Showing posts with label accountant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label accountant. Show all posts

Apr 5, 2010

Actuarial Risk Management Humor

During the pause of a Risk Management conference, a professional risk manager, an accountant and an actuary were in the gents room standing at the urinals. The risk manager, who finished first, walked over to the sink to wash his hands. He then proceeded to dry his hands very carefully. He used paper towel after paper towel to ensure that every single spot of water on his hands was dried. Turning to the accountant and actuary, he said, "We risk managers are trained to be extremely thorough to prevent any risk at all."

Then the accountant finished his task at the urinal and proceeded to wash his hands. He used a 'single paper towel' and made sure that he dried his hands using every available portion of the paper towel. He turned and said, "We accountants are not only trained to be extremely thorough in preventing risk, but we are also trained to be extremely efficient in managing and controlling risk as well."

Finally the actuary finished and walked straight for the door, shouting over his shoulder, "We actuaries, we never get our hands dirty"

- If people think other people are watching them, then they are more likely to wash hands

Jan 4, 2010

Risk Management Humor

Happy new year! At the start of 2010 let's have some 'serious fun' with the next

Actuarial Risk Management Puzzle Joke

Three actuaries and three accountants are traveling by train to visit a 'Risk Management Conference'. At the station, the three accountants each buy tickets and watch as the three actuaries buy only a single ticket.

"This looks very risky. How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?", one of the accountants asks.

"Watch and you'll see! Take notice of our brand new risk management approach", one of the actuaries answers.

They all board the train. The accountants take their respective first class seats, but all three actuaries cram into a restroom and close the door behind them.

Shortly after the train has departed, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the restroom door and says, "Ticket, please." The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on.

The accountants were deeply impressed by the actuarial approach and agreed it was - after all - quite a clever idea without any substantial risk.

So, completely confident and with even more Risk Management skills gained at the inspiring Conference, the accountants decide to copy the actuaries new risk approach on the return trip and save some money (accountants have always been clever with money!). When they get to the station they buy a single ticket for the return trip.

To their astonishment, this time the actuaries don't buy a ticket at all. "This is reckless, how are you going to travel without a single ticket?", one of the perplexed accountants asked. "Watch and you'll see! Take full notice of our latest risk management approach" answered an actuary.

When they board the train the three accountants cram into a restroom and the three actuaries cram into another one nearby. The train departs.

Here the story stops for a moment. Let's find out if you qualify as a Actuary Risk Manager (ARM) or - otherwise - could better have become an accountant.

Can you finish the story? What was the alternative Risk management Plan of the actuaries?

Just check the next box (or go to the original Actuary-Info Blog site) to find the right answer.......


What conclusions can we draw from this simple story?

  • Risk Management is a game without end

  • The effect of Risk Management Conferences is threefold:
    1. Some attendants get smarter
    2. Others get overconfident
    3. Final result: Increasing Risk, instead of decreasing Risk

  • There's an old Dutch saying that expresses the danger of increased Risk Management :

    "A warned man counts for two"

  • If we want to reap the fruits of Risk Management, accountants and actuaries have to start working together, instead of struggling and competing each other.

  • Risk Manager Profile and qualifications
    Insight, creativity and integrity are important requirements to become a professional Risk Manager. Unfortunately, this is not enough.

    To tackle Risk Management in a company, you need the best potential crook around. One who's willing to settle his salary and earnings for a little less than he would have earned as a real crook, in return for having a respectable job and not risking to end up in jail. You could call it the Personal Risk management of the Risk manager. Employers that settle for an inferior Risk Manager, know one thing for sure: someday somebody more 'crooky' than 'your risk manager' will tear your company down!

With some humor, we've gained new insights in the challenging world of Risk Management. Anyway, a Happy & Healthy 2010 !

May 30, 2009

Paradox of Cautiousness

Actuary, Accountant, Supervisor or Consultant, life is full of paradoxes....

Let's examine a very interesting statement made by the respected President of the Dutch Supervisor DNB, Dr. A.H.E.M. Wellink, in a recent interview on Dutch television (2009;Pauw & Witteman, in Dutch):

"If the (economic) growth fall is between minus 1 and minus 2, and I think it is minus 2, I would express myself in a very subtle and nuanced way, by saying:
"I think it's closer to minus 2 than minus 1". And then, if you listen well, you would know it's actually minus 2.
To be sure, we - me and my (supervisory) colleagues - say it in a more
cautious way ..."

What can we conclude from this short prodigious statement?

Communication fuzz
What first becomes clear in this statement is that responsible board members of (local) supervisors, due to media attention and unrealistic expectations, are forced to communicate in euphemisms or coded idiom.

As a consequence, professionals as well as the public, can only have a best guess at what the real message could be, with communication fuzz as a result.

President Wellink should be allowed to simply state that what he actually means, in this case:
"I think the economic growth will be around minus 2 percent"

Diferent meaning
Second problem with trying to communicate in a 'cautious' way, is that the word 'cautious' has a different meaning for different stakeholders.

For example: an investment will have a different risk profile for the investor, the asset management company, the company's shareholder or the supervisor. Each of these stakeholders will therefore have their own definition of the word 'cautious'.

As a consequence, last but not least, it is the question whether it's 'cautious' if you state the negative growth higher (less negative) than what you really think it is. Most people in the public domain will probably qualify this statement as incautious.

Life of supervisory board members is not easy. They are confronted with a persistent paradox, the Paradox of Cautiousness.

If board members report 'early warnings' they are treated as 'messengers of bad news', accused of market interference or irresponsible actions and launching self fulfilling prophecies. On top of this they may get fired or even be held responsible for the negative financial impact of their statements.

On the other hand, if they don't report their findings public and try to solve the problems in a diplomatic way behind close doors, they may get accused afterwards for not having warned in an earlier phase.

Life is full of risks, not only financial risks, but also the risk of the consequences of (non) communication.

As actuaries, we're often in the same difficult situation as President Wellink. We also have to act cautious, realize our 'cautious' advise regarding the Pension Fund, could implicate an 'incautious' advice for the sponsor or the participants of the pension fund.

Not only actuaries, but also accountants, investors or - in short - everyone who has an advisory or controlling function, have to deal with this 'Paradox of Cautiousness'.

Risk Escalation Management & POP
In most cases the Paradox of Cautiousness can be avoided by proactive Risk management.

If (recalculation of) your Risk Management Models or Scenario's indicate a significant change of risk in the (near) future, immediately take action, propose measures and demand adequate decisions. Don't postpone your actions in order to be sure of the observed changes nor on the advice of friendly 'experienced' stakeholders that tell you with a smile there'll be no problem at all and you're overreacting.

Once you're in the phase where incidentally ad-hoc repair management by the board has failed and serious structural repair management scenario's have to be put on the table, you're too late!

You'll have past the so called point of no return - in this case - the Point of Paradox (POP), you're caught in

The Paradox of Cautiousness

If you put your warnings and proposals in this phase on the table, stakeholders will tell you they felt caught by your actions. Soon board members and other stakeholders will blame you for not having warned them earlier and will question your accountability. Before you realize what's going on, you're in phase three: Crisis management, your head is on the block.

Rules of Thumb
From Wellink's simple example, we may conclude several rules of thumb about being cautious:
  • Dimension cautioness
    Never state that you are cautious in general, always dimension cautiousness with regard to the different stakeholders and the type and size of risks.

  • Early stage warning
    In line with "good governance" always try to warn in an early stage, before the Point of Paradox (POP) when things are (about) to move in the wrong direction, but are still manageable. Warn in a transparent way, open and visible to all stakeholders. Arrange a board level discussion and make sure you've got a completely free hand in what and how you put your findings and vision on the table.

  • External Advice
    Make sure that you're allowed (and have budget) to hire external consult whenever you think this is necessary. In case of discussions or decisions that may have substantial financial impact, don't doubt, but hire external legal or financial consult to assist you and to validate your findings.

  • Contract & Access
    Make sure your contract includes conditions that prevent your employer from firing you during your report findings period and make sure you have (formal) access to any (supervisory) board member when you think this is opportune.

After this heavy stuff, let's conclude with a nice parable...

Parable of the Cautious Actuary
There was a very cautious actuary,
who never laughed or cried.
He never risked, he never lost,
he never won nor tried.
And when he one day passed away,
his insurance was denied,
For since he never really lived,
they claimed he never died.
- Unknown -

Jan 10, 2009

Wir haben es nicht gewusst

Let's be humble and take a look at home. The home of actuaries, accountants and last but not least 'quants'.

Gewußt oder nicht gewußt?
Actuaries and accountants have failed in foreseeing the credit crisis. Together, we have greatly underestimated the developments and put our head in the sand. We've also failed to bring the emerging crisis to a possible end through enhanced cooperation with each other or by sending out common strong signals. In short: "Wir haben es nicht gewußt!"

Without an adequate technical substantiation, we have trusted business plans promising ROEs of 15% and more. This, while we all know that the average risk-free rate is still about 10% below this level and that such high returns can certainly not be made without taking additional risk.

VaR Model
As an article in The Actuary shows, we got intimidated and overruled by the quants with their Value at Risk (VaR) models. The consequences of the advices of these magic mathematicians and their VaR models are well explained in an excellent article called 'Risk Mismanagement' in the New York Times.

In another article, Global Association of Risk Professionals Review, David Einhorn explains:

VaR ignores what happens in the tails.

It specifically cuts them off.
A 99% VaR calculation does not evaluate what happens in the last 1%.

This makes VaR relatively useless as a riskmanagement tool and potentially catastrophic when its use creates a false sense of security among senior managers and watchdogs. " Quote:

VaR is like an airbag that works all the time,
except when you have a car accident

Also, according to Bloomberg, the risk-taking VaR model is broken and everyone is coming to the realization that no formula or rating system can substitute for old-fashioned 'due diligence'.

Quantum mechanics
Because of the complexity of these new VaR-like models, experienced actuaries, accountants, managers and supervisors were all afraid to ask deeper questions or to admit that they didn't totally understood these complex models that were presented as 'simple manageable board instruments' with 'simple steering parameters'. Just like nobody is eager to admit that 'quantum mechanics' is hard to understand and therefor every amateur quantum guru can say what he wants, because nobody checks it.

This way, indirect and by our advice and our models, CEOs and CFOs of large companies and pension funds got the (wrong) impression that 'complex financial markets' were based on 'a sound statistical model', where (annual) deficit risks of 2.5%, 0.5% or 0.1% are exactly calculable and moreover also acceptable.

Whatever, lessons learned, new opportunities for actuaries to set a new benchmark for '21 century riskmanagement'.

However..., stay careful, to catch a tiger by the tail is risky!

Nov 12, 2008

The Actuarial Black Eye

In his blog David Merkel gives a fabulous book review of the book:

The book and blog show that actuaries (and accountants as well) were not disciplined enough to resist politicians pressure and large companies board (and shareholder) short-term result demands. As a direct consequence those companies got into serious trouble.

Stick to one's guns, and keeping a save eye on the future, is one of the essentials of the actuarial profession.

Training (not just study alone) in giving the right push back on board level, should therefore be an obligate part of the education (and accreditation) of actuaries and accounts.

As (UK) Sir Derek Morris stated in his "review of the actuarial profession: interim assessment" (2004):

Too much has been expected of actuaries and, explicitly or otherwise, too much has been promised by them.

Clients have looked to actuaries to provide certainty, and actuaries have often appeared to provide it.

For Dutch actuaries, see also Willemse and Wolthuis in: "On the practical meaning of probability based solvency".

Actuaries are almost just like real human beings: after a few years successful studying and modeling, they gain confidence. They start to believe that reality will also act according their models. Moreover, they might get overconfident and think that their view and expertise on reasonably well predictable issues like life, death and disability are - with the same amount of certainty - also applicable on other issues like 'inflation' and the development of the 'stock market'.

This it typically a case of :

That what develops you, eventually might kill you

Practice hasn't shown that good actuaries are,by definition, also good weatherman.

The book also shows that self-regulating without clear targets and constraints is a fairy tale.

Keep in mind the Mongolian Proverb:

Of the good we have an understanding,
for fools we keep a stick upstairs

Success in being a PBA (Push Back Actuary)!