Day Three, OCC Acting Comptroller Michael J. Hsu outlined the OCC’s strategic priorities. Hsu urged risk professionals to guard against complacency, saying he was feeling "Deja vu" to the years preceding the 2007 financial crisis. Hsu also said addressing inequality, digitization, and climate risk are OCC priorities. 
  • Be more aggressively creative about risk planning. Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf challenged risk professionals to "Think far more broadly about the scenarios you have to plan for," in a far-ranging discussion with RMA President & CEO Nancy Foster. Scharf discussed lessons learned during the pandemic, progress at tackling climate risk, and engaging Wells Fargo employees through a time of transformation.  "Communicate to people the way you would want to be communicated to," said Scharf. "The more people understand, the more they will want to be part of a team working for the same goal." 

  • Leveraging RMA to Advance Your World. Leaders from a neobank, a community bank, and a major national bank discussed challenges facing their diverse institutions -- and how RMA can help tackle those issues -- during the Annual Conference's final session. RMA Board Chair Michael Nassy, Vice Chair Jodi Richard, and Treasurer Philippa Girling recognized common challenges, including attracting talent and satisfying ever-changing customer needs. "We are experiencing phenomenal growth and growth comes with risk," noted VaroBank CRO Philippa Girling.  The panel also demonstrated how RMA resources, including products and roundtables, helped them share experiences and collaboratively problem-solve. “The RMA is a common thread through my different jobs and different responsibilities,” said U.S. Bancorp CRO Jodi Richard.  We trust RMA will remain a common thread through your career until we meet again at the 2022 Annual Risk Management Conference. 
  • DEI is a journey, not a project. More than half of bank employees are women, yet their representation in the C-suite and on boards falls short of 50 percent During the Women in Risk Summit's opening session, "From Glass Slippers to Glass Ceilings, Shattering Limitations to Lead," panelists offered advice on advancing female employees and encouraged a more expansive recruiting process. The group also addressed the historic exit of women from the workplace during the pandemic. Bank on Women Chairman and Co-founder Terrie Spiro noted, "If I'm losing women employees because I am not offering them the same opportunities or training, then I am creating an environment of failure and mediocrity." 
  • Be comfortable with discomfort. Consider building relationships a part of your job, urged participants during the panel "Mentorship - The Roles of Mentors and Mentees in Your Career Journey." Finding mentors takes work but don't let introversion get in your way. “I am still not comfortable at networking," admitted Busey Bank CRO Monica Bowe "But I realize the value in (mentoring) so I allow myself to be uncomfortable. A closed mouth does not get fed." 

We encourage you to join our Women in Risk Committee by contacting RMA Relationship Manager Elena Noverola at And we look forward to seeing you at the 2022 Annual Risk Management Conference!