Risk Management Lessons from the ‘Mortgage Meltdown’

Great article this morning in the Wall Street Journal about Goldman Sachs’ performance during the credit meltdown. The company has expectations of record income this year, while competitors are faltering left and right.

There are three important issues in this story — and in the sub-prime crisis in general — that all good risk management professionals know, and should keep in mind as often as possible.

  1. Accepting risk can offer substantial competitive advantages. While some argue that Goldman Sachs got lucky on many of its assumptions, the company has a history of aggressive, intelligent risk taking. The lesson here, whether evaluating investments, business partners, emerging markets, or new technologies, is to effectively measure and understand risk exposure to know when it’s worth taking certain chances.

  1. Risk management decisions are being closely watched. Customers, business partners, and investors alike have more access to risk management information than ever, thanks in part to rating agencies and regulatory filings. More risk-savvy media are also becoming more likely expose companies demonstrating poor risk management strategies or a lack of commitment to all stakeholders. Case in point, the Wall Street Journal questioned how clients will ultimately react knowing that Goldman Sachs profited greatly by betting against products the company continued to sell them.

  1. Widespread risk management failures will get legislators’ attention. It’s still early to tell how far fallout from the sub-prime crisis will reach, but the number of consumers affected has already convinced lawmakers to get involved. We’ve seen other industry-wide risk management failures heading toward this level of attention with pharmaceutical, food, and toy companies. The risk of attracting tighter regulatory pressure should help encourage greater risk and compliance responsibility, and in some cases, cooperation around industry standards and best practices.