Thursday, 11 December 2008

Risk management in your Xmas stocking

This post first appeared on FinancialTech Insider

Go to a Christmas lunch these days and most people will be talking about what they are filling their Christmas stockings with or how they are looking forward to eating turkey yet again for the fourth time in a week. While the conversation at business intelligence and analytics vendor, SAS's Christmas press lunch may have been peppered with such conversational tid bits, the real subject of today's lunch was for SAS to publicise its recent foray into the capital markets space.

Building on its already strong base in the retail banking sector, particularly in the areas of operational risk, credit risk, market risk and financial crime, SAS has put together a team based in the UK that is wholly focused on selling its analytics and risk management solutions to capital markets firms.

2009 is likely to see increased regulatory oversight, particularly when it comes to the overlooked areas of liquidity and counterparty risk; and not one too miss an opportunity, SAS is eager to sell its solutions to a business that is drowning in information, but not quite sure what to do with it or how to make sense of it in order to determine risk, fraud liability etc.

It seems the poor old trader is likely to come under increasing surveillance with intelligent software algorithms monitoring their every move and looking for unusual patterns of behaviour (the ability to match seemingly unrelated events across different parts of the business). The technology certainly exists to provide such surveillance, but the cynic in me says most banks are only likely to embrace these technologies as a 'box ticking' exercise in order to comply with regulation, rather than seeing it as good business per se.

Risk management is suddenly the business to be in, but one has to wonder where was all this wonderful bells and whistles technology when things started going wrong in capital markets? And at the end of the day technology can only do so much.

If the people in charge still view "betting on the bank" as a necessary part of making money, or don't want to listen to those 'little voices' in their risk department warning them that something bad is about to happen; then no amount of technology can account for the fact that the culture within firms has to fundamentally change if risk management is to be viewed as a strategic asset and not something that is ferreted away in a back office somewhere filing reports to regulators that no one really concerns themselves with.

Interestingly, while we only get to hear about the multi-billion dollar losses racked up by rogue traders like Jerome Kerviel, there are plenty of other million dollar losses within banks, which occur on an almost daily basis (be they the result of human error or internal fraud) that we don't get to hear about.

Mark Hudson, industry consultant, Capital Markets, SAS, believes if firms can start minimising those million dollar losses we don't get to hear about via market or trader surveillance technologies then perhaps the industry will have achieved something.

Surely saving the bank a few 'mill' from combating accidental or internal fraud is going to make a CFO's ears prick up in this challenging business climate? And even if it doesn't, then Hudson believes the banks' customers and may be even their shareholders (which lets face it is the government these days) may insist on more risk management oversight.
Posted by Anita Hawser

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