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Women in Model Risk Management

During RMA’s Model Risk Management Summit in December 2021, "Women in Risk: Model Risk Management" panelists shared their experience on building frameworks and offered career advice for both women and men in the risk management industry.

The panelists brought a variety of experience to the proceedings. Bri Pentecost, senior vice president and model risk manager at Banner Bank, oversees model validation and governance, focusing on setting up model risk management procedures and validating active models.  Jen Swearingen, vice president and director of model risk at SouthState Bank, started her career in building quantitative models. Prior to taking on a leadership role at SouthState, Swearingen managed and developed credit loss forecasting models. Sally Mayo, head of model risk management at East West Bank, began her career in statistical modeling and data analytics. 

The value of networking and good relationships

During a discussion on the value of networking, panelists explained how securing a mentor was critical to success. Pentecost noted that she expanded her knowledge of credit and ALM models thanks to her supervisors’ encouragement. She also observed that building a rapport matters for model owners and risk managers as they interact with multiple stakeholders, due to the complexity of model risk management.  “No one has all the answers”, said Pentecost.

The value of good relationships is especially helpful when collaborating with third-party model vendors. Risk managers should forge positive relationships with model vendors to stay current on risk management trends. “Be partners, not counterparties,” said Mayo.

Learning new skillsets and staying current

Panelists stressed the need to acquire new skills to succeed. Swearingen recalled her transition from senior statistician to her current leadership role in model risk governance.  Swearingen’s solution was to build a team of subject-matter experts in their fields from whom everyone could learn. Pentecost shared the educational benefits of online data bootcamps, adding she also relies on a network of peers and industry conferences for specific topics that she is interested in. “All of human knowledge is on the internet,” said Pentecost. “If you are motivated enough, you can learn anything.”

Where is the industry heading?

Panelists see the scope of model risk management work expanding as banks adopt new techniques in modeling, including machine learning. “We will see more sophisticated models, and model risk management has to learn those processes and how to validate them,” Pentecost said.

Swearingen added that model risk managers will have closer working relationships with business units as the nature of the models themselves are changing. For instance, certain programming languages are no longer in use. “People are geared towards Python and other languages, not embracing SAS anymore,” Mayo said. She added that model risk managers should keep learning new technologies and focus on what is required to deliver the results.

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