Monday, 20 February 2012
Lessons from Senlac Ridge
The French risk management community gathers in Deauville, Normandy this February amidst a period of great political, financial and economic turmoil.
Adrian Ladbury, Editor of Commercial Risk Europe
President Sarkozy is battling to convince French voters that he is the man to lead the nation through the eurozone crisis and sort out its finances that have been thrown into question by the credit rating agencies.
At the start of the month the President announced that he would unilaterally introduce a new tax on financial transactions to basically convince the voters that he would not let the bankers get away with wrecking the French, European and global financial markets.
He said that he is aware that he will be alone in adopting this aggressive stance but hopes that his lead will be followed elsewhere, most notably in Frankfurt and London.
It is unlikely that London will follow Mr Sarkozy’s lead, if only because the coalition government in the UK does not face an imminent election.
Personally I think Mr Sarkozy has made a good decision, if for the wrong political reasons. The bankers need to be reined in or they will simply make the same mistakes all over again.
If the UK government decides that the position of London as the world’s pre-eminent financial centre must be protected at all costs then I fear that the cost will be an even greater disparity in wealth across the UK and, ultimately, the disintegration of the nation state, monarchy and all that, starting with the succession of Scotland.
Perhaps the ethnic Anglo-Saxon in me would rather finally shake off the Norman yoke [apologies Gérard but we are up the road from where Duke William launched his invasion 946 years ago].
But 1,000 year old politics aside, the big point for AMRAE members as they gather to discuss the big challenges and hopefully also opportunities of the day is surely that such short-term and political considerations should not determine strategy, least of all risk strategy.
Short-term thinking was what got us into this mess in the first place and short-term palliatives designed to win votes and secure another term in office are not the way ahead.
Gilbert Canameras and Gérard Lancner stressed the successful adoption of risk management in France over the last 20 years during our recent interview.
I asked them whether there was anything about French business culture that made it particularly ripe for this Anglo-Saxon [business parlance not anthropological this time] import to take hold so successfully?
Perhaps the longer-term outlook inherent in the French economy because of the domination of former state-owned industries, designed to make sure that the society they serve does not have to rely on everyone else to survive times of crisis, as in the UK, was the reason?
The AMRAE leadership agreed, in part, suggesting that it was perhaps the international nature of big French businesses that made them more receptive to the principles and benefits of risk management.
This is no doubt true to an extent.
But one has to wonder whether, if that is the case, why did so many British companies, themselves so internationally minded, fail so miserably to react to international competition in the 1970s to 1990s and leave Brits so dependent upon the financial services industry in London?
The answer to that has to be state ownership and the peculiarly continental European desire to retain at least a vestige of autarky because of the deep-seated memories of what happened in 1914–1918 and 1939–1945.
The UK does not have that deep-rooted commitment because it has always relied upon its special relationship with the US to bail it out in times of need.
The result is a frighteningly imbalanced economy that I believe President Sarkozy, perhaps unwittingly, was really referring to when he tried to bat away concerns over the state of the French economy following the downgrades by suggesting the agencies ought to look more closely at the state of British finances.
The conclusion has to be that risk management is essentially a long-term strategic discipline that fares better in societies that value the long term over the short term.
It is not a discipline that can be used to ensure that the company or economy as a whole meets its next quarterly target or that the CEO of a recently nationalised UK bank can keep his £1m bonus for doing nothing other than losing its shareholders/the taxpayers even more money.
Let’s hope that the members of AMRAE manage to remain largely aloof to short-term crises, politics and ‘issues of the day’ and focus in Deauville upon the benefits that risk management can bring to the long-term health of member companies and the economy as a whole.
As Mr Canameras and Mr Lancner suggested, working out how that benefit can be spread out to a wider community for the benefit of all is a key and very important goal.
Applying the basic principles of real Anglo-Saxon social, political and economic inclusion [unless you’re Welsh of course] is surely a better strategy to follow at this time of crisis than short-term, personal aggrandisement to the detriment of the whole, as personified by our Norman friends the robber barons.