What’s it really like to work in the field of risk management? In conjunction with the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), Risk Xtra continues its new series of articles running under the banner ‘Tools of the Trade’ in which we ask practising professionals to offer their handy hints and tips on the matter for those looking to make the move into the industry. In this fourth instalment, Audrey Onsomu IRMCert (Audit and Assurance Supervisor at PwC in the US) tackles the key questions.
Risk Xtra: How did you move into your current role?
Audrey Onsomu: Working at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I’m currently an international secondee to the US office in Minneapolis from my home office in Kenya. I secured the job as a graduate recruit straight out of college. It was a big dream come true to join PwC. The opportunities here have been great. I’ve worked on different kinds of assignments and addressing risk is at the centre of it all. The evaluation of client control environs, risk assessment and quantification are always the starting points. This links up to my own interest in understanding risk in depth. That’s really why I chose to pursue IRM qualifications.
Risk Xtra: What’s a typical day like in your role with PwC?
Audrey Onsomu: I’m currently working as an Audit and Assurance Supervisor. My typical day starts with a catch-up on industry and regulatory news. Working in a regulated industry means that you have to keep up with the pace of regulation. That’s all part of risk. I then catch up on my e-mails and set up a plan for the day set up before diving into my day-to-day work. We work in teams, so engaging with my team and creating solutions for our clients is what we do day-to-day. This includes sitting in meetings to catch up on such matters throughout the day. I’m looking to transition fully to risk assurance and advisory. My day will be pretty much standard and similar to what it is now.
Risk Xtra: What do you enjoy most about your role?
Audrey Onsomu: The learning curve is what I enjoy most about my job. You cannot be the same person that you were yesterday. Every day presents an opportunity to learn, and you just have to be the kind of person that loves to learn. My job also affords me the opportunity to do what I love most and what I’m good at. You have to take the initiative and identify the right opportunities for yourself. I’ve learned that I drive the outcome of my circumstances. It doesn’t matter where I am. If the environment is conducive for you to make decisions that influence your career then that’s a big opportunity. You have to make it happen for you.
Risk Xtra: What are the main challenges involved?
Audrey Onsomu: One of the greatest challenges is time management. Balancing time and resources around everything that you want to achieve. I’m a parent at the same time as being a student, while also having to meet my obligations as an employee. It’s a balancing act. You have to make time work for you. One of the ways in which I’ve learned to do this is by setting boundaries and planning ahead. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play and when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. There are not too many options. You just have to master time as a discipline. Having a supportive employer makes it easier if you’re not self-employed.
Risk Xtra: In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
Audrey Onsomu: My ‘Risk Management in Financial Services’ qualification is a treasure. I primarily work in financial services and having the opportunity to study risk and understand why it’s so important, especially in the financial services arena, is one of the wisest investments I’ve made so far. The IRM qualification didn’t only teach me about Basel II, Solvency II, operational risk and why risk management is essential. It also helped firm up the experience I’ve had over the last six years, for example, with a focus on working in banking, the assessment of loan loss reserves, the review of client models and how they determine their PDs, LGDs and EAD was a PwC concept, diving deep into Basel II and understanding why these concepts are regulator-driven and understanding that some of these inputs are set by the regulator and why they are set by the regulator was eye-opening.
Reviewing Basel III and capital adequacy assessment, understanding what steps regulators are allowed to take should capital drop below the required minimums and why the concept of capital adequacy is so critical in the financial services industry brought such clarity to some of the things I encounter day-to-day in my work.
Enterprise Risk Management and the COSO components review will only make me better at articulating why this is essential, not just to the financial services industry, but for just about any organisation that wants to succeed. Risk and regulation is only becoming more complex and taking an IRM qualification is the first step in being one step ahead.
At this point, all I want to do is to keep learning more. Studying for the IRM qualification also reminded me how to be a diligent student. It’s a trait which I’ve carried over to the next phase in my quest for knowledge.
Risk Xtra: What would you say to others thinking about joining the IRM as a member?
Audrey Onsomu: I would encourage anyone already pursuing a risk management career or looking to move into risk management to do so. The qualifications and study are well set up to ensure you obtain the knowledge that you will need to succeed. The IRM also has benefits for its members who are not currently pursuing the qualifications and this can be a good starting point. For instance, the organisation runs regular risk training that can also serve as a refresher on current risk knowledge.
Risk Xtra: How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM assisted you in any way?
Audrey Onsomu: My career ambition is to transition fully into risk and help financial services firms and clients make a difference in their business through proper risk management. I have a good employer that can help me achieve this goal and I believe the opportunities are there. We can realise the change that we want to see. Having my IRM qualification will help me to build a strong case for my move. I just need to put into practice all the knowledge that I now have at my disposal.
(1) My first piece of advice would be to find what you love doing, pursue it and work at becoming the best version of yourself at that role. You can never go wrong with enhancing and furthering your education.
(2) Second, network and find the right opportunities for yourself. Nobody else will do this for you.
(3) Last, but not least, it’s never too late to begin doing what makes your heart beat. Sometimes we can find ourselves stuck in the wrong career thinking it’s too late to make that switch. The time is now. Make it happen. You’ll be surprised and pleased at the contentment you will find.