Corporate risk management is advancing dramatically because of computer power, communications, the Internet, and the value-at-risk (VAR) concept borrowed from banks. Several companies are leading the charge, and attempting to quantify risks that aren't just financial. But can that help the treasurer do his job? By David Shirreff.
Hands up which major industrial companies have a head of corporate risk management. Very few today. But several are working on it. Edgar Wittmann, head of corporate risk management has the title at Siemens, the German electronics group, and is setting up an independent division "to provide risk awareness throughout the company". It will operate outside the corporate treasury and won't hedge or manage risks itself.
Corporate treasurers, their bankers and advisers are talking increasingly of a broadening of the corporate treasury's, or finance department's, role into a centre of risk-management expertise on which the entire company and its decision-makers can draw. Will the chief financial officer or chief risk manager of today end up running the company of tomorrow? Unlikely, say most of them modestly.
The concept of firm-wide risk management, well established in banks, is percolating the corporate sector. But it's only partly the same discipline. Banks trade to optimize capital use. Companies use financial instruments to minimize their commercial risk.