Thursday, 26 July 2012
Financial crisis and regulation focus for French risk managers
The effects of the financial crisis and a growing regulatory burden are the major risks faced by French companies today, according to leading risk managers who participated in this year's Risk Frontiers survey carried out by Commercial Risk Europe and sponsored by XL Group and Willis.
Gilbert Canameras, the president of Association pour le Managements des Risques et des Assurances de l'Entreprise, AMRAE
Both risks are a concern on domestic and European levels alike. Risk managers are being asked to identify such risks and propose solutions while pressure is rising to reduce costs, as in all other parts of their companies, said the French risk managers.
“The risk that has been exacerbated the most of late is counterparty risk,” said Gilbert Canameras, the president of Association pour le Managements des Risques et des Assurances de l'Entreprise, AMRAE, France's risk management association.
“It is a consequence of the current economic situation, leading to higher levels of bankruptcies. But not only corporate credit risk is a concern. There is also sovereign credit risk, which in the end is a kind of political risk, and the consequences that it can have on the activities of companies,” Mr Canameras said.
“The economic crisis touches everything that is related to the development of the company,” added Yvon Colleu, AMRAE's treasurer and the risk and Insurance manager at Bouygues SA.
“Our group works in the construction sector, and the crisis affects important clients for us in the public and private sectors, both in terms of CAPEX budget and financing capacity. It is clear then that it has an impact on the revenues and the activity level of the group. And, as a result, the group as a whole needs to mobilise itself to face the perspective of a reduction of business activity.”
The state of suppliers and other business partners is a major source of concern as companies are not always aware of how they are coping with the crisis.
“We have to look into our supplier risks,” said François Malan, a newly elected member of AMRAE's board. “Today, we know our companies, we are familiar with our own financial reports, but we do not know much about our suppliers. They may be bust, and we are not aware of it. So, as risk managers, we have to focus on this risk in a recession period. We need to be sure that they are going to provide us with the products and services we need, or to have options ready to replace them in case they are unable to do the job.”
“Companies rely on partners like suppliers and other stakeholders to achieve their goals, and these partners have been weakened by the crisis,” said Bruno Dunoyer de Ségonzac, a vice-president of AMRAE and the head of risk management and audit at telecom firm Bouygues Télécom.
“The crisis has also hit our clients. There has been a drop of consumption provoked by the crisis for all kinds of products, even first necessity ones like food articles,” he added.
The risk manager also noted that the crisis has meant that competition among companies has become even fiercer than before, and that is another matter that currently occupies the minds of French risk managers.
“All companies face competition risk, with the additional problem that it can also be exacerbated by regulation,” Mr Dunoyer de Ségonzac said. “Many governments have been eager to intervene in the economy of their countries. They try to regulate markets, sometimes with good intentions, but they often end up creating dramas at the level of companies. In this context, risk managers must highlight the risk and give a value to it. Risk managers stand out when they are able to attribute a cost to a risk.”
Mr Malan, who is the director of risk management at property group Nexity, also highlighted the complexity brought about by an ever-increasing regulatory burden. “For us, legal and tax insecurity is one of the biggest risks today,” he said.
“There is not enough clarity about what will be the rules in our business in the next few months or years. If changes are too frequent, we cannot build our business with total security. There are more and more rules coming from Europe and domestic law. We need to look into the new regulation and make sure that we comply with them,” he said.
These are not the usual risks that one associates with the daily work of operational risk managers and insurance buyers. But they need to be on top of it anyway, Mr Malan said.
“Risk managers need to be well informed about such developments and to work along with the legal department to tackle regulatory risks and determine how they will impact our businesses,” he pointed out. “And we can try and find insurance solutions for the risks brought about by new regulation,” added Mr Malan.
Mr Colleu has a similar view, especially because his company operates in several different businesses, each of which presents its own regulatory challenges.
The key for risk managers, in his view, is to help create the level of engagement necessary to overcome such difficulties. “One of the biggest risks we face is the constant change of rules due to regulatory developments in markets where our group operates, like telecommunications and media,” he said.
“The company must adapt itself to a changing business environment that becomes ever more complicated. Risk managers can influence the strategy of the company towards such changes, but it is the whole firm that needs to be engaged in dealing with this risk.”
All in all, French risk managers have had their work cut out for them, and the level of demand from boards is only rising higher, as companies become ever more aware of the need to control their risks.
“Companies demand from risk managers that we work in a more precise way, and that we map the risks related to the crisis,” said Mr Canameras. “We cannot simply paint a picture of the risks the company is exposed to. We have to define plans to mitigate them, to identify the owners of the risks.”
The logical outcome is that French risk managers need to deal with a growing volume of work, and anyone who thinks that they will be able to boost team numbers to help rise to that challenge ought to think again.
“The crisis has evidently triggered a trend at companies to reduce costs. It affects everybody, risks managers included,” Mr Canameras remarked. “It is necessary to be capable of adapting the means we have to the needs of our companies. But even in a situation of crisis, risks can be turned into opportunities,” he said.