Stop Sending Me Information and Start Getting Me Some: A Risk Lesson for the Banking Industry’s Executives, Board Members, Wall Street, and Business Unit Practitioners

By Marc Caccavale

I love movie quotes. Films like Wall Street make me smile when an appropriate line fits a moment of thought. While not being a fan of the 1987 film for many reasons, it has many one-liners and truisms. One particular scene features a young, naïve, ambitious Bud Fox asking Gordon Gekko for another chance to work with him. Bud fails miserably after his first attempt. Gekko says to Bud: “You want another chance? Then you stop sending me information and start getting me some”. 

The line is short, but it says a lot. Work hard, dig for strategic information, don’t rely on what others are telling you, verify, translate, find opportunities, collaborate, locate weaknesses, locate problems, act, and have no fear. After my attendance and my company’s sponsorship at RMA’s GCOR XIII in Cambridge, MA in early April, this movie line and my interpretation of it gave clarity to what transpired at the event. 

Practitioners help practitioners. People care about the evolution of risk management as a practice and profession. People are passionate about discipline and progression. Culture, conduct, trust, reputation, and ethics were underliers and came across in every keynote, panel, and subject-specific session that I attended. People were concerned with getting pertinent risk information—information that offers the greatest opportunities and the greatest disasters that the banking industry faces, presently and in the future.

With regard to Gekko’s one-liner, boards of directors must demand the correct data summary in a timely manner from the enterprise risk team to execute responsibilities most effectively. If I have the correct information, I should be able to obtain the correct summary results to execute my oversight responsibilities.

Risk people across the entire banking industry must ask themselves whether or not they’re providing the board the right information to utilize their unique expertise and to drive earnings, and if they’re sending the correct information summary or if they’re sending data to check a box.

Two simple questions right? Wrong! The reality is that these questions are distorted and buried in a voluminous, confusing, poorly understood web of dissimilar data outputs that lack alignment and clarity throughout the banking industry. Every board member, every executive, and every risk practitioner must address this. They must uplift the risk culture for every team member in bank and risk reporting programs. We must move the industry forward. This is a ticking time bomb, and a wake-up call.

There are serious consequences, and serious institutional loss of value. The answer lies within your peers and your fellow practitioners working collaboratively to address these key systemic problems.  These peers were speakers at the conference, and included CEOs, board members, chief risk officers, chief operational risk officers, and heads of audit, and technology experts working on behalf of our country’s national security and intelligence. They represented the key thought leaders in our industry. Their discussions were direct, fearless, and to the heart of each matter they presented, yet the gaps still exist.

One of the biggest risks to the banking industry is you, your mindset, and how you build culture in every decision. For the past 15 years, the old boys’ network dominates, fixed mind sets dominate business units, management, and board rooms. There is a lack of collaboration, and a sharing of risk from janitor to the board room. In today’s competitive environment, everyone has a role. Without it, earnings cannot grow effectively. 

I attended this conference for the same reason I attend all conferences: to grow, learn, and serve other professional practitioners and to share key takeaways from subject matter experts and their experiences. Now, and in the future, collaborative growth mind-sets must prevail. These mind-sets say, I can do anything, and I can do better. 

People risk is the number one risk. Firms are debilitated when there is not a culture to support taking risk. We must think outside the box rather than check a box and go home. It hurts every firm in which it exists. Inertia, lack of will, and fear to speak and act are the normal courses of action because there is no accountability in understanding risk and how it impacts the organization and its role, whether positively or negatively. There is a lack of risk leadership and action. This conduct is detrimental and disastrous.  Instead, try to understand the rapidly changing world. Throw out your current thoughts, what you know, and what you do. Park your thoughts and come up with new ones (stop sending, start getting). We hear this kind of talk everywhere we go. It has become meaningless, but ignoring hard truths leads to a defunct company culture and suffering from the top to the bottom of the firm. 

So, what do we do? Too often CROs across the industry are seen as a cost or compliance function, a necessary evil due to regulatory pressures and fines. This is due to the amount of time and money spent compiling and sending information that is not deemed understandable or useful. Harsh fact? You bet it is! This reality must cease to exist for the bank industry to survive and prosper. Three things must happen in risk: strategy, capability, and commitment of leadership action. 

Leadership’s new call to action and risk culture will help today’s banks’ growth crystalize a clear vision and direction, ultimately taking a course for sustainable growth. Every employee must live and act, using the correct meaning of risk appetite and risk tolerance. Use the correct vision to align the culture, strategy, and appetite. We protect the firm and optimize its measured performance.

Financial industry communication can be problematic. Many stakeholders, at the top of the house and in business units, have different opinions and priorities about everything and are paid differently by different risk frameworks. It is difficult to communicate subject-specific jargon, and it’s difficult to communicate business language and silo language. How do we put the bank’s vital business process points into language that everyone from top to bottom can understand and work with?

Let’s face it, there are too many things to manage. The only way to do it is to have a common data set that acts as a land bridge leveling the field of communication, accountability, and actions—and, in the process, to reward thinking outside the box and to mitigate the fear of taking risk.


Marc Caccavale, Managing Director, Education / Strategic Partners at Strategic Risk Associates. He can be reached at mcaccavale@srabank.com.

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