In my ongoing work with clients, I try as often as possible to stress the importance of flexibility in GRC programs. Internal processes and technology implementations must be able to accommodate the perpetually fluctuating aspects of business, compliance requirements, and risk factors. If GRC investments are made without consideration for likely requirements 1 to 2 years down the road, decision makers aren’t doing their job. And if vendors don’t offer that flexibility, they shouldn’t be on the shortlist.
News outlets over the past year have given us almost daily examples of change in the GRC landscape. The recent stories coming out of Davos have been no exception... giving us some truly fascinating debates on the necessity and detriment of regulations. As quoted in a Wall Street Journal article on Sunday, Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Josef Ackermann argued against heavy-handed regulation, saying, "We should stop the blame game and we should start looking forward... if you don't have a strong financial sector to support the this recovery... you're making a huge mistake and you will regret that later on," he said. French President Nicholas Sarkozy summed up the opposing argument in his keynote, explaining, "There is indecent behavior that will no longer be tolerated by public opinion in any country of the world... That those who create jobs and wealth may earn a lot of money is not shocking. But that those who contribute to destroying jobs and wealth also earn a lot of money is morally indefensible."
By the end of this year, we will likely all be sick of the phrase “systemic risk.” Referring to the complex and interconnected nature of risks that brought down the financial services sector, the phrase has been a focal point in the discussions on how to prevent such failures in the future. (And in my experience, this increased attention means that service and software vendors will be using the term in their marketing literature with increasing frequency in 2010.)
Policy makers are recommending systemic risk solutions such as new oversight bodies to assess for systemic risks or penalties for companies that are perceived to threaten the system. European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet even suggested that financial institutions help avoid systemic risks by "putting aside their own profit" and being "moderate in remuneration behavior," in order to reinforce their balance sheets.
Details such as product integration and go-to-market strategy will trickle out slowly of course, but so far, this is a significant deal for a couple of reasons:
Archer fills a substantial void in EMC’s product offering, which included many elements of GRC, but no central platform to pull it all together.
EMC will introduce the Archer products to a much larger set of potential customers...most notably as a platform to manage security and compliance, but also to customers with requirements for related areas like vendor management or business continuity.
It brings another IT heavy-weight fully into the GRC space, with substantial engineering resources to work on product development (but only if Archer continues to be seen as a top priority within RSA).
As we watch this acquisition come together, as well as other upcoming announcements that will make the GRC space even more competitive, here are a few questions to consider:
Case in point, the SEC announced this week the approval of new rules that will, among other things, require companies to disclose the relationship between their compensation policies and risk management, as well as describe the board of directors’ role in risk oversight.
Understanding what compensation policies have a material impact on an organization’s risk and developing policies for board-level oversight of risk will require guidance from internal and/or external risk experts... good news for any risk experts who appreciate gainful employment. And of course, many additional regulations and SEC rules expected to come together early next year are also likely to continue this trend.
As the debate continues between what’s best for businesses and consumers as we look for economic recovery, a few of the amendments expected to come to a vote today involve the creation of a new consumer financial protection agency, a Sarbanes Oxley exemption for small firms, and new power for the Government Accountability Office to audit the Federal Reserve.
While this debate is going on, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a framework last week to guide policymakers in the reform of international financial markets. According to the announcement, “Increasing transparency is key. The complexity and opaqueness of products made risk assessment difficult for firms and investors and hindered market transparency, a major cause of the crisis.”
The framework’s explanation of the financial landscape includes principles for 1) A definition of the financial system, 2) Transparency, and 3) Surveillance and analysis. Responsibilities for the collection and distribution of relevant data are described for government authorities, industry groups, and international organizations. These principles mirror the focus of other potential regulatory changes and will have a substantial impact in the way organizations document and track a wide range of business processes and transactions if they are carried out in legislation.
It provides a well-written, step-by-step guide to risk management processes that can be applied to whole organizations, or any part thereof. So far, it has received well-deserved praise for its surprising brevity and consolidated value. These are especially important characteristics for a document with as lofty a goal as standardizing what it calls “an integral part of all organizational processes.”
But if we expect the availability of ISO 31000 to have any sort of revolutionary or game-changing impact in the immediate future, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.
In its complaint, the SEC alleges that, “Madoff and his lieutenant Frank DiPascali, Jr., routinely asked (Jerome) O'Hara and (George) Perez for their help in creating records that, among other things, combined actual positions and activity from... market-making and proprietary trading businesses with the fictional balances maintained in investor accounts.”
The SEC further alleges that O’Hara and Perez tried to cover their tracks by deleting hundreds of files, withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars from their investments through the company, told Madoff they wanted to stop helping him, and then accepted larger salaries and substantial bonuses for their promise to keep quiet.
It will be interesting to watch this case unfold. I was hoping it would get into issues of whether the IT professionals were considered just uninvolved support staff or key participants in the scheme. Considering the evidence SEC claims to have, I don’t think we’ll hear those arguments in this case, but keep an eye out for how the defense comes together. Fraud prevention is a growing area of concern for government, health care, insurance, financial services, and other industries... which means we could be seeing more cases questioning the responsibility of IT to identify and/or prevent such issues.
As GRC practices continue to gain traction, I’ve had a lot of great conversations lately with clients about the importance of peer interaction for professionals in governance, risk, and compliance roles. With his finger apparently on the pulse of all major technology trends, Forrester’s Josh Bernoff must see this as well. This week he announced the winners of the 2009 Forrester Groundswell Awards, with two top GRC vendors among the winners. (For those of you not familiar with Josh Bernoff or Groundswell, check out the book info here.)
Two weeks ago, I commented on the changing role of the risk management professional, and thought it would be worthwhile to spend a few moments discussing the auditor as well. In a contest of which job is likely to see more change in the next two years, I would expect a photo finish.
Even in the toughest times, winners will invariably emerge. With the way expectations are changing regarding corporate controls and disclosure, risk management professionals (whose lack of influence was seen as a substantial cause of our current state of affairs to begin with) will likely be among the first beneficiaries of our new outlook on business.
Forrester customer inquiries seem to have taken a step back when it comes to risk management. While there are still plenty of incoming technology and vendor selection questions, there has been a noticeable spike in calls about fundamental issues, such as how to build and organize risk management programs. Knowledge and experience in risk management basics is in high demand.