Companies move quickly to avert recession dangers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 April, 2009, 12:00am

With the financial crisis exposing a barrage of complex issues from fraud and misdemeanour to corporate excesses, the business of managing risk has turned a corner for many companies, moving to the top of chief executives' agendas as corporations fight for survival.

'For banks especially, risk management is no longer only used to satisfy regulatory requirements. Corporations now see it as a way of helping them to improve business too,' said Mike So, associate professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's department of information systems, business statistics and operations management.

Organisations are pouring funds into upgrading their risk management, implementing key operational and technological systems across the board and hiring top-notch professionals to manage their risks, particularly in the current economic climate.

Peter Koo, a partner at Deloitte China who is responsible for enterprise risk services, has seen the downturn trigger more requests for the company's consulting services in liquidity and operational risk, and technology and security risk.

Much of the demand has emerged from the financial services industry, listed companies and the public sector, with an emphasis on areas such as enterprise risk management, corporate governance and information technology governance. 'Risk management has become an indispensable tool to companies' overall corporate strategies,' Mr Koo said.

Deloitte offers three types of risk management training to its clients. These comprise coaching at the executive level to ensure senior directors understand the complexities of compliance, training of frontline professionals so they can help execute smooth and ethical operations, and company-wide education to make sure every member of staff has a clear grasp of what risk management is.

'Risk management is particularly important in a downturn because whoever can manage risk the best ultimately wins,' Professor So said.

This heightened awareness of risk management has generated more educational opportunities on the subject, ranging from one-day workshops to fully fledged undergraduate programmes and postgraduate diplomas.

In October, Hong Kong University's school of professional and continuing education launched its postgraduate diploma in enterprise risk management to meet the growing market demand. The programme focuses on two key areas that academics say are crucial to risk management: that individuals uphold their moral principles and put in place reliable systems that can avert crises.

'This is why every course participant must take two mandatory core courses - enterprise risk management framework and business and professional ethics, both of which address these issues - in addition to choosing from a wide range of elective courses,' said Olivia Lui, programme director at Hong Kong University's school of professional and continuing education, who has responsibility for the course.

Electives include subjects such as corporate governance, internal control concepts and issues, financial and business risk management, information technology safety and fraud protection, commercial crimes and money-laundering law.

The 12-month multidisciplinary programme aims to develop students' knowledge and understanding of enterprise risk management and to equip them with tangible skills that can be applied to the workplace.

'The programme teaches students to look at an issue from different angles and to make better decisions. This can help them turn crisis into opportunity,' Ms Lui said.

Instructors use case studies to highlight real-life risks, solutions and success stories, applying concepts in a more practical context. The curriculum also signifies the evolution of risk management education, with the emphasis no longer only on a single function such as accounting, auditing or internal control, but a holistic approach that tackles all areas within a corporation.

The University of Science and Technology is scheduled to launch the city's first undergraduate programme integrating risk management and business intelligence in September. Graduates are trained to manage information, mitigate risk and assist corporations in making essential decisions.

Though corporations' interest in risk management has been temperamental in the past, academics and industry players believe the latest wake-up call, triggered by the global recession, is different. Demand for risk management is expected to hold steady in the future. 'So far as best practices are concerned, I think this area will remain a constant focus for companies on both training and execution fronts,' Mr Koo said.