4 steps for managing danger on the CEO degree

Fenika Bench


Adapting to a fast-changing danger panorama has turn into a precedence for many organizations, a necessity made extra evident by the worldwide pandemic and up to date geopolitical occasions. On the identical time, chief executives are below extra strain than ever to reconcile agendas from a number of stakeholders affecting their group. The convergence of those two developments signifies that CEOs must take an more and more lively, progressive position in shaping their organizations’ method to danger, enjoying each offense and protection.





Expertise reveals that organizations that create strategic distance from their rivals have elevated their danger agenda and share some widespread traits in that regard. They anticipate and handle dangers successfully as a core factor of their buyer worth proposition whereas sustaining their entrepreneurial spirit and making daring strikes. Most of these organizations have higher alignment on strategic trade-offs and transparency on how a lot danger capability they’ve and the place to finest deploy it. They’ve a powerful danger tradition and, when shocks happen, pivot shortly and reinvent themselves decisively. And due to the importance of the various underlying choices, chief executives must take cost. CEOs who elevate their position as the last word danger choice makers and associate with the manager crew (particularly enterprise leaders, chief danger officers, chief compliance officers, and chief monetary officers) are higher in a position to leverage trendy danger administration.

Whereas the elevation of the danger agenda has been ongoing, it has just lately picked up pace, as main worldwide occasions display. In 2000, for instance, only a dozen periods (of practically 250) of the annual assembly of the World Financial Discussion board in Davos targeted explicitly on danger. At the moment, practically half usually concentrate on methods to handle a large spectrum of dangers and construct resilience. Or take into account the boardroom dynamic, which impacts the CEO agenda. In response to the most recent McKinsey Board Survey, which incorporates greater than 1,000 administrators globally, danger administration ranks as one of many 5 high priorities for boards in 2022. As extra administrators turn into conscious about their fiduciary accountability in a altering danger atmosphere, they should higher perceive the brand new danger agenda themselves and demand extra from the administration crew on this entrance.

For a lot of organizations, the strain is compounded by the rising expectations of the media, regulators, traders, prospects, staff, and society at giant. Corporations are extra continuously anticipated to take a stance on a variety of public points which may be politically charged—reminiscent of social and racial justice, financial inequality, and local weather change. There’s additionally elevated scrutiny and amplification of incidents that might subsequently create important reputational dangers and characterize profession turning factors for chief executives.

We consider {that a} CEO’s danger agenda ought to embody 4 key dimensions (exhibit):

  1. Make sure that the group has sturdy danger administration capabilities applicable to its dimension, complexity, and aspiration.
  2. Orchestrate alignment on strategic trade-offs to seize the upside whereas defending the draw back for the highest dangers, supported by a transparent danger urge for food.
  3. Promote and position mannequin a risk-aware tradition that helps entrepreneurship and a development mindset whereas defending the group.
  4. Lean in personally in high-stakes risk-related choices for which the corporate has not but developed absolutely mature capabilities.





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On this article, we concentrate on every of the scale that may assist CEOs rise to the problem. To make it particular, we concentrate on insurance coverage as a concrete case, an trade that’s on the coronary heart of each taking danger and serving to others defend in opposition to dangers. Our views are knowledgeable by discussions with insurance coverage CEOs, chief danger officers (CROs), and different executives and stakeholders all over the world.

Make sure that the group has sturdy danger administration capabilities

For the reason that international monetary disaster of 2008, many refined insurance coverage corporations have constructed stronger danger capabilities throughout three traces of protection: enterprise and company capabilities within the first line, danger and compliance within the second line, and inner audit within the third. However there’s a huge spectrum of maturity throughout insurers and monetary providers extra broadly. It’s the CEO’s position to constantly elevate that danger maturity to the suitable degree for the dimensions and complexity of the establishment.

What does danger administration maturity appear like? Processes and governance buildings be sure that key danger choices are appropriately evaluated and, when wanted, escalated and challenged. Dangers are owned by the enterprise, however the fitting checks and balances present the mandatory guardrails and challenges with out stopping agile choice making. The danger capabilities perceive sources of worth creation and translate technical danger ideas into novel insights which might be helpful to the enterprise. There’s a clear sense of priorities and path, given the multiplicity of typically conflicting capital constraints (GAAP, STAT, financial capital regulatory requirement, etcetera). Programs and superior analytics present assist and insights to watch monetary and nonfinancial or operational danger positions throughout enterprise items, capabilities, and geographies and on the enterprise degree. Danger capability is measured transparently and allotted strategically. Expertise is employed and skilled to supply experience on well-known and rising dangers; inner in addition to exterior sources of insights are leveraged for enterprise choices.

As soon as a corporation reaches danger administration maturity, its CEO can depend on strong day-to-day practices. As one chief government put it, “My job is to make sure that we collectively attain such a maturity by allocating sufficient funds, hiring the required expertise internally and externally, structuring the fitting working mannequin throughout traces of protection, and supporting sufficient board-level governance. I additionally set the tone on our general enterprise-level danger urge for food.”





For a CEO, understanding the place the group stands throughout these dimensions, the way it compares with best-in-class establishments, and methods to enhance alongside this journey is important (see sidebar, “Managing high-stake dangers: A guidelines for CEOs”).

Orchestrate alignment on strategic trade-offs

In right this moment’s quickly altering atmosphere, organizations want to have the ability to play offense and protection on the identical time. That is the core of a contemporary technique that comes with a considerate quantity of managed risk-taking to allow sustainable returns. Usually, the position of the CEO is especially necessary on this area. For dangers the place the upside and draw back are sizable and interconnected, no single government aside from the CEO is able to stability all points and trade-offs. CROs and chief compliance officers (CCOs) would naturally be in the most effective place to handle the draw back, whereas enterprise leaders would extra naturally take actions to seize the upside alternatives.

Contemplate a couple of examples. Being daring can imply deciding to enter or increase in overseas markets. Some markets current important alternatives for all times and nonlife insurers given the numerous insurance coverage hole there. However there’s an inherent trade-off, given geopolitical and enterprise dangers which have emerged just lately. The place to play (residence or overseas) and the way intense the useful resource (re-)deployment needs to be are elementary and sophisticated questions. Aligning the group’s stakeholders on selecting one path over one other usually requires the CEO’s capability and remaining willpower.

Or take into account local weather change and sustainable and inclusive development. Insurance coverage corporations, both via their asset administration technique or their underwriting portfolio selections, are inherently concerned with these which might be contributing to anthropogenic local weather danger in addition to with those that endure from it. We consider this can be a true second for insurers globally. They will both speed up or hinder progress towards the inexperienced transition. We additionally foresee extra frequent excessive occasions resulting in large danger redistribution, demand for progressive merchandise, and questions on who ought to finally pay for local weather catastrophes in each mature and rising markets.

Our most up-to-date analysis means that the local weather change transition will create large capital redeployment. Capital spending on bodily property for vitality and land-use programs within the net-zero transition between 2021 and 2050 will quantity to about $275 trillion, or $9.2 trillion per 12 months on common—an annual enhance of $3.5 trillion from right this moment. Insurance coverage corporations and their CEOs should judiciously take into account the higher-level trade-offs and meaningfully have interaction inner and exterior stakeholders to obviously articulate the near- and long-term place. This turns into an much more necessary dimension as extra regulators all over the world ask for detailed local weather danger disclosure for public corporations that’s dependable, auditable, and complete (together with the 2022 proposed SEC rule in america). On the identical time, a holistic influence technique that appropriately incorporates local weather transition developments is more likely to be a key supply of fabric benefit for a very long time to return. Such a method may concentrate on new merchandise for property and casualty (P&C) insurance coverage, for instance, or funding portfolios for all insurance coverage carriers. It ought to think about each bodily developments, reminiscent of altering hazards, and the doubtless affect of shoppers, regulators, and traders on future states.

Local weather transition brings significant upside alternatives, as a result of funding in greener know-how is anticipated to result in the emergence of latest and rising sectors (together with these targeted on vitality technology, storage, inexperienced transportation, and building) that require insurance coverage safety to succeed. Many of those nascent sectors are unable to safe favorable funding (for instance, via debt) because of restricted insurance coverage capability right this moment. How a lot danger capability to allocate and who to associate with are CEO-level choices.

Lastly, insurance coverage carriers face societal strain to maintain charges inexpensive for small companies and particular person shoppers, particularly in economically challenged communities, even when that signifies that the insurance coverage premiums would not mirror the true danger publicity. This strain challenges market viability with out authorities intervention, as expertise reveals in a number of US coastal states and several other European nations. Insurance coverage affordability points are more likely to be elevated additional as danger continues to extend. These points typically thrust the CEO into the general public enviornment, so CEO-level alignment is required right here as properly.

Promote a risk-aware tradition that helps entrepreneurship

A robust danger tradition is turning into desk stakes within the worth proposition of many corporations. Clients and staff anticipate it. An necessary problem for risk-mature organizations is how to make sure a powerful entrepreneurial drive whereas selling sturdy danger consciousness and accountability. Particularly amongst giant monetary establishments, the noble goal of constructing sturdy danger capabilities typically drifts into the creation of an oversize and inefficient paperwork of redundant controls. “We actually must take a step again and cleansheet,” a senior insurance coverage government just lately advised us. “The place can we actually must allocate our danger administration capability shifting ahead? How can we hyperlink this to the place the worth is created, versus including layers after layers of controls?”

By elevating the significance of danger tradition within the enterprise and by adopting a danger lens for all key enterprise processes, organizations can create a extra environment friendly and cost-effective working mannequin within the second and third traces. In these situations, CEOs ought to set the fitting tone from the highest throughout a number of dimensions. Concrete actions embody encouraging common, open, fact-based discussions about danger on the senior-management degree. CEOs must also contain the danger operate as a thought associate from the very starting on matters reminiscent of technique, new merchandise, market growth, distribution channels, know-how, and even buyer expertise and advanced-analytics transformation.

For instance, most insurance coverage corporations are at present pursuing investments in superior information and analytics capabilities to enhance pricing and declare administration. Machine studying fashions and third-party information can unlock important worth for insurers and their prospects as they supply new and deeper insights and allow automation of duties beforehand accomplished manually and liable to error.

In some circumstances, nevertheless, using such superior fashions and exterior information can result in monetary, regulatory, and reputational dangers. Take underwriting fashions in life insurance coverage. They will allow seamless buyer expertise (for instance, via real-time choices on functions), however they’ll comprise and masks biases in opposition to minorities and underrepresented teams even when racial and demographic information are excluded from the fashions. Acceptable response and steering from danger practitioners (from danger, mannequin validation, compliance, and authorized capabilities) can assist mitigate these dangers upfront with out stifling additional exploration and innovation. Nevertheless, the group’s danger tradition typically must evolve to have the ability to perceive, assess, and appropriately handle these kind of dangers from inception.

CEOs should additionally make it clear that danger administration is the accountability of your complete group, not simply these people with the phrase “danger” of their title. Good practices embody simulation workout routines, stress testing with a wider spectrum of situations, and even inclusion of danger administration consideration in worker compensation and annual overview. As our colleagues Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller, and Vikram Malhotra display of their latest ebook, which analyzes the best-performing CEOs, “common stress-testing can reveal alternatives to make a enterprise extra resilient. It might result in divesting underperforming companies, slicing extra prices, doubling down in high-growth geographies, enhancing the M&A plan, and enhancing the effectiveness of the highest crew.”


What many of those high-performing executives have in widespread is that they at all times analyze the potential draw back dangers of daring strikes and methods to stop them, so that they keep away from surprises down the highway.

CEOs should make it clear that danger administration is the accountability of your complete group, not simply these people with the phrase “danger” of their title.


CEOs ought to recurrently measure their group’s danger tradition too. Many instruments can be found to conduct danger tradition diagnostics. Such an train can assist CEOs develop an understanding of how every a part of the group integrates danger concerns into the best way it really works, permitting CEOs to prioritize danger efforts organizationally.

Lean in personally in high-stakes risk-related choices

Not all dangers ought to attain the CEO’s workplace. When the core is working properly and a tradition of danger administration helps entrepreneurship throughout the group, CEOs can concentrate on a choose variety of high-stakes choices associated to danger. A easy however efficient approach to determine these choices is to contemplate two dimensions: low-to-high danger materiality and low-to-high maturity of the group to handle that danger.

A given danger’s place alongside these two dimensions will differ throughout organizations, even amongst companies in the identical firm and over time. Basically, monetary dangers are definitely materials for insurance coverage corporations, however most often, they’re dealt with properly by present processes. In distinction, the speedy administration of some nonfinancial dangers (together with conduct, mannequin errors, third-party danger, and operational resilience) and rising dangers—reminiscent of cyberrisk, local weather danger, crypto, pandemics, and geopolitics—is probably going past the prevailing core danger administration capabilities of many insurance coverage carriers. CEOs must focus their consideration on materials dangers in areas the place their organizations lack ample maturity. That is very true of high-velocity, high-ambiguity conditions and conditions with the potential to considerably have an effect on the popularity of the agency.

Excessive velocity, excessive ambiguity

A first-rate instance of that is the lethal COVID-19 pandemic, which additionally prompted a speedy tempo of change (weeks versus years) to buyer and worker behaviors, probably on a everlasting foundation. To be clear, the check shouldn’t be whether or not organizations had been in a position to transfer all their staff to distant work in only a few weeks again in 2020; nearly all organizations globally did it. We consider a longer-term check is but to return. CEOs might want to deal with necessary questions on methods to modify to new modes of buyer interactions which have resulted from accelerated digitalization at scale and methods to confront the dangers of not doing it proper and in a well timed method. They’ve to contemplate the implications of fixing the combo of merchandise and distribution channels versus favoring the established order. We additionally see an progressive redesign of the worker working mannequin to retain expertise.

CEOs might want to deal with necessary questions on methods to modify to new modes of buyer interactions which have resulted from accelerated digitalization at scale and methods to confront the dangers of not doing it proper and in a well timed method.


Cyberthreat is one other danger that has escalated to the agenda of the CEO, as a result of cyber missteps can have a big enterprise influence past operational losses. At the moment, trusted digital expertise is an integral a part of any successful buyer worth proposition: prospects (whether or not B2B or B2C) anticipate a flawless expertise and heightened safety. To realize this, companies typically impose safety requirements on all third-party distributors, because the US Division of Protection just lately established via the Cybersecurity Maturity Mannequin Certification (CMMC) program. CMMC mandates new cybersecurity necessities for all corporations which might be a part of the huge protection industrial base.

What’s extra, cyberrisk is quickly altering by nature. For instance, many hacker teams have expanded their ransomware targets to incorporate private buyer information, IP, payroll info, system codes, and different parts which might be necessary to companies. In consequence, hacked organizations are extra keen to pay to revive non-public entry to their very own information and regular operations. In truth, media mentions of ransomware assaults on monetary providers companies have gone up 900 % previously six to eight years.

Organizations must also take into account the influence of nontechnical assaults on programs. What would occur if hackers used misinformation to create a false story that went viral a few publicly traded group, which in flip shortly drove down the inventory, permitting the hackers to earn cash on promoting brief? On all of those matters, it typically takes the CEO’s affect to maneuver from a purely technical dialogue on cyber to an understanding of the vulnerabilities alongside the worth creation chain and the way it may be disrupted.

Agency popularity

Navigating a corporation’s various stakeholders can be ambiguous in nature. Clients and staff require corporations to have a transparent function past shareholder worth maximization and more and more demand absolute integrity from their executives. What’s extra, CEOs are anticipated to take public positions on a rising variety of points. Some relate intently to the enterprise, whereas others are extra societal and infrequently past the scope of the corporate or the trade. Not all of those points are controversial, however each case requires the direct involvement of the CEO, who represents the corporate and faces public scrutiny. That is the place clearly outlined function and values matter most; these present a strong guidepost to the chief government relating to which matters to take a public stand on and when it’s higher to not.


Because the world continues to rework at a speedy tempo, the CEO’s new danger agenda will likely be complicated and ambiguous but in addition thrilling. By elevating their position as the last word danger choice maker, CEOs will anticipate extra from their administration crew (together with the CRO) in shaping and executing the technique, and they’re going to make higher investments in trendy danger administration options. In the end, this shift creates a extra resilient basis for the enterprise to thrive. It will increase transparency into the dangers the group is taking to stay forward—and into these it ought to take. When it’s accomplished properly, prospects are higher served too.

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