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 series of articles running under the banner ‘Tools of the Trade’ in which we ask practising risk management professionals to offer their handy hints and tips on the matter for those looking to make the move into the industry. In this seventh instalment, Laura Robinson IRMCert (president of Swale House Partners Inc in the USA) answers our key questions.
Risk Xtra: How did you move into your current role?
Laura Robinson: My husband and I started a company that uses a risk management platform to provide relevant, reliable and timely information for public sector decision-makers. Our focus is on operational improvements through risk management, while simultaneously strengthening the risk management function itself.
We had found that operational risk management in the public sector wasn’t consistently applied outside of finance, security and health, safety and the environment. As a result, we created a company to facilitate public sector transitions in natural resource governance and public financial management. We use a risk management approach to target the greatest exposures first, allowing us to provide a strong value proposition for our clients and to apply our technical and risk management skills to the sustainable creation of public value.
I first started in risk as an auditor with Deloitte at the time Sarbanes Oxley was being rolled out in the US and internal controls became a significant focus of assurance engagements. I used risk management regularly through my career progression into the public sector through operations, project finance and natural resource projects.
My husband had a previous career in public sector risk management and security operations in complex environments. We combined our experience and added technical affiliates to create a more detailed view of public sector risk and control options in niche areas.
Risk Xtra: What’s a typical day like in your role?
Laura Robinson: As president of Swale House Partners Inc, I would say that there’s no typical day. Each is as varied as our clients who are themselves located in multiple countries, have different risk management maturity levels and their own unique set of requirements.
In any given day, we could provide professional services, develop bespoke risk management tools, assess risk, design controls and control frameworks, carry out training and facilitate workshops, speak at conferences and lecture at universities, as well as manage the business itself.
Risk Xtra: What do you enjoy most about your role?
Laura Robinson: The part that I enjoy about my job the most would have to be working with our staff and affiliates who are extremely talented and committed to creating a positive outcome for our clients. The variety of requests from clients and the trust they give us to create sustainable value provides both a challenging and rewarding work environment every day.
Risk Xtra: What are the main challenges involved?
Laura Robinson: One of the major challenges of working in risk management is that many people have an existing and industry specific view of risk management. The 2018 updates of the ISO and COSO risk management guidance has expanded the application of risk management to a more holistic management activity, but it will take time for many institutions, systems and people to integrate the changes.
The other key challenge for our work is that the objectives of our Government clients are diverse and can be perceived by stakeholders as mutually exclusive. Facilitated workshops and multi-stakeholder training has shown to assist with this challenge and create a forum for constructive risk discussions among stakeholders.
Risk Xtra: In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
Laura Robinson: The qualification process itself challenged me to understand and consider the broad view of risk and risk management across industries and professional risk bodies and even across time.
The IRM qualification and connecting with other professionals with that same qualification provides a common understanding and language of risk management to share experiences across industries. This connection cultivates informed innovation in risk management in what’s now an ever more uncertain world.
Risk Xtra: What would you say to others thinking about taking an IRM qualification?
Laura Robinson: If you’re serious about a career in risk management, I would highly recommend the IRM qualification. The resources from the IRM and the qualified professionals I’ve met have been incredibly valuable to me personally and to our business.
Risk Xtra: How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
Laura Robinson: My role has developed from managing programmes and risk within the public sector in my own country to providing bespoke advisory services to a variety of international public sector clients.
My career goal is to continue to contribute to public value through Swale House Partners Inc, the IRM and the other organisations of which I’m honoured to be a part.
For those already practising or otherwise looking for a career in the sphere of risk management, I would strongly recommend the following:
(1) Be specific about own career objectives and make a strategic plan
(2) Manage the risk to your own objectives to increase the likelihood of success and identify your acceptable risk, risk appetite and risk tolerance. Monitoring your own risk management can provide insights not available elsewhere
(3) Become a subject matter expert in risk management for a specific field – add related fields as your career progresses
(4) Evaluate all relevant opportunities to gain knowledge from other areas and departments so as to better understand all stakeholder concerns
(5) Look for opportunities to learn from or be seconded to different departments. Greater knowledge about the perspectives and assets of each department can provide valuable insights in effectively and efficiently managing risk